Lizzie Bennet Diaries & Emma Approved: A New Age of Television by Samantha Abernathey
NOTES: Origins and Context | See Also
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Origins of this content
Written for LFYT 2015 final by Samantha Abernathey
As one article notes: "It is a truth universally acknowledged ... that Jane Austen's novels will never stop being reimagined, readapted, or reworked." Another article, in Time Magazine similarly comments, "It is a truth universally acknowledged that we can never have too many Jane Austen parodies." Austen's limited oeuvre has spawned innumerable media recreations, ranging from published continuation novels to the web series discussed in this texteo. Her stories continue to find relevance among each generation, despite being nearly 200 years old. The themes Austen covered in her books undoubtedly contribute to this phenomenon, as subjects such as familial problems, social issues, love and relationships, gender expression, and more, are undeniably still relevant to today. The YouTube format seems particularly suited to tackle these themes, increasing the relatability of the characters through the expected blog format, something modern viewers are very comfortable with.
On April 9th of 2012, a brand new web series called "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries" premiered exclusively on YouTube. The show recreated Jane Austen's immensely famous book Pride and Prejudice in a modern vlog-format with short episodes ranging from 2-8 minutes long. Created by Hank Green and Bernie Su, both already established creators of web-specific content, this series quickly rose in popularity and viewership, concluding almost a year later with 100 total episodes, not including nearly 60 videos of ancillary content. The show even won a Primetime Emmy award in a new category, Outstanding Creative Achievement in Interactive Media-Original Interactive Program.

Seven months later, the appropriately titled production studio, Pemberley Digital , produced a second series, called "Emma Approved" . While the series did not garner as much public or critical reception, clearly the company had found a format that worked. The third full series, a collaboration with PBS Digital Studios, moved away from the Jane Austen focus and focused on a recreation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein in a gender-bent educational web series called "Frankenstein MD" . Both of these shows, while less popular than "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries," managed to reach a large range of audiences.

The series provided an innovative form of content for the YouTube sphere, being nearly 100% scripted, rehearsed, and undeniably professionally produced. This greatly differed from the traditional YouTube DIY aesthetic, but this clearly did not diminish its YouTube viewership. "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries" garnered 1.6 million views for the first episode, 300,000-500,000 for the subsequent ones. While there are obviously millions of professionally-produced YouTube videos, these web series provided an original approach in the incorporation of more conventional literary sources. The novels that the shows were based on might be considered typically "high-culture" materials--a stark contrast to the 'low culture' attribution to YouTube. Furthermore, the updating of the stories to a contemporary setting allows watchers to see just how Austen's stories can be relevant to today. Major plot points, such as Wickham's betrayal of Lydia, are given modern counterparts that, while much different than the original content, still convey the same emotional weight.

All three series are also representations of transmedia practices. On their About page , Pemberely Digital asserts that "The company utilizes not only YouTube but other social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest, LinkedIn, LOOKBOOK, and others to tell an enriched and immersive story that transcends across multiple formats." This multi-platform approach allowed viewers to fully ingratiate themselves into the story. Each series incorporates a weekly Q&A video in which the actors (in character) respond to questions viewers post on the videos, or through various other social media pages. It is this methodology that made "The Lizzie Bennet Diaries" what A.V. Club calls, "a landmark webseries" and greatly contributed to its popularity and reach.

These shows represent one facet in the new age of media. No longer does an influential and successful show require Hollywood studio backing. Each episode often reaches more viewers than many popular shows on television today. The ease of tuning in from one's own computer makes it even simpler to engage with the content. The transmedia approach allows one to fully immerse oneself into the story, even engaging with the characters themselves. Together, these elements combine to make these shows an important chapter in YouTube history.