Thesp sticks to script
Jack Black and VH1 are teaming to form “The Department of Acceptable Media.”Comedian-thesp will executive produce the cabler’s “Department,” a weekly comedy show that viewers will program with their favorite shortform videos. Cabler has ordered eight half-hour episodes for spring 2007. Shorts will be a mix of user-generated content and material produced by Black and exec producers Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab (Comedy Central’s upcoming “The Sarah Silverman Programme”). Black also will appear in the films as his schedule permits. “Department” is an extension of Channel 101, the monthly event Black, Harmon and Schrab launched in 2003 as a showcase for amateur TV-program makers. Now held at Hollywood venue Cinespace, the live event screens five-minute “pilots” from aspiring filmmakers and lets the audience vote for their favorites. VH1 skein will work in much the same way: Viewers will vote online — at http://www.acceptable.tv — and the top vote-getters will continue to a second “episode” while the others are “canceled.” Goal for viewers is to keep their favorite “series” on air the longest without being canceled. One key difference, however, is that Black and his team will be writing and producing most of the two- to three-minute shorts for “Department.” “This is first and foremost a scripted sketch show,” Harmon told Daily Variety. Aside from Black, Harmon and Schrab, the creative team will include Channel 101 alum — including Justin Roiland and JD Ryznar — who will work to produce new and continuing shorts each week. At least one user-generated video submission will be aired per episode, as voted on by viewers on the show’s Web site. VH1 programming/production topper Michael Hirschorn said the idea is to create “a lot of hopefully funny, acceptable digital shorts, which will have a second life on the Web, not unlike ‘Lazy Sunday,'” the “Saturday Night Live” sketch that became a viral video phenomenon online. “The series and the Web site are a reflection of behavior people are already engaged in,” Hirschorn said. A version of “Department” previously had been set up at FX (Daily Variety, July 1, 2004) as a more literal translation of the Cinespace event, in which all content was user-generated. Plans to make the series a more scripted endeavor was a result of a shift at Channel 101. Harmon said between the time the FX pilot was shot and discussions with VH1 began, Channel 101 morphed from “a celebration of crappy, but funny, TV, into a showcase for legitimate television.” “Cameras got better. The films got better. I really started to look at it as a sketch show competitive with ‘Mad TV’ and ‘Saturday Night Live,'” Harmon said. Change to a more scripted format also will ensure the quality of what gets on air stays high, he added. “Audiences will still decide what gets to stay there.” Black, Harmon and Schrab will appear on-air to introduce segments. Should any of the user-generated material pop, VH1 said, the best of the shorts could morph into an on-air series of its own on the cabler. Channel 101 has launched its fair share of alums, including “SNL” cast member Andy Samberg and scribes Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, behind the “Lazy Sunday” short. Hirschorn called “Department” a truly post-YouTube concept. “It’s not anything goes. Digital shorts now have to meet a bar of execution and humor,” he explained. That said, it is possible the ratio of scripted-to-user-generated material could evolve. “It could turn out that a whole bunch of the viewer-created content is good enough for on-air. We’ll have to see.” VH1’s Hirschorn, head of scripted series/longform Maggie Malina and Electric Dynamite Prods.’ Benjamin Cooley will oversee the show. Black next appears in the features “Tenacious D in the Pick of Destiny” and “The Holiday.” Harmon and Schrab wrote the screenplay for the Sony CGI feature “Monster House” and are reworking the script for DreamWorks’ “Kung Fu Panda,” in which Black voices the titular character. They co-executive produced the Fox pilot “Heat Vision and Jack.” UTA packaged the series and reps Black, Harmon and Schrab.