Joss Whedon, Neil Patrick Harris Aim For A New Cult Hit With Web Series 'Dr. Horrible'

The 'Buffy' creator's musical superhero spoof hits the Net next week.

Could "Dr. Horrible" turn out to be the next big thing on the geek circuit? That's the question for those who've seen the trailer for "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" creator Joss Whedon's next "show" of sorts: a Web miniseries called "Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog."

It's a superhero spoof starring Neil Patrick Harris as a supervillain wannabe who dreams of being accepted into the Evil League of Evil. Thwarting him from his goal is his nemesis, Captain Hammer (played by "Firefly" star Nathan Fillion), as well as his affection for a girl from the Laundromat (played by Felicia Day).

The three-part miniseries, which runs 42 minutes total, will appear online on July 15, 17 and 19 and then disappear from the Web at midnight, July 20. July 20. (Find out how the idea for "Dr. Horrible" was born, on the MTV Movies Blog.) During the recent writers' strike, Whedon and company conceived of the show as a demonstration of how to think outside the TV set. And did we mention it is also a musical?

"It's the first Internet musical," said Michael Boretz, who produced "Dr. Horrible" with Whedon and David Burns ("Angel") . "The Internet is still the Wild West in some ways, and there's been no real clear victor, because it's too large. People still go all over the place to view content, but Joss is in the unique position that fans will seek him out wherever he goes."

Whedon's only other musical was an episode of "Buffy" called "Once More With Feeling," which, years after the show's cancellation, was resurrected as a midnight-movie sing-along at theaters across the country.

"This holds up to [the 'Buffy' episode]," Boretz promised. "It's got that great sense of humor, so you'll find yourself repeating the most hilarious phrases, but it's also beautiful and lyrical at the same time."

No one outside of the production has seen "Dr. Horrible" — well, save for TV Guide critic Matt Roush. On Thursday (July 10), a screening will be held for select press in Los Angeles. The cast and creators will hold a panel discussion at Comic-Con in San Diego later this month, where they'll talk about a DVD release and possible spin-offs, sequels and other goodies, depending on the success of the original.

The organizer of the Buffy sing-alongs, Clinton McClung, said that if he could get the rights to do it, he would also launch "Dr. Horrible" events "in a heartbeat."

"Joss Whedon fans are already incredibly loyal," McClung explained, "but add in the fact that this is his first solo-y independent production, and a cast that includes actors from 'Buffy,' 'Firefly' and 'Doogie Howser, M.D.,' and it is pretty much a guarantee that they are going to flock to this new mini-miniseries."

But can you design something to have a cult following? Whedon didn't anticipate that "Once More With Feeling" would be anything more than one episode of the television series "to air and disappear," he said. "I didn't think about its afterlife that much." The musical episode could have been a "jump-the-shark" moment for the show, McClung pointed out, but it became the series' "landmark episode." In other words, no one expected Buffy-oke — it was something that came from the fans.

"There is usually a bit of Joss in each of the characters or stories he writes, and when that's there, it works," said former "Buffy" cast member Adam Busch (who played Warren). "If there's a sense of Joss in 'Dr. Horrible,' it will be a hit with the fans. It will have that cult appeal. That's not by design. That just happens. He connects with the geek in all of us."

"More power to him," said former "Buffy" cast member Amber Benson (Tara).

"I have no doubt that musically awesome lightning can strike twice," McClung said. And if that's the case, he said, it'll easily make the leap from computer screen to big screen, or beyond.

"That's not out of the realm of possibility," Boretz said. "There's already discussion of sequels or possibly taking it to Broadway."

"I don't want large groups of people enjoying themselves, singing songs I wrote," Whedon joked. "That would just be weird. No, absolutely, part of the mission statement is that I want to have midnight screenings where people come and sing. It would be thrilling."