IFC climbs into ‘Closet’ with R. Kelly

Network to air viral hit's original 12 episodes

IFC is making a push into originals, acquiring R. Kelly’s music-world sensation “Trapped in the Closet” and collaborating with the artist on 10 new episodes.

The net is expected to announce at its TCA session this weekend that it will air the original 12 episodes of the series, which became a viral hit on the Internet after radio stations began playing the audio version in 2005. The entire 22-episode run will also stream on IFC.com.

Series, which Kelly wrote and toplines, centers on the romantic and other trials of a character named Sylvester. “Trapped” is an early entry in a genre known as hip-hopera — a rock opera with hip-hop themes.

Without ever airing on a traditional channel, it became a pop-culture phenomenon, with spoofs on shows including “South Park.”

Kelly said IFC made sense as a platform for the property, which may in fact be more of a classic serial than a movie, because he’s “always thought of ‘Trapped’ as an independent film.”

Series is part of what IFC general manager Evan Shapiro said is the net’s transition away from showing only independent film. “What we want to do is go from an independent film channel to one that is the voice of independent culture,” he said.

In that vein, net has acquired the first two seasons of “The Whitest Kids U’ Know,” a musical sketch-comedy show from “Kids in the Hall” exec producer Jim Biederman. First season aired on IFC sister net Fuse; IFC has acquired the first and second seasons.

In addition to “The Business,” a scripted series about an indie film company as it comes of age, the net will bow on Aug. 5 a new season of “The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman,” about the misadventures of two thirtysomething women.

IFC also hopes to use the Internet as a venue and breeding ground for originals. It has commissioned and streamed digital original series “Getting Away With Murder.”

The move continues a trend in which movie channels get into series programming; AMC is on an original programming blitz with shows including the upcoming “Mad Men,” while the Sundance Channel has skeins including “Nimrod Nation” and “Shameless.”

Shapiro, who emphasized that the net wouldn’t move away from its bread-and-butter films, said IFC can compete with larger cable nets by mining indie culture.

“We don’t have the programming budget for the big monster networks, but that’s okay,” he said. “What we can do is find things that aren’t coming out of the Hollywood machine and really help them find an audience.”

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