Festivals

Published on July 27th, 2009 | by Sharilyn Johnson

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JFL Comedy Conference, Day 1: CREATIVE BUSINESS OF COMEDY ON TELEVISION

conferencelogoIf Just For Laughs does anything well, it’s giving the appearance that their laminate-clad guests are VIPs. Through a hidden entrance beside the Hyatt bar was a red carpet, leading the way around a corner and into the dimly-lit and beautifully dressed conference room.

Not a bad place to spend three days. But you wonder if you have the wrong day or something, because… uh… where IS everyone?

Ah well, we had plenty of room to spread out, and no trouble having our questions answered during the q&a (which was executed by conference emcee Joey Elias). Though the lighting is my excuse for my crappy notes. Let’s go with that.

Panel number one….

THE CREATIVE BUSINESS OF COMEDY ON TELEVISION, July 24

Moderator: Michael Rosenberg (SVP Creative Affairs, Blueprint Entertainment, E1)

Panelists: Anton Leo (Creative Head, CBC TV Comedy), Gary Mann (VP Original Programming & Development, Comedy Central), Julie Pernworth (SVP Comedy Development, CBS), Renate Radford (VP Comedy Programming, NBC Entertainment & Universal Media Studios), Nick Weidenfeld (Director of Program Development, Adult Swim), Marcus Wiley (Co-Head of Comedy Development, FOX)

This was obviously the development panel, essentially a replacement for the Just For Pitching seminar of years past where brave creatives would get infront of the room and have their show pitches torn apart for the benefit of the rest of us. As someone deeply interested in the television development process, I found I learned so much more about a show’s marketability from that than I did from this.

What I did learn: however much money it takes for someone to defend Two and a Half Men‘s coolness factor with a straight face is precisely what CBS is paying Julie Pernworth. Sure, it’s a big moneymaker, and great for them — but there isn’t even a vague hint in her eyes that indicates a realization the show isn’t as edgy and brilliant as she hypes it to be. That’s right, edgy. I know.

The consensus on the panel was that multi-camera isn’t dead, even at Comedy Central where they’re developing a multi-camera comedy for Jon Heder (along with a Nick Swardson sketch show and an animated series with Judah Friedlander). Michael Rosenberg posed the World’s Most Overasked Question to Gary Mann, about how young people get their news from the Daily Show and Colbert Report. He deflected, but offered up that “lately, we’ve seen Jon get a lot more passionate about certain issues.”

Discussion moved to the recent trend of Canadian networks entering into co-productions with US networks, such as Howie Do It (Global/NBC) and Flashpoint (CTV/CBS). The tardy Anton Leo arrived fresh from his late flight to talk about CBC’s struggle to replicate the success. Because CBC isn’t prepared do simulcasts with US networks (shows run at local times in all Canadian markets), they’re limited to partnering with US cable stations that don’t have reach in Canada.

Another key contribution from Leo, in the discussion about networks’ web content competing with with their own broadcasts: CBC views it purely as a way to develop loyalty for a show, and simply doesn’t worry about taking away eyeballs. (That sounds kinda nice, doesn’t it?)

During the audience q&a, The Core’s Howard Lapides asked about how Leno is going to affect everything just discussed, considering he’ll be taking up the equivalent of 10 half-hour comedy slots per week on NBC.

NBC’s Renate Radford tried to dance around the issue by claiming that everything prior to 10pm is going to remain the same, but to his credit Lapides didn’t let her get away with it, pointing out that all the dramas will just move up an hour. No true answer was forthcoming, with Radford simply citing money as the driving force behind the decision (shocking!).

“There some real financial concerns in the networks,” she said, citing the problems of pouring money into dramas that “don’t support themselves on the other side.”

Nick Weidenfeld jumped in to make the oddly comforting point that this is why comedy on tv will never die. “You can only replay comedy. That’s why it won’t go away,” he said.

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About the Author

is the author of the book Bears & Balls: The Colbert Report A-Z. Called "one of the city’s most discriminating comedy critics” by NOW Magazine, Sharilyn has been covering comedy for longer than she cares to admit. She served as the comedy reporter for Winnipeg's Uptown Magazine for five years, and was the host of the radio show Laugh Tracks for three seasons. Her work has also appeared in the Toronto Star, the Winnipeg Free Press, The Apiary, and on CBC Radio's national comedy programs LOL and Definitely Not the Opera.



2 Responses to JFL Comedy Conference, Day 1: CREATIVE BUSINESS OF COMEDY ON TELEVISION

  1. Joe says:

    Suddenly it makes sense why the CBC’s “Being Erica” aired on SoapNet rather than one of ABC’s larger cable channels or on ABC itself.

  2. Indeed, Joe. I’ll admit it never crossed my mind until this panel how CBC’s unique schedule prevented international co-prods on the level of CTV’s and Global’s.

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