Fact checking may be one of the first departments to get cut when magazine budgets get squeezed, but online, it is going strong. "FCU: Fact Checkers Unit," the popular webisode series that first appeared on NBC.com and then on MTV.com, has just launched a new video starring the ubiquitous James Franco.
In these silly six-minute shorts, originally created by Peter Karinen, Brian Sacca and Dan Beers, the magazine fact-checkers employ "CSI"-like detective skills in nailing down inane facts such as whether Bill Murray really likes warm milk before bed, if Moby is invincible and if Alex Trebek shaves against the grain.
Now Franco has signed on to be the subject of the magazine fact-checkers, two hyper-serious, hyper-dorky magazine employees who take their jobs of checking facts very seriously.
The series originated as a short film starring Bill Murray that screened at the Sundance Film Festival in 2008. Tom Bannister, CEO of SXM Media and executive producer of "FCU," tracked down the creators and took them to Seoul to strike a deal with Samsung to make webisodes featuring the company's phones.
The first season of the series had eight episodes featuring such celebrities as Luke Perry, Dave Navarro and John Heder; it garnered more than 5 million page views. Season 2, in which the fact-checkers hit the road working for a music magazine called SWAG, generated over 9 million page views.
The series creators' went after Franco for a specific one-episode deal, one that if well-received could spark a third season that centers on the idea that many Hollywood celebrities are really superheroes.
And with Franco rivaling Murray in star power, Bannister is hoping that his involvement will encourage more A-listers to get involved in the Web short business.
“James Franco is renowned for doing innovative things: teaching in New York, appearing on 'General Hospital,' etc. He seemed like the perfect person for this. Luckily we were proved right,” said Bannister. “We’re hoping that having James will make other celebs more confident about doing it. He’s breaking some new ground.”
-- Nicole Sperling