When people think of online streaming TV, they usually think of Netflix and Hulu, but there’s another guy in town. Sony’s Crackle offers a similar, ever-improving service for free. The ad-based network, home of Jerry Seinfeld’s hit web series, “Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee,” continues to expand from B-movies and vintage TV shows into original programming. With big names like Dennis Quaid signing on for new shows, Crackle could become another destination for fans to gobble up quality TV.
Crackle’s Video Library
The online network began with a similar macho overtone like cable TV channels Spike and FX. Scan their movie library and you’ll find plenty of action and raunchy comedies. The television offerings span the decades from classics like “Good Times” and “All in the Family” to more modern-day fare like “The Shield.” Feel free to overdose on the guilty-pleasure goodness of William Shatner’s corny 80s cop show, “T.J. Hooker.”
Sony mines their own expansive collection for content, but Crackle also has deals with other big studios like Lionsgate, MGM, and Universal. Additional partnerships are on the horizon, but may be restricted to a pay version of the network. Like cable TV, online networks have discovered that premium content can’t always be supported fully by ads.
Free Original TV – What’s On Now
Crackle is currently offering a handful of original shows with some impressive cast lists. The flagship series, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” has five seasons available on the site. Seinfeld drives, chats, and laughs with fellow funny people like Jon Stewart, Tina Fey, Amy Schumer, Jimmy Fallon, and Chris Rock. Season six begins June 4, and will include visits from Jim Carrey and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss. If you haven’t discovered this comedy gem, take a peek at how Seinfeld’s guests tackle Twitter.
The network’s other original programming includes “Chosen,” a creepy thriller focused on an innocent person unwillingly dragged into a survival game by a sadistic group called The Watchers. Stars include Milo Ventimiglia (“Heroes”), Deidrich Bader (“Office Space”), and Brandon Routh of TV’s “Arrow.”
Two other dramas launched for Crackle have drawn in an interesting array of TV actors like Jesse Bradford, Summer Glau, Patrick Warburton, Gina Gershon, and David Arquette. Episodes are short and budgets are small, putting the emphasis on telling stories in a new way. “The parameters are really loose,” “Sequestered” star Bradford says of the barely-tested-waters online TV. “It’s not quite so paint-by-numbers.”
Another interesting offering from the site is “Playing it Forward,” a musical series that features surprise performances from stars in unexpected places. Jon Legend puts on an impromptu performance at a California farmer’s market in the first episode. The concerts are designed to share great music while raising money for charity and music education. This looks like it’ll have an erratic schedule, so keep an eye on the Crackle site for future installments.
Free Original TV – What’s Coming Soon
Dennis Quaid will grace us with “The Art of More,” a new 10-episode series for Crackle. English actor Christian Cooke, who has appeared on “Doctor Who” as well as short-lived Starz series “Magic City,” also stars. The unique drama will take place in the world of high-end auction houses, and feature lots of wheeling and dealing between powerful factions of hustlers and smugglers.
Crackle also plans an animated series titled “Supermansion,” featuring voice work from Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad” fame. The network’s hope is to eventually expand into scheduled programming, rather than strictly on demand services. It seems the new online networks are learning that building buzz for upcoming episodes, rather than giving up the whole series at once, can help a network thrive.
Remaining true to its B-movie roots, Crackle has also broken new ground with the first online TV-only release of a major movie sequel. Brace yourselves for David Spade’s return as “Joe Dirt 2.”
It will be fun to watch what Crackle does next on its ever-evolving network. It’s clearly an experiment in programming, and the potpourri of offerings is entertaining to explore. With the network’s financials rolled in with all of Sony, it’s not yet evident what kind of profit their online TV is making.
“We’re a meaningful part of Sony Picture TV’s business,” Crackle’s GM Eric Berger said of the network. “TV is not going away, but [online programming] is a meaningful new part of that business.”