'Starship' blazes Web-to-TV trail

The first Internet series to make the transition to traditional television is going to Showtime Networks.

The cabler said Tuesday it has inked a deal with Netcaster Icebox.com to license “Starship Regulars,” an animated comedy series about the lives of ordinary men and women aboard a military spaceship, to air and later develop into a live-action strip.

The series has yet to bow on the Web.

Simulcasts

Episodes of the three-minute show, created by Icebox co-founder Rob LaZebnik (co-exec producer of “The Simpsons” and “Empty Nest”), will air simultaneously online at Icebox and during Showtime’s “Sci-Friday” night lineup beginning Aug. 11.

After that, a lineup of five episodes will appear on Icebox.com, with the next to air on Showtime’s site (www.sho.com).

Next June, Showtime will turn the strip into 13 live-action half-hours to be produced by Icebox and exec produced by LaZebnik.

So far, Icebox has focused on animation only because of the limits of broadcasting technology on the Web. Its entree into live-action TV production will be another first for a dot-com.

Icebox will receive rights payments, producing fees and backend revenues.

Deal follows a pact under which Universal spent $2 million to acquire the film rights to UrbanEntertainment.com’s “Undercover Brother” for Imagine Entertainment.

Streaming through scripts

Showtime execs spent the last few months combing through Icebox’s unproduced scripts, concept drawings and unaired pilots, as well as already streamed shows.

“We showed them ‘Starship Regulars’ and they liked it,” said Icebox.com CEO Steve Stanford. “We’re excited about the show running online and offline simultaneously. It will create awareness for people who haven’t been consuming entertainment on the Web. It will give people a whole new appreciation of what Web entertainment can be.”

Stanford said other, similar deals are in the works; the company’s in discussions with broadcast networks about acquiring shows.

Experimental cabler

Showtime has been one of the more experimental cablers, having previously dabbled with broadcast Internet programming, beginning with “Whirl Girl” late last year.

“We’ve been carefully following the burgeoning entertainment sites on the Internet,” said Showtime’s Peter Keramidas, senior veep of programming and new media. “We felt that Icebox, with its great production team and incredible roster of writers, is doing some of the most innovative programming in any medium. ‘Starship Regulars,’ with its sci-fi theme and smart, subversive sensibility, is a perfect fit for Showtime.”

Icebox, with its slew of A-list television writing and producing talent, was created by Internet incubator eCompanies and founded by LaZebnik, fellow “Simpsons” and “King of the Hill” scribe John Collier, Howard Gordon (“The X-Files”) and Stanford earlier this year.

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