'SNL' vet Armisen co-created, co-stars in sketch series

IFC has given a greenlight to a Lorne Michaels-exec produced sketch comedy half-hour, “Portlandia,” co-created by and starring Fred Armisen of “Saturday Night Live.”

Series, which begins production of six episodes in Portland, Ore., this month, is scheduled to premiere on the cabler in early 2011. Former Sleater-Kinney guitarist Carrie Brownstein co-created “Portlandia” with Armisen and co-stars in the series, which will be directed by fellow creator Jonathan Krisel of “SNL.”

Production on the first season will be completed in time for Armisen to return to his ninth season of “SNL” in September.

“I intuitively trusted both Fred and Jon that it would be at the very least interesting and funny,” Michaels said, “with the hope that someday it might be popular and funny.”

“Portlandia” incorporates a series of absurdist short films featuring Armisen and Brownstein playing different characters, such as the owners of a feminist bookstore, a militant bike messenger and a punk rock couple negotiating a “safe word” to help govern their love life.

“Not every piece we’ve done we’ve made to be a joke,” Armisen said. “Some of it is just our viewpoint what a relationship can be, different kinds of relationships, different kinds of people in Portland. To us, Portland represents different cities in the United States, too. … It’s about Portland, but it’s also about a type of city.”

Armisen and Brownstein also are writing and performing original music for the series. The pitch from Armisen and Brownstein to IFC was based on their Web series “ThunderAnt.”

“We just started making these (‘ThunderAnt’) videos pretty much only because we wanted to do it,” Armisen said. “It kind of made us laugh. Eventually we had enough pieces, we thought it might be nice to try it as a show.”

Added Michaels: “I think because it’s IFC, and because it’s by definition kind of expermiental, I think it goes to what they’re trying to accomplish. Obviously, he’s not leaving ‘SNL,’ and he’s very much the glue of that show, I thought of it as the equivalent of him doing an indie over the summer, only he did it for television.”

Guest stars on “Portlandia” include Kyle MacLachlan and Aubrey Plaza.

The series order extends IFC’s efforts to build a strong comedy slate with upcoming series — including “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret,” starring David Cross. In addition, IFC airs such reruns as “Arrested Development” and “Freaks and Geeks.”

“We just fell in love with the (‘Portlandia’) concept,” said IFC senior veep of original programming Debbie DeMontreux. “It just felt like a natural fit to move forward on this sketch show.

“It’s suddenly starting to bubble that IFC has all this smart humor and comedy. It’s not just filling a hole with acquisitions. They fit the brand that we’re trying to create here.”

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