The Network Will Not Be Televised: St. John-Fisher Entertainment Network — The SFN — Quietly Building Its Programming Block Online
Written by Megan Forrester
This year, Stewart St. John and Todd Fisher, the writing-producing team who create content for both traditional and online mediums, decided to launch a web network. That’s right. Network. Now, when most people say they want to do something, they find a million reasons not to, or simply give up once they realize how daunting the task at hand turns out to be. But when St. John-Fisher decide to do something, they actually make it happen. And they don’t stop until the dream is a reality.
Welcome to the St. John-Fisher Entertainment Network, also referred to as The SFN around company headquarters. “Creating an online network has been in the back of our minds for a very long time,” says Fisher, the other silver-haired fox with a hint of George Clooney cool. “And this year we said, why not? Let’s do it!”
St. John-Fisher know a little something about creating content for the internet. They were around to witness first hand the creation of America Cybercast, the fledgling online network established in 1995 by advertising-firm Fatall & Collins. St. John was brought on by television soap writer Sherri Anderson Thomas as head writer and eventually executive producer of The Spot, the ground-breaking internet soap American Cybercast was built around. Cybercast was way ahead of its time, and eventually suffered from the dot com bust in the late 90s.
In 2003, St. John-Fisher were asked to revive The Spot brand and create a mobile versions of the soap for Sprint, cross-platforming storylines between the web and cell. Ever the storytellers, that’s exactly what they did. “We raised subscription revenues at Sprint,” says St. John, who wrote and directed over 2500 videos for The Spot Wireless. “Of course, this was all before the social networking boom of the mid 2000’s.”
Cut to 2011. Content is king, and St. John-Fisher decided to launch The SFN, anchoring it with their own web soap California Heaven, the gothic one-hundred episode series once intended to air on AOL. But in just four weeks, The SFN has opened up their acquisitions division and screening hopeful applicants who are submitting their content to the network.
The first series to arrive on The SFN is a decadent web soap called “Devanity”, created by Michael Curaso.
“I am incredibly excited to bring our series to SFN,” says Caruso, “because this online network, created by pioneers of the web community, introduces our show to a wider audience, and builds the foundation to make SFN the premiere online destination for the most cutting edge soaps on the internet.”
Clearly, St. John-Fisher are on to something. Just last week they closed a deal with their first advertiser, clothing and lifestyle brand 69Slam. The company is releasing a national campaign featuring their motto/brand ‘Play Loud’ through videos that will be seen at the beginning of select California Heaven videos.
“We’re pursuing advertisers for the network,” says Fisher. “And because we’re so nimble, we can create very unique campaigns that fit the advertiser and our content.”
St. John-Fisher worked with IBM and Toyota when they integrated the companies brands into The Spot back in 1996.
I sat down with Stewart and Todd for a short interview as they prepared to launch the second series on their network.
Megan: Hey guys, thanks for taking a few minutes with LA’s The Place again.
Todd: Our pleasure.
Megan: So, I guess launching your web soap California Heaven just wasn’t enough?
Stewart: (laughs) Clearly we’re insane.
Todd: We’ve established that by now.
Megan: An online network. The SFN. Tell me about it.
Todd: We’re positioning The SFN as a blend of traditional networks and online blogs, so it’s unique to the web but familiar enough for visitors to feel comfortable.
Megan: Now how is The SFN different then let’s say a BlipTv?
Stewart: We clearly refer to ourselves as a network. No bones about it. We like that comparison. I’m not sure what BlipTV is doing, but we’re starting out being very discriminating about the type of programming visitors can find on our site.
Todd: We’ve also got blogs and vlogs operating as content, so you can come to the SFN, watch a series or read an interesting story by one of our writers.
Megan: Tell me about DeVanity!
Stewart: Oh, DeVanity! We just love it. So much so that when Michael Curaso, the creator, submitted the series to us, we knew immediately it had to be the first web series to go up on The SFN. DeVanity is a wonderful, trashy web soap… pure, guilty fun the way the TV series Dynasty was.
Todd: Beautifully shot, wickedly fun, and a compliment to our own soap California Heaven. They’re completely different types of soaps, but cut from the same cloth.
Stewart: Michael Caruso also stars in the show as the head of the depraved DeVanity family who run a dying jewel business in Los Angeles.
Megan: It sounds delicious.
Stewart: It is.
Megan: And I understand you guys did something very unique PR-wise…
Stewart: Well, unique for the web. I sent Michael an email and said, you know, DeVanity is coming to The SFN… how ’bout we do something fun to promote it on our site? So I wrote this little script where I imagined our wicked girl KC Corrigan from California Heaven talking into camera about DeVanity, while his evil girl Laura DeVanity was talking about California Heaven. Just pure, ridiculous over-the-top fun.
Todd: Michael said yes, and so both teams from the different shows set out to shoot the little promo.
Stewart: Kali Cook, the actress who plays KC on California Heaven, is always up for whatever we’ve got going on.
Todd: She’s as crazy as us I think…
Stewart: Totally. She’s been with us since we cast her as the lead on The Spot in 2003. I told her about the idea for the promo and she texted me back and said: ‘Awesome. What should I wear? Tight, expensive and sexy?’
Todd: I told her ‘Yeah, and no cheeseburgers the night before the shoot.’ She died.
Stewart: And she came over, we shot it; meanwhile Michael was shooting Alexis Zibolis who plays Laura DeVanity on their end, and voila. You can see the end result on The SFN site. It’s fabulous fun.
Megan: Okay, that sounds absolutely brilliant.
Todd: That’s what we love about Michael and his cast, they’re so generous, so open and willing to do stuff and have fun… same with our guys. And that’s what we’re always looking for. Fun, open and willing to do whatever it takes to stand out. That’s the SFN!
Stewart: And at the end of the day, that’s what you have to do — have fun. Because so much of this is so challenging.
Megan: So now visitors to your site can watch two soaps! DeVanity and California Heaven!
Stewart: Yep, and there’s more coming to the net. We’ve received a lot of submissions — for both web programming and radio shows — so much so that we were really shocked by the amount… but we are very discriminating and want to create a certain feeling at the web net.
Todd: We’re handpicking everything because there’s so much great content out there. And when we choose a program, we want to really get behind it and blend it into The SFN as part of our family of shows.
Megan: Like a traditional network would.
Stewart: Yes, exactly. And who knows if people will embrace it or not, but that’s our concept. Every company has their own way of doing it. But I think if you do what you’re passionate about, people can feel that and eventually they’ll check you out and hopefully like what you’re doing.
Megan: Guys, thank you for sitting down with me, and I wish you all the best with St. John-Fisher Entertainment Network… The SFN!
The St. John-Fisher Entertainment Network (The SFN): http://www.stjohn-fisher.com
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Written by Jane Emery