Variety for the 21st Century: Time to hitREC●rd
Oh, the variety shows of the Golden Age of Television! Who didn’t love them?
Entire families, often three generations at once, glued to their tv sets every Sunday night, waiting for Ed Sullivan to serve up the newest and coolest in comedy, music, and general stardom. If you’re an American and you ask your parents (or, at this point, your grandparents) where they first witnessed The Beatles play live, chances are they’ll say: “Why, on The Ed Sullivan Show, of course.”
In the almost 45 years since the institution that was The Ed Sullivan Show went off the air (after a juggernaut run of 23 years), the variety show still exists on television, and (with very few exceptions) it hasn’t really evolved much since the 1970s. Most contemporary “variety” shows are arguably still rooted in mid-20th century entertainment creeds and traditions, and for this reason it seems they (more often than not) pay the price of failing to appeal to younger audiences. Some might argue that that’s not a bad thing, that the format’s waning success is not a result of a failure to evolve, but merely a sign of the times. Well, I beg to differ. And so does actor, musician, and filmmaker, Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
In 2005, Gordon-Levitt and his brother Dan launched a collaborative online community under the name hitRECord. It quickly became a gathering place for artists from around the world, contributing their unique takes on visual art, music, and spoken word to an ever-growing repertoire of awesomeness. Over a few short years, international interest and excitement for the project has grown to a point where the brothers decided to upgrade hitRECord from an internet sensation with limited exposure to an online production company, publishing massively collaborative artworks across the boundaries of media.
Since 2010, the company has released several books consisting of the harmonious contributions of myriad authors, records containing collaboratively produced music, and short films combining a variety of art forms that went on to be featured at SxSW and Sundance. And yet, according to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, everything really led up to one goal: to harness all of the collaborative, creative energy to create a televised variety show for the 21st century. Thus, hitRECord on TV was born.
The first season of the show, which aired on the new Pivot Network in January 2014, brought together a vast array of content from thousands of contributors all over the world, embracing different visions and perspectives. Each entertaining episode is focused around a unifying theme (“RE: The Number One”, for instance), as explored through music, film, visual, and performance art. And, it doesn’t hurt that Gordon-Levitt, who acts both as the show’s host and as contributor in some bits, is a bona fide multi-talent who can perform as flawlessly in a not-so-classic Broadway number (with a still-suave Tony Danza), to playing the drums in a gritty, collaboratively-written punk-rock number. He may bring in the heavy star power, but the real star of the show is everyone.
Other interesting works showcased by the initiative include:
- A young American author’s moving tale as told through the beautiful voice acting of a Scottish contributor and illustrated by dozens of visual artists,
- Genre-defying musical numbers on topics like trash, space, and death,
- A relatively ‘ordinary’ short documentary about the future colonization of space.
By embracing the creative potential available across the internet, hitRECord on TV successfully showcases the possibilities and talent available in this brave new digital world where everything and everyone is connected (in a good way). And, just as importantly, it also proves that a boat load of fun can happen in the process – as any good variety show should celebrate.
Senior EU Project Manager