Monday, February 19, 2007

Comedy That Leaves You in Niches

Variety writer Brian Lowry wonders if the fragmentation of the TV audience into all these little niches means there will be no more hit comedies.

Why aren't good comedies attracting bigger crowds? The culprits are many, but some of the blame doubtless lies in the intensely personal nature of what people find funny, transforming TV into an embarrassment of niches...while a few hourlong programs that bill themselves as comedies have developed sizable followings -- specifically, ABC's "Desperate Housewives" and "Ugly Betty" -- there are no half-hours drawing anywhere near the tune-in amassed by the dramas "Grey's Anatomy" and "CSI" or reality shows like "American Idol" and "Dancing With the Stars."

There are many choices for intelligent, personal comedy on the air as well as online. But the Internet seems to have the opposite problem; while TV mostly has hit dramas, viral videos are typically humorous and rarely melodramatic.

Bad news for comedy buffs: Most good comedians write for TV (Demetri Martin, Jon Glaser). If TV execs greenlight less comedies, there'll be less writing jobs for comedians. Which is bad because many comedians who do free shows at the UCB or the PIT have TV writing gigs to pay the bills. Hopefully the suits will adapt to the new Long Tail economy by launching incredible online channels (like Turner did with Super Deluxe) but TV is a hit-driven business.

Good news for Hollywood execs: Movies might well be the one medium not affected by niche markets and audience fragmentation. Thus the most half-assed farce will go into production because there are at most four other choices for comedies in the theaters at any given time. This makes the movie theater the worst possible place for comedy nerds like me. The Internet has Homestar Runner; TV has Tim and Eric; there are no movie comedies in the theaters I want to see. I have to wait until Friday to see a funny film that looks even slightly interesting.

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