“American Idol” executive producer FremantleMedia has partnered with Comic Relief to televise the search for America’s next big comedy star.
The series will first focus on a nationwide hunt for up-and-coming standup talent via showcases around the country. Comic Relief founder Bob Zmuda hopes to bring big-name comedy managers and agents on board to coordinate the search.
According to Zmuda, the show won’t narrow its search to just standup comedians but may also look for comedy duos and teams.
Zmuda plans to recruit top-name comedians to host the events, which will take part in 14 different cities, with proceeds going to Comic Relief charities.
The producers are still determining the selection process, including who’s eligible and how much prior comedic experience will be required.
Once the nationwide finalists are chosen, Zmuda said the comedians will live together and get regular coaching lessons from professional comics.
“We’ll be able to bring in the top bananas to deal with these contestants,” Zmuda said. “We want the comedy community themselves to really find who the next icons are.”
Zmuda hopes to offer the winner a variety of prizes, including a talent deal, concert appearances and film roles.
Mulled domestic ‘Think’
Fremantle North American head David Lyle said he first talked to Zmuda about collaborating on a domestic version of the BBC1 skein “They Think It’s All Over.” The two ended up discussing how to search for new talent in the comedy world.
“We got to talking excitedly and realized we were really creating something,” Lyle said. “Part of the unique thing that Bob brings is there really is a payoff because of his ability at Comic Relief to place artists.”
Lyle warned that the Fremantle/Comic Relief project wasn’t an extension of the “American Idol” brand. For starters, “Idol” exec producer 19 Television isn’t involved.
With the success of “American Idol,” producers and networks have picked up a slew of similar search-themed projects in recent days.
That includes at least two hunts for the next big comedian, in addition to the Fremantle/Comic Relief project. NBC picked up eight episodes of the Jay Mohr series “Funniest Person in America,” while Walter Latham has been pitching a reality series based on his “Kings of Comedy” and “Queens of Comedy” franchises.
‘Ahead of the pack’
“I think that we bring with Fremantle, we know how to handle large talent search projects that are multistrand and just plain exhausting,” Lyle said. “With Bob, we have someone who’s immediately plugged in, so I feel somewhat arrogantly that we’re ahead of the pack.”
Zmuda will exec produce with an as-yet unnamed showrunner; the producers also hope to strike a number of cross-marketing deals — and send some of that money straight to the Comic Relief charity. Lyle plans to take the show to the networks in the coming days and said it could be ready for air by spring.
Zmuda, whose comedic partners have ranged through the years from HBO chairman-CEO Chris Albrecht to Andy Kaufman, started Comic Relief in 1986. The charity has raised almost $50 million to date from a variety of sources, including its specials on HBO.