Comedy hasn’t exactly vanished from TV screens, but the sitcom is definitely in decline — the 2008-09 network lineup of laffers was a mere fraction of the number on the schedule only a decade ago. But that hasn’t kept down Hollywood’s writing talent, who have found new opportunities, online and elsewhere, to make people laugh and reinvent their careers.
Eric Appel was writing for TV programs like “The Andy Milonakis Show,” “Crank Yankers” and “Human Giant” when he attracted the attention of FunnyOrDie.com founders Adam McKay, Chris Henchy and Will Ferrell, who offered him a job as a senior writer for the site. Since then, he’s written or directed some of FunnyOrDie’s most popular videos, including “Lex Luthor Bailout” and “Lindsay Lohan’s eHarmony Profile,” which has recorded more than 3 million hits.
While Appel thinks overall demand for comedy on TV is growing thanks to the increasing number of cable outlets, the Internet offers creative freedom and opportunity to branch out even more. It’s also a forgiving medium.
“If you put up three shitty episodes of your television show in a row, it’s like, ‘Get ready for your show to get pulled,’ ” Appel says. “But if you put up three crappy Internet videos, your fourth one can get a million hits and it erases the other three.”
Charles Rosin’s TV experience was not in the comedy field, having produced and written for such skeins as “Northern Exposure,” “Beverly Hills 90210” and “Dawson’s Creek.” But the advent of online distribution — ending the syndication economics that had long dominated the medium — was something he could not ignore.
Rosin collaborated with his writer-daughter Lindsay Rosin, coming up with an approach tailored for the new medium: It’s called “Showbizzle” — a series of two-minute segments following the life of a coffee-shop blogger whose attempts to write a screenplay are constantly interrupted by friends also trying to crack the biz.
Rosin says the Web is perfectly suited for comedy and is broadening its offerings beyond “Jackass”-style pranks popular with teen boys.
“Two years ago, a lot of the comedy was really snarky and mean-spirited,” Rosin says. “You’re starting to see a shift in how comedy plays a little bit, and I think that’s a reflection of the change of culture we’ve had with the new administration.”
“We’ve done pretty well, earning-wise, in TV,” says writer-producer Darin Moiselle, who, with partner Josh Lobis, has worked on shows such as “South Park” and developed several pilots for comedy series over the past few years. “But as much as we value the process and appreciate it, it’s sometimes not as rewarding or as stimulating creatively.”
So Moiselle and Lobis looked beyond TV for a venue for their idea about a superhero comedy called “Caped!,” turning it into a four-issue comicbook series out this summer from Boom! Studios. The pair found the experience liberating, and they are now shopping the story around as a feature film, hoping success as a comicbook will keep the project on track creatively.
“We wanted to preserve our tone,” says Lobis. “We wanted to show you could do a real story and have real characters and have it be funny without it being over-the-top broad.”