Courtesy "Chasing the HIll"
A screenshot from an episode of "Chasing the Hill," a Web-only show tracking the fictional political campaign of California Congresswoman Kristine Ryan.
California Congresswoman Kristine Ryan is getting hammered with some rough stuff on the Internet. The opposition in her re-election campaign has targeted her with a barrage of negative ads.
One ad accuses Ryan of having the worst attendance record of any member of Congress. "63 percent of the time this year, she didn’t bother to show up to work," the ad says. "If you or I did that, we’d be out of a job in a second. Well, that’s what we should do in June. Fire Kristy Ryan!"
Never heard of Ryan? That’s because she’s the candidate at the heart of a new, web-only drama series called “Chasing the Hill.”
Brent Roske is the creator, writer, and director of the series. He says the series is about "the challenge of mixing personal life and professional life." Roske was a marketing guy with NBC for many years. He wrote and produced specials and indie films, but wanted a project over which he had almost complete control without network interference.
The series takes advantage of ever-changing technology that makes quality production possible with relatively inexpensive equipment. "We use audio sometimes on iPhones," Roske says. "I love that sort of grit."
Real journalists and politicians turn up on the show — including former California Governor Gray Davis, who delivers the prologue, saying a lot of honest people get elected and "many, maybe most" come in with the motivation "to do the right thing."
And then there are the series characters, whose moral compass is not always pointing north. “The West Wing” alum Richard Schiff portrays political strategist Charlie Cowells, who had a relationship with the congresswoman (played by Robin Weigert) and was influential in getting her elected. On the show, Schiff's character compares California politics to a bowl of granola. "Take away the nuts and fruits, you’ve still got a ****load of flakes."
The business model for “Chasing the Hill” is unusual. Roske fronted the money for the first episode. And he asks online viewers to pony up $1.99 to watch. The producer says it was important to create a show you don't just give away for free.
"I think that’s the big problem with digital series and other things put on the Web," Roske says. "I believe in this content and if I was a viewer, I would pay for it and I would feel like that was a good value." He says revenue from the first episode financed the second. Both are available online now.
Schiff and Roske made the rounds at the recent Democratic National Convention, promoting the show and shooting footage for a future episode. They say it was “The West Wing” that turned them into political junkies. Perhaps “Chasing the Hill” will do the same for a new generation who prefer to watch TV on their laptop.