Kiefer Sutherland to star in Web series 'The Confession'
By Emily YahrWashington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 4, 2011; 11:43 AM
The moment a Twitter user started quoting his cranky dad online and wound up with a prime-time sitcom starring William Shatner, pop culture analysts started obsessing over Internet projects making the long leap to the small screen.
Now someone's going the opposite direction: Kiefer Sutherland, star of Fox's long-running drama "24," just announced that he would star in and executive-produce a 10-part, scripted, online-only series.
"The Confession," a drama about a hit man spilling his secrets to a priest, will also star John Hurt. Premiering sometime in March, it will be available on Hulu.com, Digital Broadcasting Group's online platforms and on gaming systems.
Producers call "The Confession" a "watershed" moment in online entertainment, even though a well-known television actor starring in a Web series is nothing new. Lisa Kudrow starred in "Web Therapy"; Neil Patrick Harris was in the musical "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog."
"This is really the first of its kind in terms of caliber of talent, script and production quality," said Chris Young, chief executive of DBG, which is co-producing the series. "Now that people are spending more time with their computers than they are with their televisions, as long as there's fantastic storytelling, there's room to really push the envelope in terms of the length of programming."
In terms of "length," Young means much shorter than average television shows: Each episode will run around five minutes. By doing so, Young hopes to grab the busy-on-the-go audience with "bite-size" pieces of content.
Sutherland is already known for innovations in TV time, by making a splash playing the slick Jack Bauer in the real-time series "24," which ran on Fox for eight seasons. Having completed the run of the show in the spring 2010, he jump-started "The Confession" when a mutual friend introduced him to Young.
The actor was immediately intrigued by the "challenge" of making a gripping story out of such short episodes, Young said. After Sutherland thought up the basic idea for the series (hit man plus confessions plus priest), he helped recruit a pal, screenwriter Brad Mirman, to write and direct.
Mirman, who has known Sutherland since they worked together on a movie in the '90s, was mum on many details, describing the show only as a drama with action that explores "the definition of right or wrong, and the gray area in between." A trailer reveals a slow, creepy zoom-in on Sutherland in a confessional, with a lone voice singing "Silent Night" eerily in the background.
Filmed over about 10 days in December during a snowstorm in New York, the series stars Hurt as the priest, with Max Casella ("The Sopranos") and Michael Badalucco ("The Practice") among the co-stars. When the actors showed up on the first day, Mirman said it was a surprise to those who thought the set would have a different feel just because it was a show for just (cue dramatic music) the Internet.
"That was the talk among a lot of the actors on the set," Mirman said. "It had the same production value and same feel of any network television show."
The producers hope for a big reception for a network-type show available only on computer screens, though they're aware of the challenges of promoting such a series - it could be difficult to attract those who are uncomfortable using the Web to watch TV.
Still, those in the industry think the market for higher-tech online series with television actors will grow. Elisabeth Flack, executive director of the International Academy of Web Television in Los Angeles, said she has been seeing more Web series with high production quality, as artists are able to afford better equipment to produce shows - and in the long run, more well-known actors will start to gravitate toward the online arena.
And Young remains optimistic the series will find an audience with the draw of a big name in a unique venue.
"Exactly what you would expect from TV, we're offering in this case," Young said. "But you know what? You can't watch it on TV. Everywhere but."