Standups snare sitcom shop at Viacom

Nationwide search nets six unknowns

Paramount TV and its sister company Showtime are setting their sights on the next group of young standup comics who could front their own sitcoms.

A nationwide search by the two companies has netted six relatively unknown comics, who will each get a half-hour primetime slot on Showtime to deliver their routine. Development executives at Paramount will simultaneously employ many of the comedy writers on staff to put together scripts for a group of sitcom pilots that would draw on the comic persona of each of the six.

Showtime has first dibs on the best one or two development projects, said Gary Levine, executive VP of original programming for the network. Paramount would then be able to take the rest of the pilot scripts to other networks, with sister networks CBS, UPN and TNN in line for shows that fit their audience profiles. Paramount could also sell the pilots outside Viacom family, said Levine.

Paramount and Showtime got help in assembling the final six standups from Messina Baker Entertainment and Ken Weinstock of KMW Television. Weinstock, Rick Messina and Richard Baker are the executive producers of the standup series, with Weinstock also serving as producer. Messina and Baker represent such comics-turned-sitcom-actors as Drew Carey and Tim Allen.

“We weren’t just looking for which comedian is the funniest,” said Levine. “We wanted unique, interesting voices, comedians with an edge, with something to say.”

The six comedians are Steve Brewer, Gary Gulman, Dwayne Kennedy, Mark Lundholm, Patrice O’Neal and Charlie Viracola. Weinstock will tape the half-hour standups at the Brea Improvisation in Los Angeles on Aug. 23, 24 and 25.