PBS YouTube Series Has An ‘Idea’ For You [EXCLUSIVE]

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Despite Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare coming to many people’s minds when they think of literature, it also has its fair share of short-form works. For instance, the haiku is a very short form of poetry originating from Japan consisting of short amounts of syllables. Those constraints remind us of a modern day social media site–Twitter.

So, with that said, is Twitter a modern day form of literature? Mike Rugnetta asks the question—and many more—on PBS’s web series “Idea Channel,” produced by Kornhaber Brown.

Every Wednesday, he comes up with an idea that “examines the connections between pop culture, technology and art.”

For instance, in the Twitter episode, Rugnetta ponders the aesthetics of the tweet.

“Twitter’s 140 character limit forces you to be creative in your tweet construction,” he said in the latest episode dealing with Twitter and literature. “Self-imposed, technologically determined or culturally developed–constraint is often the basis of creativity.”

He goes on to quote legendary film director Orson Welles, who said, “The absence of limitation is the enemy of art.”

“It’s clear, especially from some of the comments on the video, that there are people who don’t and never will think Twitter has literary potential, and that’s fine,” Rugnetta said to NMR. “But it’s hard to argue that there aren’t tweet-makers who agonize over the construction of their missives in a manner similar to a novelist or essayist. Those people are outside the norm–or stereotype, depending upon how you look at it–but they exist.”

The overall premise of examining the role of pop culture, technology and art in today’s conversation makes for more creative planning for “Idea Channel.”

“There are a lot of different popular/internet culture ideas we’re very excited to discuss, but we try to keep our focus on contemporary cultural forms and communities that don’t usually get explored in depth,” said Andrew Kornhaber, producer and director at Kornhaber Brown. “The most challenging aspect of developing each episode is pushing ourselves to understand the larger impacts of the ideas we’re exploring. Crafting each episode definitely takes a good amount of thinking.”

Kornhaber, with his business partner Eric Brown, have worked with many clients such as HP and the History Channel and were previously affiliated with the site Know Your Meme. They were approached by PBS—a channel known for long-form documentaries and period dramas—to create the series with Rugnetta.

“We knew that in order to reach and develop that audience, we couldn’t simply go with what works on TV,” he said. “We had to build something that was designed specifically for YouTubers. That’s when we reached out to Mike and worked together to create Idea Channel. What we’ve been trying to do with the series is to combine the short form YouTube experience with the intelligence that people expect from PBS, all with a dash of humor. Just because the episodes are short doesn’t mean you can’t pack a lot of big ideas inside of them.”

Rugnetta has keen interest in internet culture, especially in the realm of memes where his videos touch on the “lol” to the copious use of the Impact font in many of the show’s images. In fact, he is part of a “performative lecture” group known as MemeFactory, which recently got funding on Kickstarter for an upcoming book about—you guessed it—memes.

Other topics that Rugnetta has talked about on “Idea Channel” are the “new aesthetic,” the so-called “newest movement in the art world” that “essentially ignores the past and imagines a new future based on the present” through technology. He cites cakes with QR designs, Google Maps quilts, and yes, the infamous Tupac hologram.

“[Tupac] is essentially a piece of art that cannot be separated from the technology used to create it,” Rugnetta said as his example of “new aesthetic.”

Of course, the show is not limiting itself to deep discussions on aesthetics and literature. They can go cute as well.

Take for instance the phenomenon of Bronies—grown men who are big fans of the reboot of the “My Little Pony” TV series. He asks viewers in the opening seconds of the show, “Why on Earth would a grown man want to watch a television show about magical talking ponies learning about the importance of friendship?”

Rugnetta says on the program that the answer is simply that it’s a good show and they actually, not ironically, celebrate the show’s themes, ideas and characters as a community. He uses props like user-generated memes and Twitter discussion to prove his point in a quirky, yet informative way.

What makes the show more fulfilling for Rugnetta is his interaction with viewers. He tells NMR that his excitement in making the PBS “Idea Channel” resonates with his fans and makes viewers even more interested.

“If we didn’t make a show people genuinely cared about, that amazing reach wouldn’t be worth a damn,” he said.