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AFI sets up next punchline: century’s 100 funniest pix

CBS to bow special in June

In what may be its most controversial list yet, the American Film Institute’s next CBS special will count down the 100 funniest films of the century.

CBS will air the three-hour special “AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Laughs” in June. Gary Smith and Frederick Pierce will executive produce the special, and Smith will also direct. Duo exec also produced the 1998 special “AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Movies” and this year’s “AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Stars.”

AFI has sent ballots to 1,800 entertainers, critics, historians and execs to pick from 500 films nominated by AFI historians. Responding to past controversies, this year’s ballot also includes a spot for five write-in choices, up from just one previously.

Appreciating comedy

AFI chose comedy because it’s an “unappreciated storytelling area,” said director and CEO Jean Firstenberg.

“This is a subject matter that isn’t taken seriously” as a highly regarded genre, she said. “It doesn’t get much recognition when awards time comes around.”

Jurors are being asked to judge a film on how funny it is (“an experience greater than the sum of its smiles”) and its overall legacy.

AFI execs actually hope to repeat the controversy surrounding its first two lists, which were applauded by some and trashed by others. Because humor is more subjective, AFI expects the new list will receive additional scrutiny.

“We were really thrilled with the reaction to the first two years,” Firstenberg said. “We welcome the passionate controversy that has been the result of these programs. We feel empowered in a sense to continue this celebration.”

“100 Movies” averaged 11.2 million viewers, and “100 Stars” picked up 11.1 million for CBS. Both specs pulled an 8 Nielsen household rating and 14 share.

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