Kutcher, who’s also a tech investor, acts in the Netflix sitcom “The Ranch.”
Ashton Kutcher* has been interested in the intersection of tech and entertainment since at least 2000, when — as a rising star at the Fox sitcom “That ‘70s Show” — he starred in the stoner comedy “Dude, Where’s My Car?”
“I would get into AOL chatrooms and start ‘Dude! Sweet!’ threads, and then leave that chatroom and go to the next one,” he said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher. “I was trying to digitally hack audience acquisition online, [even] then.”
Today, though, Kutcher has a lot more power in the system. He produces and stars in “The Ranch,” a sitcom he and fellow “‘70s Show” alum Danny Masterson developed with Netflix specifically in mind.
“The idea of doing a sitcom in a place where there were kind of no set rules, and nobody knew what worked, opened up the landscape of what could be possible,” Kutcher said. “We’ve been able to press into creative boundary that we couldn’t get away with on a network.”
In other words, unlike his last gig replacing Charlie Sheen on “Two and a Half Men,” he and the other producers of “The Ranch” feel they can take more risks. Denying the rise of new digital platforms and the fall of old ones, he said, is like denying climate change because “there’s legitimate statistical data” to back the trend up.
“Now that Netflix is spending $1 billion-plus on content creation, it’s pretty clear the tide has already shifted,” he said.
However much he loves making TV for the internet, Kutcher has been less convinced by the progress of virtual reality.
“Everybody’s way too overhyped on VR,” he said. “You have to buy into this basic notion that people don’t want the cut … Since the beginning of time, people sat around a campfire and told their stories. They cut the boring parts and moved through the interesting parts. That’s how you tell a story.”
“The minute you’re forced into a platform where you don’t get a cut, all of a sudden you get into this ambiguous short-form zone that has to be short to even engage an audience,” he added.
* Disclosure: Kutcher is an adviser to Recode’s parent company Vox Media.