Politics still prevails when it comes to making comedy in the current climate, said participants on a New York Television Festival panel titled “The State of TV Comedy: What’s Now, What’s New, What’s Next?”
“Comedy comes in all shapes and forms and much of the comedy today, particularly in late night, is based on our current presidency and everything surrounding it,” said Sarah Banineau, executive vice president, talent and development, East Coast, Comedy Central.
Home to The Daily Show, The President Show, The Jim Jeffries Show and The Opposition with Jordan Klepper, much of the humor at Comedy Central is dependent on political commentary and parody.
“For us, it is about what people really want and doubling down on that,” she added. “The best comedy reflects some kind of the truth.”
“I think there is a direct way and an indirect way to tackling what is happening politically,” said Christine Lubrano, senior vice president, original programming, IFC. “And we have done that sort of a snarky and cheeky indirectly on Portlandia.”
Banineau cites Comedy Central’s long-running South Park, as universal in appeal and able to also translate into interest internationally. But that international interest generally doesn’t translate to tone-specific comedies when their parent companies try to travel them abroad.
“I don’t know if it is because comedy does not travel well, or because drama does translate so well internationally,” said Banineau. “They really don’t do late night internationally like we do, so I think it is the broader scripted sitcoms that have more appeal. We think about this, but it does not necessarily determine if we are going to pick something up or not. We focus on what we think will work here.”
Lack of Diversity
At a time when networks and individual series are highly scrutinized for not being diverse enough, consensus among the panelists pointed to dramas being more diverse.
“Drama has made amazing strides in becoming more diverse behind the camera and in front of the camera,” said Banineau. “Comedy also looks more diversified in front of the camera, but behind the scenes it still feels like the white guy is running the show. Developing departments to have people with more diverse points of view will only add to the storytelling.”
“One key to the future, I think, is taking risks and doing the type of shows and telling the type of stories that may not be as common,” said Jonathan Gabay, senior vice president, comedy development and programming, Fox, who cites The Last Man on Earth as a key example. “This was a true testimonial for trying something different.”
Since success breeds imitation, the ample sampling for the return of Will & Grace on NBC, not to mention recent returnee Curb Your Enthusiasm on HBO and upcoming Roseanne on ABC, means this will not be the last of the sitcom revivals.
“I think Will & Grace is the poster child for how to do a revival,” said Fox’s Gabay. “Those actors came in, the set was the same, they are doing what they did before, it’s funny and everyone is happy at a time when there is so much uncertainty in the world. While creativity is one ticket, so is rediscovering a formula that worked and then doing it the right way the second time around.”
“The more things change the more they stay the same. The secret sauce in the comedy genre is the humor in the subject matter,” said Ayala Cohen, talent agent ICM. “At the end of the day, it is all about making the audience laugh, not matter what platform or what outlet it airs on. Funny is funny, and it always will be.”
[Cube image of NYTVF panel courtesy of Marc Berman; content image of Will & Grace courtesy of NBC/Chris Haston]