Sketch comedy institution Second City is looking to get back into the TV business, signing a first-look deal with NBC Universal TV Studio to create new projects.
That includes original programming for network and cable, both scripted and non-scripted. Deal also allows NBC U to mine Second City’s 50-year archive of material, and includes projects for both TV and digital.
As part of the pact, NBC U will fund the hiring of a full-time, Los Angeles-based creative exec to be a liaison between the studio and the comedy troupe.
“They have an incredible track-record for breaking talent,” said Shelley McCrory, senior VP of comedy at NBC U TV Studio. “And they have an incredible brand. We’re excited about the opportunity to look at the talent they have now.”
Second City CEO Andrew Alexander said the arrangement reps the first time his company has fielded a full-time development exec in Los Angeles. The exec — who hasn’t yet been named — will be based in Second City’s new Hollywood Boulevard digs.
“There are so many people in our system — we have a staff of 140 writer-performers — that we’re really going to start taking what we think is good and talk to the network about it,” Alexander said.
The expanded Hollywood space will also include a stage for Second City players to hold theater workshops and iron out their original programming before going to series.
“This will allow our performers to get up on their feet and work out their creations in front of the studio and the network, so they’ll get a tangible idea and better appreciation of it,” Alexander said. “It’s a cost-effective way of doing things — you don’t need to spend $2 million on a pilot.”
It’s a homecoming of sorts for Second City: The comedy troupe’s Toronto branch was behind “SCTV,” which ran on NBC in the early 1980s.
Alexander, who served as an exec producer on “SCTV” and has run the Second City empire since 1985, said the company steered clear of TV for the past decade to focus on its core business: Improv theaters and comedy training. Second City now operates theaters in Chicago, Toronto, Denver, Detroit and Las Vegas, as well as training centers in New York and Los Angeles and three touring companies.
But given the drought in TV comedy and the rise of short-form Internet videos, Alexander said he believed the moment had come to give the small screen another try. Second City recently signed with Gersh to explore TV and signed with NBC U after talking to CBS Paramount Network TV and Touchstone.
“It kind of reminds me of when we were doing ‘SCTV’ — it felt like a magic moment for the kind of work that we do,” Alexander said. “It’s come again, as evidenced by ‘The Office’ and Tina Fey’s show.”
The explosion in online video sites like YouTube also means it’s a good time to crack open the Second City vaults for online use, he said.
“There’s definitely a want for short-form programming, and obviously we have a skill at that,” Alexander said. “Plus we have 50 years’ worth of material that we’ve never delved into in terms of repurposing.”
Second City VP Kelly Leonard, the company’s top creative exec, will also be heavily involved in the new deal.