Shortly before Brian McGreevy pitched his dark novel "Hemlock Grove" to Hollywood as a potential television series, he began to wonder if TV might not be the right fit, after all.
McGreevy and writing partner Lee Shipman had just learned of a blockbuster deal that video-streaming platform Netflix struck to produce "House of Cards," a polished political drama starring Oscar-winner Kevin Spacey. He was instantly intrigued.
"I took one look at Lee and said, 'Well, there's the future of this business,'" McGreevy recalled.
"Hemlock Grove," which debuts Friday on Netflix, where all 13 episodes will be available for streaming, is part of a new wave of slick, sophisticated scripted original shows that are bringing more buzz and prestige to online video.
"It used to be that some kid on YouTube was your typical online star," says Deana Myers, a senior programming analyst for media research firm SNL Kagan. "Now, you've got Kevin Spacey. That's impressive."
With backing from major Hollywood studios and creative involvement from such big names as Tom Hanks, Jack Black and Jerry Seinfeld, "netcasters" including Yahoo Screen, Amazon, AOL On Network, YouTube, Hulu and Crackle are invading territory once reserved for traditional TV and giving rise to new rivalries.
"We've been waiting for this moment for a long time," says Erin McPherson, head of original programming at Yahoo. "The stars have finally aligned. The hardware is there. The software is there. The interest is there. And the consumers are there."
Still ahead: Soap opera fans eagerly await April 29 _ the resurrection date for "All My Children" and "One Life to Live," which will begin airing new episodes via Hulu and iTunes. On May 26, Netflix will make another big splash when it unleashes new episodes of the beloved cult comedy "Arrested Development."
"We're starting to see people throwing more money into original online programming than they ever have, and it's showing in the quality," says Josh Cohen, a co-founder of Tubefilter.com, a site that covers online video.
It helps, of course, that more consumers are becoming comfortable with the idea of viewing video on devices other than their TV sets.
"I have a lot of friends who used to say that they would never watch shows or movies on a small computer screen," says Larry Tanz, CEO of Vuguru, a production company founded by Michael Eisner for Web-exclusive programming. "Then the iPad came along, with its crystal-clear images, to stop that conversation ... Now people see the benefits and the convenience and the quality."
When it comes to content quality, Netflix, with "House of Cards," is leading the way. Reportedly produced with a budget that topped $100million, the series _ released in February _ has the feel of an HBO-style drama. And it earned rave reviews from TV critics who typically have ignored online programs.
Tanz calls "House of Cards" a "game-changer" _ one that could portend a battle between traditional television entities and online platforms for creative talent and America's attention spans. Others are taking a wait-and-see approach. Netflix, after all, has yet to release viewer data for "Cards."
"I feel like they would be bragging if the audience was huge," Myers says. "(The viewing numbers) might be OK for them, but maybe they don't want to be compared with 'The Walking Dead.'"
Whatever the numbers are, there's no denying that the creative community is more enamored with Internet-only options. Producers and writers are attracted by what Tanz calls "a move-faster mentality," which hastens the time it takes to move from script to screen and avoids development gridlock.
"There's also willingness by creative types to be flexible in making deals because everyone wants this to work," McPherson says. "And it's much closer to independent filmmaking. Artists tend to get more creative control than at a network."
McGreevy, who has worked as a scriptwriter for years, notices the difference.
"One thing I really like about Netflix is that it's a Silicon Valley company with a Silicon Valley ethos," he says. "They're so much more efficient and so less pretentious than the typical Hollywood studio. And they get things done."
Moreover, the online platforms often are willing to flout traditional procedures. Netflix, for example, has gained attention for its nod to binge viewing with its simultaneous releasing of multiple episodes. In addition, Amazon studios recently announced a plan in which it will ask for customer feedback on pilot episodes for more than 10 shows, including a Silicon Valley-based comedy called "Betas."
It's just part of the fresh thinking the Web entities are bringing to the business, according to Roy Price, director of Amazon Studios, who sees a day when consumers won't make distinctions between TV and other devices.
"They're all going to fade away and become part of our collective memory, like the buggy whip," he says. "The lines will blur and disappear as people get shows on their TV, tablets and phones."