Viacom Prods. has inked a deal with management company Messina Baker Entertainment, which represents a number of top comedians, to produce a six-episode series for Comedy Central that can be used as a launchpad for new comedy programs.

The concept is similar to that of Comedy Central’s arrangement with Creative Artists Agency that also plans to use the relatively low-rated cable network as a laboratory for developing characters and ideas that might be spun off into comedy series for the networks, cable or other media (Daily Variety, Feb. 9).

The Viacom/Messina Baker sketch comedy series will make its debut this summer on the basic service, which is half-owned by Viacom, with the other 50% belonging to HBO.

Messina Baker’s client roster includes “Home Improvement” star Tim Allen as well as John Caponera, Drew Carey and Monty Hoffman, all co-stars in the NBC comedy series “The Good Life.” Like several other management firms, the company is looking to use its talent relationships as the basis for producing series.

The deal also dovetails with Viacom’s plan to draw on the company’s diverse holdings, using cable as an outlet for developing network programs. The company already has a pilot deal at CBS, for example, based on “Clarissa,” the Viacom series that’s been airing on its Nickelodeon web.

“This (deal) represents much of what we’ve tried to do here,” said Viacom TV prexy Perry Simon, who worked with Messina Baker while an NBC exec when “Good Life” was developed. The cable channels, he added, present “a natural opportunity” Viacom will continue to employ, with homevideo seen as another possibility in light of the company’s planned merger with Blockbuster Entertainment.

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