World of Wonder Productions, the production house behind Logo’s long-running “RuPaul’s Drag Race” reality competition, wants to turn breakout performers from the series into bigger digital stars.
The L.A.-based company this spring plans to launch two original unscripted series featuring former contestants on the cable show. “Haus of Edwards” will provide an in-depth look at the life of famous drag queen Justin Johnson — known by his stage name, Alyssa Edwards — along with his “drag daughter” Laganja Estranja (Jay Jackson) following Justin’s frenetic life running his dance studio, filled with diva dancers, their deeply involved moms, and crazy staff. “Detox’s Life Rehab” stars sharp-witted Detox offering serious life hacks with weekly surprise guests to share their own secrets about how to make life less of a… drag.
The two shows are the first products of an expanded investment by WOW in digital programming for 2017, aimed at growing total audience reach and providing a showcase for its talent partners both in front of and behind the camera, said co-founder Fenton Bailey. “Our goal is to create engaging content with truly original voices across all platforms,” he said. “Justin and Detox bring a unique combination of comedy and drama to everything they do.”
WOW greenlit “Haus of Edwards” and “Detox’s Life Rehab” with a digital release in mind — as opposed to taking them to a linear TV network, according to Randy Barbato, the company’s other co-founder. But they might migrate across platforms down the line. “We see the modern role of production companies as expanding beyond just pitching shows to networks,” Barbato said. “The success of these series will feed back into the excitement for ‘Drag Race,’ which is a benefit to all.”
And with digital, there are fewer constraints than in the TV world, Bailey noted. “It’s exciting to tell stories of any length, not worrying where the commercial break is, and having freedom from [network] standards and practices,” he said.
Bailey added that there’s a growing talent pool in the drag world, and that the “art form” is becoming more mainstream. For example, during the Women’s March last month in Washington, D.C., he said, “you saw all these signs that said ‘Sashay away’ [a RuPaul catchphrase] — all these ‘Drag Race’ expressions manifesting themselves.”
The company’s investment in new digital programming this year includes the March premiere of the ninth season of digital series “Untucked: RuPaul’s Drag Race,” which gives fans a behind-the-scenes look at the Logo show’s cast. “Untucked” also runs on the WOW Presents channel on YouTube.
“Haus of Edwards” and “Detox’s Life Rehab” will run on WOW Presents, the company’s YouTube channel that has about 600,000 subscribers. Both series will be eight episodes, running roughly 30 minutes. World of Wonder is targeting premiere dates in late April, to coincide with its RuPaul’s DragCon convention in L.A. set for April 29-30, with eps to be released weekly.
As part of its ramped-up digital strategy, World of Wonder has hired Todd Radnitz, who rejoined the company late last year as senior VP of creative and digital overseeing digital production and a slate of TV production. Radnitz, a former showrunner at WOW, had previously been Bravo’s VP of production. “He has this incredible, broad range of skills, and he completely understands the WOW sensibility,” Barbato said.
In addition, Tom Wolf, who has spent eight years as VP of production with WOW and helped establish its YouTube presence, has been promoted to COO. Thairin Smothers, who manages WOW’s talent relationships across traditional and digital platforms, has been elevated to senior VP of talent and in the new role he is tasked with developing deals with leading online content creators.
World of Wonder’s digital business is not yet profitable, but in the past two years “we’ve been getting closer to getting into the black,” Barbato said. By spending more on digital-targeted programming, WOW is hoping to turn the corner. “If you want to demonstrate something has legs, you have to commit to it,” he said.
In 2016, the WOW Presents channel on YouTube grew views 53% and now has almost 300 million views to date. The channel currently airs 12 weekly original series with a new episode every day. In addition, the company operates the WOW Presents Network, comprising more than 150 YouTube partner creators who collectively have nearly half a billion cumulative views and over 2.2 million subscribers. The WOW Report blog receives more than 1 million visitors per month.
WOW’s digital content is ad-supported today, but Bailey said the company is exploring introducing its own subscription VOD service.
Pictured above (l. to r.): Detox, Alyssa Edwards, Laganja Estranja