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How a TV-PG Show Became The Edgiest Series Online: Ruby Skye, P.I.’s Case of the Missing Rulebook

By Nathan Savin Scott

Have you ever finished an episode of your favorite TV show only to be left wanting more?

For a show you’ve invested time in, it hurts to imagine waiting an entire week until you can plunge back into the world of your beloved characters.

You almost wish you could, impossible as it sounds, talk to the characters on the show. Find out what they’re thinking. Stay a part of their story; keep it going.

The creators of hit Internet kid-sleuth series Ruby Skye, P.I. know the feeling, and they’re tapping into it by stretching the Internet’s capabilities to make their own story come alive in an unprecedented way, one that could very well change the nature of digital entertainment.

You are watching the Season 2 premiere of Ruby Skye, P.I., “A Well-Read Poltergeist”

Watch the rest of Season 2 now!

Episode 2.2 – Ava’s Last Puzzle

Episode 2.3 – Where There’s No Will, There’s A Way

Episode 2.4 – #Creepy

Episode 2.5 – Edmund

Episode 2.6 – A Regular Sherlock Holmes

Episode 2.7 – On the Trail of a Thief

Episode 2.8 – The Final Clue

Ruby Skye, P.I. is an award-winning Internet TV show that centers on the life of Ruby Skye, a teenage detective who uses her powers of keen observation, along with the help of a few friends, to solve a slew of cases. Now in its second season, Ruby Skye, P.I. is one of the most popular series on KoldCast TV and, using the interactivity of the web, it’s making crime-solvers out of all of us.

Down The Rabbit Hole

When designing Ruby Skye, P.I., show creator Jill Golick understood that part of the joy of detective stories, no matter your age, was being involved in the mystery. The satisfaction of watching or reading Sherlock Holmes wasn’t that he always solved the case, but rather trying to solve the case alongside him.

After the initial launch and excitement surrounding the first season of Ruby Skye, P.I., Golick knew she wanted to engage the audience on an even deeper level – to offer them the stimulating experience of “the hunt” felt by a detective when solving a case.

Thus was born Ruby Skye P.I.’s theme of showing kids that they can use resources at hand – literally their mobile devices and web browsers on which they watch the show – to solve cases in partnership with its characters.

“This is like the beginning of film or television,” says Golick. “We’re experimenting with a new medium and learning how to use it to entertain audiences. We thought it would be fun to put the clues in the hands of the viewers and see what happens.”

In a recent episode, for example (spoiler alert!), a character passes away and Ruby discovers a series of puzzles on the woman’s postmortem website, O’Deary Puzzles, that must be solved in order to locate her Will. Viewers can then visit the same website in real life and solve the puzzles for themselves.

The correct answers reveal a string of letters that form a hidden URL, which viewers can type into their web browsers. This leads them to a secret video uploaded by the deceased character, in which she orates an entertaining set of additional clues needed to actually find her Will.

And if you do manage to complete all the puzzles, track the video clues, and help Ruby solve her case, go ahead and send your answers to a cryptic email address the teen sleuth deciphers in a later episode. That will make you eligible to win a contest run by the producers, as well as drop you a cheeky little reply from one of the show’s characters.

Engaging? To say the least.

Edutainment: No Longer Just a Buzzword

Most of the puzzles derived from Ruby Skye, P.I. are literary in theme, an homage to the bookish roots of the series and the characters’ strong love of literature, especially detective fiction and children’s novels. The show’s interactive elements give a nod to these influential works, and in doing so introduce its younger audience to important literature, thus attaining the holy grail of family-friendly TV: education as entertainment.

This type of content, especially when designed for a PG audience, is paving the way for the future of interactive entertainment and providing a safe space on the web for kids to explore. The approach seems healthy and necessary, as more and more young people engage with the Internet at earlier and earlier ages.

Reviewer James Floyd Kelly of Wired said he had to “give credit to the team that has developed Ruby Skye, P.I. — it’s got to be very hard to write, film, and release a show for young adults that doesn’t take the easy route to try to get our kids’ attentions. With so many television shows containing violence, sex, and harsh language, it’s actually quite nice to watch a well-written and professionally edited web series. The dialogue is realistic (you won’t find those two-minute-long monologues here), the mystery is interesting (and based on a real-world scam), and the characters are likable.”

A Nexus of Narratives

Digital content creators have been talking about this model for years, but most attempts to create it have been done in half-measures, at most a fun sideshow for a network TV show put together by their marketing department. With Ruby Skye, P.I., the creators tapped into the fact that additional story layers created by interactive content should be just as powerful, if not vital to the show’s main storyline itself.

A recent Season 2 episode features clues in the form of chapter titles from a Harry Potter novel. A viewer paying close attention will pick up on the ability to transpose the titles for chapter numbers, which once strung together, form a phone number. Send a text message to the number and another character’s response will clue you in on how to solve the episode’s final puzzle. Text them beyond that and you’ll get some funny responses, a fresh reminder that the series and characters who inhabit it live well beyond the episode runtime on your screen.

It isn’t just puzzles, either. Ruby Skye, P.I. has multiple Tumblr blogs for both the show as a whole and its individual characters, bringing them to life online as the season unfolds. They share songs they like, books they admire, and thoughts on that week’s happenings. The Internet is thus transformed into a virtual world inhabited by the show’s characters, a world where they adapt and grow in real time with their viewers.

The series has won numerous awards, from the New York Television Festival, to IndieFest, You Media Alliance, among others. Its commitment to creating intelligent, interactive content for young people without resorting to exploitative adult drama is appreciated by parents and children alike.

The Never-Ending Story

Now that there’s a growing audience tuning in to Ruby Skye, P.I. every week, Golick is using related content to keep them engaged, even after they polish off both seasons and the interactive rabbit holes that accompany them. The O’Deary Library is perhaps the best example – a “haunted” library at the center of the second season’s storyline whose online destination ties in third-party multimedia tailored for parents, teachers, and students to further explore the power of story.

From left to right: a Tumblr page featuring the series’ star sleuth Ruby Skye, self-proclaimed nerdfighter Hailey Skye, and mean girl Diana Noughton.

The library is even home to a real-world fundraising campaign for impoverished girls in developing nations. And of course, it’s designed to be fun. Ruby’s nerdy little sister Hailey uses the haunted library as her personal soapbox, posting shots of cool international libraries, household items that should and should not be used as bookmarks, plus all-too relatable sibling annoyances.

If it all sounds a bit overwhelming and unceasing, well, that’s kind of the point. Golick frames it best: “We’re using all the tools at our disposal in an effort to provide a fun experience for the people who consume the show. You can lean back and just watch like it’s TV (because it is) or lean in and get deeply involved with the interactive elements.”

Ruby Skye, P.I. is a strong indicator that the new world of digital entertainment is just that, a world; an entire ecosystem wherein every stone unturned is a story untold.

Nathan Savin Scott is a freelance writer who lives in Washington, DC. He has appeared in Newsweek, ESPN, Thought Catalog, and others.

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Must Reads 8/21/2014