HBO, FX may burst into laffers

Cablers hope to follow sucessful dip into drama waters

Capitalizing on the reduction in the number of network sitcoms for the coming TV season, two of the edgiest cable nets, HBO and FX, say they are eager to see if they can establish a toehold in the most conventional form of comedy.

HBO exec veep of original programming Carolyn Strauss discussed the net’s plans to develop its first multicamera comedy Thursday at the Caucus for Television Producers, Writers and Directors third annual luncheon. Panelists were reviewing the just-concluded TV season.

“Maybe (HBO) can change the development (of sitcoms) and not really worry about profits and advertisers and about that ad break kind of structure that networks have,” Strauss said. “I don’t think every sitcom is right for HBO, but I think there is a whole world of sitcoms that the networks won’t do,” citing shows with the sensibility of “All in the Family” and “Absolutely Fabulous” as examples.

In similar fashion, FX prexy-CEO Peter Liguori explained that broadcasters’ current downplaying of sitcoms would provide FX with an opportunity “to break into comedy.”

“We aren’t looking at it as sitcom; we are looking at it simply as comedy,” Liguori said. Alluding to the network’s dramas “Nip/Tuck” and “The Shield,” he added, “In the same spirit in which we have gotten into dramas, we are trying to do that in the world of comedy.”

Jordan Levin, chief exec of the WB, acknowledged that the cablers may have an advantage in that they would be less constrained by concerns about “political correctness.”

Others on the panel included producer Vin Di Bona; Lions Gate Television prexy Kevin Beggs; producer, writer and helmer Lionel Chetwynd; and Daily Variety television critic and columnist Brian Lowry.

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