"From this day on, entertainment is no longer something that starts at 8 and ends at 8:30, " American Cybercast tooted last October as it announced it was expanding to become the world's first multi-channel, Internet entertainment site. "It is no longer piped in to your home. From now on..."

Yeah, yeah. Yesterday afternoon, the company filed for bankruptcy, fired all but a skeleton crew of its employees and canceled two of its four episodic, online dramas. Still surviving (for now) are The Spot, the first soap opera on the Web, and The Pyramid, a series about corporate intrigue; scheduled for the trash icon are EON-4, a scifi advenure, and Quick Fix, a site for guest artists to create mini-shows.

Although the privately-held company has attracted big-name advertisers like Visa since its launch in 1995, its ambitions seemed to outrun its revenues. Scott Zakarin, who founded The Spot then left the company to start another soap, Grape Jam, says producing episodic Web dramas with actors costs about $100,000 a month; American Cybercast has four ongoing. It added to costs by hiring several experienced but expensive executives from the TV world.

Chairman Russell Collins told the Los Angeles Times recently that the company's forecasts were based heavily on being able to pull in a lot of cash through a stock offering last year; it never came off.

Russell today did not return phone calls and a secretary said the media relations office "is not operational."

What does this mean for the whole concept of episodic programming on the Net? Nothing good, says Patrick Keane, an analyst at Jupiter Communications in New York. "In general, it isn't very compelling from an entertainment perspective," he said. "The real episodic entertainment is on television."

Don't tell that to the loyal core of The Spot fans, who have their own Web site to discuss plot lines--and, in recent months, to bitch at the company for over-televisionizing the series. "Hopefully, the Webisodic medium can survive this storm, and grow and learn from it," said a post signed by The Grand Nagus. "Eventually, it will be able to stand on its own, and until then, it needs the help of all of us who know its potential to survive and grow."

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