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AOL Celebrates Original Content Creators At Special Event

Filmmaker Tiffany Shlain discusses her Emmy nominated series “Future Starts Here” at the AOL Originals party. (photo credit: GP Productions)

BY: Marjorie Galas, Editor

The content creation game has every provider jumping on board. AOL leapt into the game in April, 2013 by premiering sixteen original series. While the lack of renewing advertisers affected the life of the majority of the offerings, a total viewership of 75 million cemented the ongoing life of four programs: filmmaker Tiffany Shlain’s exploration of mankind’s dealings with technology “The Future Starts Here”, Sarah Jessica Parker’s lifestyle review of New York City ballet dancers “city.ballet”, and “Hardwired”, a fashion / technology show hosted by YouTube star Justine Ezarik.  “#Candidly Nicole”, Nicole Ritchie’s series inspired by her Twitter feeds, lagged on production while waiting on an advertising sponsor.

Like “#Candidly Nicole”, several of the AOL series went on an extended hiatus as new advertisers were found. While new series, such as long form “Connected”, Steve Buscemi’s unscripted conversation series “Park Bench” and James Franco’s comic re-imagining of classic movie scenes “Making a Scene” were added to the roster, advertisers became enamored with the numbers the web series were bringing in.Thursday, October 9th#Candidly Nicole” was back on the air, and AOL subsequently was celebrating the return of its most popular series while introducing the launch of three new series during a private event at West Hollywood’s Palihouse.

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Kevin Neelon’s “Laugh Lessons with Kevin Nealon” launched October 6th. Each five to seven minute episode matches a well-known comic with a handful of pre-school aged children. The concept arose when Nealon watched his four-year-old son playing with Gary Shandling.

“He was hitting him softly with a pillow and teaching him how to do pratfalls,” said Nealon. “My wife and I thought this would make a great show, having great comedians teaching kids comedy.”

Nealon pitched the idea to A Very Good Production, Ellen DeGeneres’ production company. Both DeGeneres and her company loved the idea. Between Nealon and DeGeneres, the slate of comics involved in the show includes Adam Sandler, Sarah Silverman, Dana Carvey, Chelsea Handler and David Spade.

All the children are non-actors with no previous on camera experience. To make the kids comfortable, the set was designed like a pre-school classroom, and the kids are brought onto the set early to acclimate. Nealon then spends time with them, distracting their attention from the camera and sound equipment and redirecting it to the adult who will be sitting with them.

While Nealon appreciates each comic’s ability to get “down to basics” and utilize their improv skills  when working with youngsters who have no concept of who they are, he’s looking for ways to expand the concept in upcoming episodes.

“We’re just starting out now and we’re trying to explore other avenues for it and other types of things for the comics to do with the kids,” said Nealon. “We’re really just breaking the ice.”

Friday, October 10th marked the premier of “TrueTrans with Laura Jane Grace.” Grace, lead singer of the punk band Against Me!, went through her transition period during the height of her singing career. The ten episode series explores her accounts of identifying as a transgender individual, and explores the stories of transgenders throughout the United States.

“Most of the subjects are people I connected with online through various social media,” said Grace. “I wanted to show a broad spectrum of all groups, occupations and generations. It’s not about going from box A to box B – there are some people out there that don’t want to be identified as he or she but they, them or their.”

Spending years in a band prepared Grace to take center stage on the show. Having recorded music videos and a DVD, Grace felt comfortable around the camera and the priorities that accompany a production. However, she’s learned how to make subjects feel comfortable while sharing their stories on camera. She also found the communalities transgender individuals share has helped her grow in her own experience.

“It’s hard transitioning on tour as a musician. Hearing about the commonalities and differences has been a growth experience,” said Grace. “One commonality across the country was when there wasn’t acceptance from the family; it turned people towards really negative things.”

“My Hero”, AOL’s third new series premiering Wednesday, October 24, is executive produced by Zoe Saldana. The series follows celebrities as they surprise a person from their past who was truly motivational and inspirational to them. Celebrities that will appear in upcoming episodes include Julianne Hough, Maria Menounos, Michelle Monaghan and Mary Lambert.

Tiffany Shlain, creator of returning show “The Future Starts Here” (second season premieres October 23), enjoys the support she’s received from AOL in her unique blend of animation and technology used to enhance her educational segments. The show’s inaugural season received an Emmy nomination for New Approaches: Arts, Lifestyle and Culture, something she feels wouldn’t have been achieved without the freedom she is given by AOL

.”I think Hollywood is kind of known for giving a lot of notes and changing the vision, but I feel AOL is a place that gives creative freedom,” said Shlain. “They let me create something that was very different and very intellectual and creative. When it got the Emmy nom and over 20million views, I said ‘That’s awesome.’”

Learn more about AOL Originals programming here: