Starz to ‘Party Down’ on the cheap

New comedy is cost effective for pay cabler

John Enbom, exec producer of the new Starz comedy “Party Down,” says both he and the pay cabler were on the same page when it came to the scabrously witty comedy about career-stunted, cater-waiters in Hollywood.

“It’s that uncomfortable question of at what point does aspiration curdle into frustration and failure?” asks Enbom. “What do you do with yourself when you’ve chased the dream too long?”

Debuting today in a comedy hour block with “Head Case,” “Party Down” was an idea that came from “Veronica Mars” creator Rob Thomas, who’d been mulling it ever since he, Enbom and exec producers Dan Etheridge and Paul Rudd had fallen for the unslick, cringe-worthy comic tone of the British “The Office.”

It sat at HBO, then FX, until the gang decided to make their own pilot in Thomas’ backyard so people could see what they were after.

Last year, Starz, on the prowl for a unique comedy from someone impassioned about their project enough to meet the tighter budgets of a network new to originals, ordered 10 episodes, keeping most of the pilot’s cast.

“To me it had all the basic elements of a workplace comedy but with that Judd Apatow, R-rated edge that’s working in cinemas now,” says Bill Hamm, Starz Media’s exec VP for creative development. “It was an easy pick for me. I had worked with Rob on an ABC pilot several years earlier, and I knew he would go in there and make it the best show he knows how.”

Because every episode is set at one party from beginning to end, the show didn’t have sets, which brought down costs.

“It was done very indie film, run-and-gun style, moving into a location for four days and moving on,” says Enbom. “It allowed us to shoot as cheaply as we possibly could.”

As for getting the word out, the channel is taking a page from the marketing push for “Crash” by making the first episode of “Party Down” available free on Starz.com, on DirecTV and other video-on-demand outlets. With an intense production schedule just winding down, Enbom hasn’t had a chance to monitor the channel’s promotional efforts. But creatively he’s more than pleased with the channel’s stewardship.

“We had enormous freedom in terms of setting the tone and charting our course,” says Enbom. “So far we love that they’re pushing it as a show about waiting and grumbling, and not just as an antic sitcom.”

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