Comedy king TBS scores original hits

Network to deliver slew of new shows

It’s acquired off-net rights to most of the bigger comedies from the last decade. Now, if all goes according to plan for Turner Broadcasting System’s eponymous network, the “very funny” TBS will be laughing all the way to the bank off its new original series.

These days, the former “Superstation” is leading viewers out of “Sex and the City” columnist Carrie Bradshaw and her crew of cosmo-swilling flappers into the world of sportswriter P.J. Franklin and her “My Boys” beer buddies; soon, it will transition them from the “King of Queens” to the scripted family of country-fried funnyman Bill Engvall.

Similar to how Turner rebranded its TNT network around drama acquisitions like “Law & Order” and complementary originals like “The Closer,” the Time Warner cable unit has recast TBS in a comedy mold.

Having amassed a thicket of evergreen laugh-out-loud titles like “Seinfeld,” “Sex and the City,” “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “Friends,” the network is now sowing a slew of new shows to deliver a greater share of key adult demos.

On June 6, TBS’ premiere of “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne” — which profiles a multigenerational family living under a single roof — produced the best sitcom ratings ever for ad-supported cable.

Meanwhile, “The Bill Engvall Show” will bring blue collars to the family comedy table in July — the same month that TBS rolls out a second season of “My Boys.” New episodes of “10 Items or Less” — loosely scripted supermarket follies that have leached latenight watchers from cable comedy stalwarts like “The Daily Show” — are set for 2008.

“We’re looking for these shows to really pop and eventually outperform the acquired series,” says Michael Wright, senior VP of content creation for Turner’s TBS, TNT and TCM.

With a dearth of original comedy on TV these days, TBS’ move “is worth the risk,” notes Brad Adgate, senior VP of media buying agency Horizon. “Advertisers would love to see a family comedy hit like ‘The Cosby Show’ (another TBS acquisition) and ‘Family Ties,'” he says. “But there just aren’t a lot of those out there anymore.”

Of course, as any network comedy development exec will tell you, making successful firstrun laffers isn’t as easy as it used to be.

Wright counters that TBS’ stable of feel-good sitcoms proves there’s still a draw for “relationship-based” series “that manage to be witty without being corny or sentimental, and without an overreliance on snarkiness or mean-spirited humor. These shows all have a very big heart beating at the center of them — which, for me, is what’s been missing from a lot of comedy in the last several years.”

Accordingly, Wright says, “Boys” celebrates friendship — and while “Engvall” may mine its comedy from family conflicts, it preserves the notion of family.

“Bill was very specific that he did n’t want to do a show about the stupid dad and the wife and kids who hate him,” Wright recalls. “This is a family that loves each other.”

Meanwhile, TBS online destinations Laugh Lab and now offer more than mere scheduling info.

“We streamed ‘My Boys’ (on Laugh Lab) just because we could — and it was like lightning in a bottle,” Wright says. “Rather than diluting our audience, we found new viewers.”

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