Five years ago this week, the world met Doctor Horrible, an evil scientist with a Ph.D. in Horribleness who wanted to take over the world, and win the heart of the woman he loves.

He wound up doing more than that: he changed the world by showing that there’s more than one way to produce and present good entertainment. Just ask Netflix…or YouTube…or Hulu.

Joss Whedon, his two brothers Jed and Zack, and Maurissa Tanchaeon (the future Mrs. Jed Whedon) came up with Doctor Horrible during the writer’s strike of 2007. They wondered if anyone would be interested in the story of a mad scientist who has a freeze ray to defeat an annoying super hero, join the Evil League of Evil, and get the girl of his laundromat dreams, Penny.

It was officiallyDr. Horrible thumbnail announced in this open letter on the Dr. Horrible website. When part one was shown on July 15th, 2008, response was…BIG! It even crashed the server. People couldn’t wait to see part two on the 17th, and part three on the 19th before it was taken offline for a few days. Soon fans bought video copies of Dr. Horrible and the soundtrack on iTunes, and demand was even bigger. Let’s say it convinced this writer to get a video iPod.

While it was a big chance for Neil Patrick Harris to show his musical skills, it also surprised people when they heard Nathan Fillion and Felicia Day sing. Those who saw producers David Fury and Marti Noxon as singing news anchors were less surprised if they saw them perform in “Once More With Feeling.” Simon Helberg, who played Moist, is more familiar as part of The Big Bang Theory.

The excitement over Dr. Horrible continued at Comic-Con that year, as people packed one of the rooms to see the musical on the big screen for this first time. This included the cast, as they wondered how the fans would respond to it. It turned out to be an even bigger hit.

Eventually, it led to DVDs (including a musical commentary, also a first), action figures, comic books some awards including a Hugo and an Emmy in 2009, and a live musical version that ran during Comic-Con two years ago.

“I’m talking about an overhaul of the system. Putting the power in…DIFFERENT… hands.”

Dr. Horrible may haDr. Horrible 1ve said that, but it’s Joss’ words, too. As he said in the Dr. Horrible book, “Besides the fact that we all had an enormous amount of fun, this was really designed to be a model for a new way to put out media, a new form of artistic community that involves all of you guys, all of us, and maybe not so much some other people. I’m an advocate of evolution over revolution, I’m not trying to bring down the studios—I still work there, as do we all pretty much, and I’m grateful for it…but things are changing, and it’s really important that as they change we make sure they’re changing for the better, and Dr. Horrible was a little bit about that, about putting power in different hands. The wrong hands.”

Five year later, it turns out he was right, because this has happened before. When TV first established itself in the 1940’s, it was seen asDr. Horrible 2 a curiosity against established radio. Then in the 1980’s HBO competed with the major networks and started to make its own shows, like Fraggle Rock, Max Headroom, and Dream On.  Showtime followed suit with Brothers, a sitcom that featured a gay character in 1984, followed by Soul Food and Resurrection Boulevard. It even turned Lisa Kidrow’s internet series, Web Therapy, into a regular sitcom. Dr. Horrible is the latest example of the “evolution” that Joss talked about.

It should be pointed out, though, that Felicia Day did help inspire the creation of Dr. Horrible because of her own web sitcom, The Guild, which started a few months before. It recently ended its successful six-year run on her You Tube channel, Geek and Sundry.

“What a crazy random happenstance”

Today, cable and network TV recognize online TV shows as real competition. Netflix is the most obvious example, because it brought back Arrested Development and made two original series, Orange Is The New Black (already renewed for a second season) and House of Cards. The bigger decision is having all the episodes in a season available immediately. Thus, the customer can watch one episode per week, or per day or all at once.

It may make even bigger news if it snags an Emmy nomination this week.

Meanwhile, Amazon Studios presented several pilots for proposed shows, and let the public be the programmer. That’s why people will soon see sitcoms about politicians and ambitious computer programmers, with more shows on the drawing board

Hulu has also been a source for online programming, including original shows (Moonie Boy, East Los High)  and British and Canadian imports. YouTube devotes several channels for original shows, including H+, The Digital Series, and a female drama channel called WIGS, featuring actresses like Anna Paquin and Julia Stiles.

“Here lies everything
The world I wanted at my feet
My victory’s complete
So hail to the king”

In the end, Dr. Horrible achieved something that’s more impressive than taking over the world. He made a new one, where power can be in the “wrong hands”, creating new choices in entertainment for producers and viewers.  Not bad for a little internet musical.


San Diego Comic-Con will present Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog Thursday at 8:30 at room 6BCF. A costume contest is included. It’s advised to come early for the best seats

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