For cutting-edge TV, look to the Web

The International Academy of Web Television revealed its selections last week for the best original online programming at the Streamy Awards in Los Angeles.

Nearly 200 shows were nominated for 35 categories on the live-streamed show, which ran about as long as the Oscars — remarkable when one considers that a typical Web series can be watched from start to finish in about an hour.

Over-ambitious, much? Maybe. After all, only the highest echelon of Web television producers can make full-time livings off of their content. The Streamys ceremony included one woeful segment in which passersby were asked to name their favorite Web series, and most everyone responded with blank stares.

But those looking to escape down the rabbit hole of online television have no shortage of watchable stuff. Try "Easy to Assemble," in which toothy Illeana Douglas and Justine Bateman play underemployed actresses who decide to abandon the Hollywood grind for jobs at IKEA.

Try "Web Therapy," in which Lisa Kudrow plays the world's most self-absorbed shrink, dispensing wretched online advice. In "Between Two Ferns With Zach Galifianakis," the hairy guy from "The Hangover" bumbles through excruciating celebrity interviews — feel free to skip to the episode where Charlize Theron calls him a "fat garden gnome."

Since the inaugural Streamys last year, "Major studios are investing more time and energy into this space," says Liz Shannon Miller, a critic for NewTeeVee.com, which covers the Web television industry and co-hosted the awards. "And individuals are investing the time and energy necessary to compete with bigger players."

Mainstream corporations that have Web-only divisions include Sony, the WB and NBC.

"The number of deals we're doing is definitely growing," says George Ruiz, director of new media at the talent agency International Creative Management.

Ruiz specializes in clients whose careers exist primarily online, including "The Guild" creator Felicia Day — the Cinderella of Web television whose show is bankrolled by Microsoft — and Kevin Pollak, a film actor ("The Usual Suspects") who has moved to the Web to host "Kevin Pollak's Chat Show."

A lot of Web TV is bad — real bad — but that's true of regular TV, too. A more apt observation might be that it's still searching for an identity. The current state of Web TV reminds Pollak "of those early days of HBO, where literally half their programming was some bizarre shot of three women in leotards doing exercises."

Then came "Six Feet Under," "Sex and the City" and "The Sopranos." "There's no question," Pollak says, "that the promise and the potential is just as grand here."