It’s December, and as happens each year, many of our favorite shows have curled up in their dens (“production studios”) to hibernate until spring. For the avid television viewer, the dark days of winter are a reflection of the dark TV screen, turned off until new episodes return in January and February. It can be a confusing and lonely time for TV viewers. Some even resort to reading books.

Thankfully, the big studios are working harder than ever to give viewers a temporary cure for the mid-season break blues: a new crop of Webisodes from favorites like Heroes, Battlestar Galactica, and more.

A Webisode is a minidrama produced in relation to an existing television series, presented on the network’s website. A Webisode most often focuses on lesser known or unknown characters and plotlines from the main series. But not all Webisodes are fictional. In recent years all the major networks have been working to provide a variety of original video content on their sites, with mixed success.

A good example is ABC’s behind-the-scenes looks at Ugly Betty in their “Mode After Hours” series, which gives a funny and candid look into the making of the show. A bad example is “Big Brother House Calls” from CBS, a post-episode talk show more boring than watching a Big Brother house-cam in real time.

NBC Universal offers the best winter pick-me-ups with their latest minidramas from Heroes and the Sci Fi Channel’s Battlestar Galactica, as well as comedies like Chuck and The Office. These Webisode series spin off from this season’s plot lines, not really contributing to the main action, but helping to bridge the gap in viewer interest until each show returns in the spring.

NBC’s latest Heroes Webisode series, “The Recruit,” is on its third of five weekly episodes, posted each Monday until the real series returns on February 2. Over at the Sci Fi Channel, “The Face of the Enemy” is on its sixth of 10 biweekly Webisodes, in anticipation of Battlestar Galactica‘s return on January 16.

“The Recruit” is a good example of the rewards and pitfalls of Webisode watching. Each clip is short, around four minutes, and plays like one page in a Heroes comic book. It takes off of the half-season finale of Heroes, in which Mohinder, Tracy, and the others at Pinehearst have recruited 50 Marines on whom to test their superpower serum. The first Webisode, “Private Mills,” aired December 15. On one hand, the Webisode series puts faces and names to the otherwise unseen group of soldiers on the show. On the other hand, the quick spurts of drama seem inconsequential. To give it a little more relevance, Angela Petrelli (Cristine Rose) makes an appearance in the first Webisode, interrogating Private Mills about the mysterious events at Pinehearst. We hope she comes back for more.

Comedy just seems an inherently better fit for Webisodes, judging from NBC’s recent offerings of Chuck– and The Office-inspired media. Here, the ensemble casts of each show get to shine. In the Chuck Webisodes, we get mock instructional videos for Buy More (the store where Chuck works) starring his “nerd herd” coworkers. Over at NBC’s The Office page, you can find “The Outburst,” a four episode series that runs about 11 minutes in all, about half of a normal episode of The Office. Oscar (Oscar Martinez) has a loud argument with a mystery telephone caller, and many of the other key players from the series can’t contain their curiosity. Notably, for both the series, the shows’ biggest stars—Zachary Levi, Steve Carell, John Krasinski and Jenna Fischer—are absent. But the videos still provide some much needed chuckles anyway.

By their very nature, Webisodes are a quick fix: a small diversion that—in acting, production value, and writing—can’t measure up to the real deal. But, this time of year, we take what we can get, and Webisodes are far from useless. Whether you’re a die-hard fan looking for any and all tie-ins to the main story arc on your show, or you just want to see more of your favorite supporting players in some silly online antics, Webisodes could be your saving grace this winter.

Most major networks host links to their original content directly on their homepages. Go exploring, and let us know in the comments below: what are your all-time favorite Webisodes?

-Meghan Carlson, BuddyTV Staff Writer
(Image courtesy of NBC)

Meghan Carlson

Senior Writer, BuddyTV

Meghan hails from Walla Walla, WA, the proud home of the world’s best sweet onions and Adam West, the original Batman. An avid grammarian and over-analyzer, you can usually find her thinking too hard about plot devices in favorites like The OfficeIt’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and How I Met Your Mother. In her spare time, Meghan enjoys drawing, shopping, trying to be funny (and often failing), and not understanding the whole Twilight thing. She’s got a BA in English and Studio Art from Whitman College, which makes her a professional arguer, daydreamer, and doodler.