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Pot Series Bloom but Face Tough Audiences

As more states adopt medical marijuana and recreational pot laws, and the country’s new attorney general Jeff Sessions battles against these laws, the content-makers see fodder for series. Despite the political fray, TV programmers — mostly cablers and streamers — move forward with pot-themed programming for 2017 and beyond.

Later this year, Netflix will premiere “Disjointed,” a Chuck Lorre-produced multi-camera sitcom starring Kathy Bates as proprietor of a pot dispensary.

In March, Amazon debuted the pilot for “Budding Prospects,” with the streamer expected to make a decision soon about whether the show moves forward to series in 2018. Based on the 1990 T.C. Boyle novel, “Budding Prospects” begins in 1983 San Francisco where three city guys are roped into a scheme to grow marijuana in Mendocino. “Budding Prospects” executive producer Vincent Landay says even in the time the show has been in the works there have been changes in marijuana laws and perception.

“When we first started working on this it was the idea that marijuana had such a broader acceptance now than it did [in 1983],” Landay says. “I thought it would be a major contrast to how things are different [today], but they might start repeating themselves in terms of the war on drugs for all we know.”

New seasons of Viceland’s non-fiction series “Weediquette,” a pot-focused news magazine, and “Bong Appetit,” a cooking-with-cannabis dinner party food show, debut April 19.

Hosted by Abdullah Saeed, “Bong Appetit” was recently nominated for a James Beard Award in a TV category.

“It’s the Oscars of food going, ‘This isn’t a joke; it’s serious,’” says Viceland president of programming Nick Weidenfeld. “It’s being understood by people who take food seriously.”

Each “Bong Appetit” episode has a different theme, from a kamayan feast of cannabis-infused Filipino food to camping meals that include pot-infused s’mores and a watermelon bong.  “Personally I grew up watching [Chinese-Hong Kong-American chef Martin] Yan [on PBS], who opened America to a new set of ingredients and a new style of cooking,” Saeed says. “I’m hoping in our own small way we have that type of impact.”

In fact, Viceland debuts Weed Week — think Shark Week for pot — April 17, filled with weed-themed original content, documentaries, comedies and other content “dedicated solely to exploring legalization and all things marijuana,” according to its press release.

Although HBO renewed “High Maintenance” for a second season, MTV canceled its 2016 pot comedy, “Mary + Jane,” and several pot-themed shows that were in development have fallen by the wayside. NBC’s “Buds,” developed by Adam Scott for the 2015-16 TV season, is no longer in the works at the Peacock.

“Humboldt,” which reportedly had John Malkovich attached to star, is not moving forward at Sony Pictures Television.

Whether pot-themed series will cross over from streaming and cable outlets to broadcast networks remains an open question.

Viceland’s Weidenfeld says he thinks pot shows will remain off broadcast but he notes marijuana has been mainstreamed to the point that it will be depicted in a broadcast format.

“When Chuck Lorre, the guy who invented the modern broadcast sitcom, is doing something on a weed dispensary, it will be broad and all of that normalizes it,” Weidenfeld says.

Amazon head of half-hour and drama series development Joe Lewis thinks pot-themed programming may eventually make it to a broadcast network. “If you look at the history of drugs in pop culture and marijuana in pop culture, directionally, it only goes one way: More humanized views, more well-rounded views, less demonized views.”

But the addition of pot to a series isn’t enough.

“Just having marijuana in a show certainly doesn’t guarantee a show will be good,” he notes, saying the same guidelines for making smart TV — putting together the right cast and creative team, plowing new story and character terrain — still apply. “Marijuana itself shouldn’t be a crutch.”

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