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Aping the Onion, the AV Club expands into video

The Onion's serious side, the A.V. Club, is following its comic brethren into video.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Onion's serious side, the A.V. Club, is following its comic brethren into video.

On Thursday, the pop culture website and Onion newspaper insert debuted "One Track Mind," a Web series in which songwriters discuss writing a particular tune and then perform it. The first of the 10 videos features Wye Oak indie band singer and guitarist Jenn Wasner. Other videos will feature Ben Folds, Matthew Sweet and Annie Clark, who uses the name St. Vincent.

"One Track Mind" also will play interstitially on IFC, airing ahead of Saturday night movies beginning Nov. 5.

It's a small foothold in broadcast, but the medium leap reflects the A.V. Club's growing multimedia presence. The Chicago-based A.V. Club, a taste-making destination of pop culture criticism and interviews, is the sober companion to the satirical headlines of The Onion.

In recent years, The Onion has spun off its mock TV news outlet, the Onion News Network, into two TV shows: "Onion News Network" on IFC and "Onion SportsDome" on Comedy Central.

The A.V. Club has been following a similar, albeit more humble, trajectory into video. It is, after all, part of its namesake: The A.V. Club takes its name from high school audiovisual clubs. While those groups long had a negative connotation of techie nerds, the A.V. Club prides itself in its geekery.

"One Track Mind" is its fifth original video series, following shows such as "A.V. Undercover," in which 25 bands covered 25 songs, and "Pop Pilgrims," a travel series about visiting the settings of films, TV shows and books.

"We learned some lessons from what (The Onion) did and how they set it up, and I know our business people learned lessons," says Josh Modell, general manager of the A.V. Club. "We feel like we've had in the last 18 months a lot of success with just a few shows and introduced our audience to a visual component."

That audience has been growing, too. The A.V. Club, founded in 1995, has seen its Web traffic double several times over in the last four years. now pulls in 25 million monthly page views.

And the A.V. Club has done that by going against the grain of the Internet, publishing lengthy, obsessive pieces instead of focusing on quick, purely eye-catching traffic. It recently, for example, ran multi-part interviews with TV showrunners, who oversee the shows. The four-part Louis C.K. interview on his FX show "Louie" ran well north of 10,000 words.

"The through-line — and I'll be careful not to be too immodest — is that we're both really smart," says Modell of the sister publications. "Both The Onion and the A.V. Club don't dumb things down."

The A.V. Club also recently shot a pilot for a series that pairs a book's author and a devoted fan for a private reading. If the first episode, which features comedian Patton Oswalt, is successful, it likely will become the site's sixth series.