NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Even Candace Bushnell is scaling down in a recession. The author, whose career has spawned a hit HBO series and accompanying blockbuster movie ("Sex & the City"), two seasons of an NBC drama ("Lipstick Jungle") and society-obsessed books such as "Trading Up" and "One Fifth Avenue," debuts her first web series this week, with an all-star cast and content partners that belie its small budget.
"The Broadroom" is a four-part web series created in partnership with Meredith's More magazine and Co.Op TV, sponsored by Maybelline New York's Color Sensational lipstick. The first episode premieres today, at Maybelline.com/TheBroadroom, and features a cast including Jennie Garth ("90210"), Jennifer Esposito ("Samantha Who?") and Talia Balsam ("Mad Men"), and veteran sitcom director Ellen Gittelsohn ("Roseanne," "Designing Women," "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air").
So what persuaded the author to go digital for her latest project? A fun challenge to write 27 minutes of web content, free of the confines of hour-long scripted dramas on network TV.
"In network TV, if you have an hour-long show you have six acts, and there's not a lot of flexibility. The teaser alone has to be six minutes, which is the same length as one episode of 'The Broadroom,'" Ms. Bushnell said.
Tackling new demographics
She also relished the opportunity to portray businesswomen on the older side of the 25-to-54 spectrum, the same age bracket More caters to on a regular basis.
"When it comes to demographics, once you're 50 like me you're not even in a demographic anymore," Ms. Bushnell said. "It really comes out of this social change of the last 30 to 40 years with women going to work and having careers that last their lifetime."
For Meredith, "The Broadroom" represents the publishing company's first foray into scripted web content, following ventures into video on-demand for Better Homes & Garden and Parents and a scripted feature-length film, "Soccer Mom," co-created and distributed by Ladies Home Journal in 2008. After successful ventures into video content, Nancy Weber, senior VP-chief marketing officer of Meredith's National Media Group, said the company was eager to dip its toes in the web sitcom waters. "The technology has come so far forward from a viewing perspective, it's a great place to experiment and try something new without committing a major investment to do a full series on TV."
Lesley Jane Seymour, More's editor in chief, pointed to recent data that showed women over the age of 35 -- the 55-plus demo in particular -- are among the fastest-growing and biggest users of the web, not to mention the recession's most active consumers. "The only women in the stores are the women over 40, these are the people who still have the money," she said. "There are advertisers who are looking at our reader for the first time and it's great -- we got Ralph Lauren in the book, Coach, Estee Lauder, Cadillac -- all these people who had not thought about this consumer before but they have to."
"The Broadroom" is Maybelline's second team-up with a Bushnell project, following its extensive on-air and online sponsorship of NBC's "Lipstick Jungle," and also coincides with the brand's sponsorship of New York Fashion Week.
"Candace has such an appreciation and talent to be able to dive into the lives of women through the colorful characters she creates. We really thought this program was going to help us focus on our lip-color launch but also celebrate the colorful lives that women lead," said Carolyn Holba, Maybelline's senior VP-U.S. marketing.
The audience benchmarks are fairly low for "The Broadroom," which will be distributed on a branded Maybelline website as well as mommy blog Divine Caroline. Strangely, it won't be on More.com, which has seen traffic increase by 27% to 348,000 unique viewers in the three months since its May relaunch, according to Omniture.
Ms. Holba emphasized the viral nature of the webisodes, which will also be accompanied by a contest. "We are excited about their potential reach as we know these will be shared among viewers and even re-posted on other sites."
Lipstick isn't the only product "The Broadroom" is pitching. Ellen Archer, founder of Voice, a female-focused imprint of Hyperion Publishing, expects the series to have a halo effect on Ms. Bushnell's book sales as well. "Candace is one of those authors who has the ability to transcend. She has the opportunity with these webisodes to reach this whole new audience who loves her, from college kids who still watch 'Sex & the City' repeats to the older woman who's active in the digital space."