Television has always been a passive experience, allowing viewers to temporarily retreat from their own reality and enter a universe determined by the show's creators. This escapist element of television has long been part of its appeal.
With his new show HitRecord, however, Joseph Gordon-Levitt is deviating from that model and attempting to embody the voice of millennials. The variety show hopes to create a more democratic entertainment platform for young people, allowing them to actually impact the virtual world to which they escape.
Premiering this Saturday on Pivot, HitRecord is an extension of Gordon-Levitt's online production company of the same name, which employs user-generated content to create collaborative short films, animated stories and musical pieces. Anyone can join and contribute to the project simply by creating an account on the site and either posting original content or responding to a collaborative post.
According to Gordon-Levitt, the show "is made collaboratively by a community of hundreds of thousands of artists from all over the world." Each episode will have a central theme that unites a series of shorts into a coherent story, the first of which (already available online) is centered upon the number one. But while the content of the show is certainly inventive, it's the innovative democratic model of HitRecord that truly makes it representative of millennial culture.
The omnipresence of social media across the Internet has resulted in that fact that creative young people are used to being able to publish and instantly access content that is representative of their particular perspectives and interests. This method of consuming media does not lend itself to the established television model, wherein networks dictate what content airs based on broad cultural tastes.
That is not to say that the existing model is completely replaceable by alternative approaches such as Gordon-Levitt's, but aside from a few popular exceptions, ratings are down across all networks — and young people are allocating their media consumption to non-television outlets more than ever. HitRecord is the first of its kind, in that it embraces the diversity of taste among millennials by creating a true meritocracy in which content is chosen solely based on its quality and relevance to a young audience.
Elle Fanning in a short from the first episode of the show.
The show has the potential to become a forum for the ideas of a generation because each piece is composed of independent stories that carry specific meaning for their respective creators. This factor prevents the stale meta-narratives that network executives think represent young viewers from overwhelming real stories that different people can interpret and relate to in unique ways, and is consistent with the new methods in which young people consume media.
Gordon-Levitt's star power gives HitRecord an inherent boost in notoriety, but the show remains an experimental idea, airing on a newly formed and widely unknown network. Such uncharted territory makes failure a real possibility. But if the show can gain traction, it has the potential to capture the spirit of the young demographic that more traditional television fails to represent.