It all started as a party joke. Todd Spence and Roger Johnson, 2006 Webster University graduates, began tossing around the idea of a comedy about life at a car dealership. That night in ‘06, Spence and Johnson wrote the pilot for what would later become their web series, “Dealership.”
After Dealership was formed, Spence and Johnson took four years to begin production on the series. In 2010, they filmed a nine-episode season.
“The concept originally was taking a very mundane setting and turning it on its ear and making it completely the opposite of mundane,” Spence said. “Just something kind of insane. … From there, we kind of just took that idea and leveled it out. It still has that mundane setting, but anything can happen at the same time.”
Last month, Spence discovered — after suggesting to friends to write in a nomination — Dealership had entered the finals of an LA Weekly reader poll for Best Web Series. Other series in the running included “Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis” and “Burning Love,” which featured Michael Ian Black and Adam Scott.
Voting for the poll ended Thursday, Aug. 30 and the results will be posted Sept. 19.
“I feel good about (the competition),” Spence said. “Even though we’re up against ‘Between Two Ferns’ and ‘Burning Love,’ which is another really popular, celebrity-driven web series. I don’t think those guys even recognize that they were nominated. It’s so under the radar that they don’t even realize. So I feel pretty good about it.”
LA Weekly editor-in-chief Sarah Fenske said readers called for the nominations. Readers nominated their web series of choice, then LA Weekly’s web editor went through those most frequently nominated and chose the best of the bunch.
“Dealership is pretty high quality,” Fenske said. “I think it really has a chance to win.”
In the nine-episode first season, characters have faced things like gypsies and ghosts. Spence and Johnson act as recurring characters. Other Webster alumni, like 2007 graduate Zak White, also contribute to Dealership, either in front of or behind the camera.
“Really, it’s just wrangling in these big personalities,” said White, Dealership’s co-writer and director. “You can’t let any one of them get too big because it won’t play. You’ve really got to make sure they mesh together and one of them doesn’t go completely off the rails, which is very easy to do.”
Spence plays Marty Freebrook, a “very nice guy” who “means well, but he’s sort of the Barney Fife of Dealership,” Spence said. Johnson plays a character named Chuck Barkley.
“He is angry,” Johnson said of his character. “He is very much a creature of his own design. He only cares about himself. He’s a scumbag; they’re all scumbags, to an extent, but Chuck is probably the biggest scumbag out of all of them.”
With the workplace humor, Dealership has been compared to shows including “The Office” and “Workaholics,” which Johnson said is “playing in the same sandbox” as Dealership.
Because the contributors do not earn money from Dealership, everyone involved has other jobs. Spence, who has a film production degree, works as an assistant in the field at “Jimmy Kimmel Live” in Los Angeles.
White also works in television in LA. Johnson is currently working on his master’s degree in media communications
at Webster. Whereas Johnson would like to keep Dealership small, Spence and White would like to see it grow.
“I like that we, the guys that are involved, have fun doing it together,” Spence said. “It doesn’t feel like work. Whenever we’re shooting all day, we’re just laughing all day because what we’re doing is so stoic. It’s just really great. I wish I could do it as a job. I wish we could get paid to do Dealership.”
Fenske said sometimes a web series may be the way of the future. Web series don’t necessarily need a big name like Galifianakis to do well, but they can have a big name.
Because the contributors no longer live in the same area, Spence said Dealership is sort of on a hiatus. They are in the process of developing a second season but are focusing more on marketing the current episodes. A win in the LA Weekly poll would encourage Spence to do more with the series.
“It’s fun and people seem to like it, so as long as those two things keep happening, then I’ll keep doing it,” Spence said. “At this point, it’s not a matter of winning, it’s a matter of having a reason to push Dealership again. That’s what made it fun.”
The results of the LA Weekly poll will be announced at a party on Sept. 19. Regardless of the outcome, White believes in Dealership and hopes to see it continue.
“I want to see it everywhere,” White said. “I want it to be a TV show, a movie franchise. I want it to be a live show on Broadway. Dealership could be anything … There’s a lot of potential there, it’s just a matter of it finding its audience.”