There are already a whole variety of independent serial dramas, from things Cable Access television to Internet projects such as Star Trek: New Voyages. The question isn't if they'll have a breakout, a kind of Reservoir Dogs/Clerks one-two punch, but when and how. Like that breakthrough, and occasional examples before and since, I don't expect it will bring about a whole new way of life, but something will get serious attention. Something that can sustain its own production costs, at least, and that may even be the big story surrounding it.
How will it make money, whether profit or sustaining costs? That's the question, I suppose. There's the possibility of online fees or a kind of DVD subscription, advertising, donations... Strangely endless for something that I don't believe has been able to be made to work yet.
The creative side shouldn't be an issue. Just for myself, I could have two full proposals by the end of the week, complete with characters, concept, episode pitches and explanations why both would work as "indie serials", complete with details of what they have in common with popular mainstream television series and in what ways I could appeal to a different audience that doesn't feel served fully, or at all, by their choices on TV. I'm not bragging on my great creativity, I'm certain there are hundreds, probably thousands, of creative people who could do the same... some a bit less, some a lot more.
Of course, Sturgeon's Law tells us 90% of those will be crud. Frankly at least that. It most likely just gets sucked in on the tail end of television serials and a much higher percentage of these will be crud.
I'm sure there are two reactions here, the one from people who have more "good feelings" toward independent cinema than knowledge, who are certainly sure that I'm being unfair and that indie movies are "better" than mainstream movies, and the one from people wondering why I'm advocating for something that could reasonably produce more bad "television" than we already have.
To the first, I'd suggest that they actually study up and watch a lot more independent movies. I promise that in terms of what's produced independently, many, many more cruddy works are produced. At least 90% of the whole. Again, quite likely it even takes up much of the tail end of the crud being part of movies as a whole.
To the second, I'll say exactly what the first group is stammering to say right now. The value in independent movies isn't how many movies they produce that are the equal and superior of the average Hollywood movie, it's in how they go about it. At their best, they can see whole new ways of looking at the medium, or ways to turn existing ideas on their ear. The fact that TV is already moving in new directions, starting, of course, with the various produced by and for cable series that have taken more risks.
But those are still locked down to specific time scheduling issues, and many are also still significantly hobbled in potential content. Not only on the basic cable series, but Showtime required editing of Dario Argento's Jenifer and declined to show Takashi Miike's Imprint at all, and this is on Masters of Horror, which was specifically intended to test limits.
I'm always surprised, as it goes, that with TV shows being a successfully sold in DVD sets for a while that we don't see a lot more expanded or uncensored episodes on them. I've seen examples of both, of course, but they remain notable exceptions. I'm waiting for them being normal... perhaps even planned for, like the expanded Lord of the Rings DVDs. In most of the distribution scenarios I'd imagine for independent serials, they could avoid even that. Episodes could be shorter than normal, free of any added filler to make time or longer, not having to cut valuable scenes to make time, as needed.
I think the means of making it work exists, it's merely a matter of someone finding out what that means is. If I had investment capital, I'd start with a very limited "TV Station" and call out for 3 or 4 series. I'd start with mostly comedy, crime and horror, the most likely genres for independent movies to have breakout hits in. I'd start with limited selection and high quality. My theory is to basically shotgun the methods of bringing in revenue to see which ones work, and expanding to a larger selection when, and admittedly if, there was some larger audience available.
But I'm mostly thinking "aloud", as it were...