HBO to focus on multi-camera laffers

Katsky joins cabler for laughs

While the broadcast webs have cut back on sitcoms, HBO announced plans Wednesday to branch into more traditional, multi-camera laffers.

That’s the mandate for former Fox exec Tracy Katsky, who has joined the pay cabler as head of its HBO Independent Prods. Katsky had been in talks with HBO to join the division, which produces CBS’ “Everybody Loves Raymond,” since early spring (Daily Variety, April 30).

Under Katsky, the revamped HBO Independent Prods. will now focus solely on creating multi-camera comedies. HIP will continue to produce for outside entities, such as the broadcast webs, but shift much of its attention toward creating new fare for the mother ship.

That’s a big change for HIP, which until now has focused solely on producing series like “Raymond” and “Martin” outside of HBO. As part of the switch, the division will now report to HBO Entertainment prexy Carolyn Strauss.

“In the past, HBO Independent Prods. has been a very separate entity,” Strauss said. “But we thought we could take advantage of a lot of the assets we have here and our team.”

It’s also a new strategy for HBO, which has avoided the multi-cam form up until now, preferring to produce single-camera fare like “Larry Sanders Show” and “Sex and the City.”

“It’s a whole other language of comedy for HBO, one that we hadn’t contemplated before,” Strauss said. “There’s a whole different field of artists for us … Single camera has one set of rules, and multi-camera a whole separate set of rules.”

HBO’s inhouse programming team will continue to develop dramas and single-camera comedies for the pay cabler.

Asked whether multi-camera sitcoms seemed a little too traditional for HBO — which prides itself on standing apart from the broadcast webs — she said the net prefers to call the form “classic,” not “traditional.”

And with fewer comedies on the air, Strauss said she also hoped to tap the widening pool of available sitcom writers.

“This dovetailed with the fact that there were a lot of unemployed comedy writers,” Strauss said.

HIP had previously been headed up by creative affairs exec VP Russell Schwartz, who stays on as the division’s head of business affairs.

Katsky, meanwhile, is well-respected in the comedy world, having developed laffers such as “Arrested Development” and “Andy Richter Controls the Universe” as Fox’s comedy development topper. She also developed “Malcolm in the Middle” while at Regency TV.

Katsky’s experience developing both critically acclaimed shows like “Arrested Development” and more traditional sitcoms at Fox makes her a natural fit for HBO, Strauss said.

Meanwhile, Strauss also said HIP would not attempt to strike another pact like its failed first-look deal with ABC. Under that heavily publicized 2002 pact, ABC had contracted HBO to develop a round of programs for the net. But the Alphabet web switched its programming strategies, and nothing ultimately came of the deal.

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