TBS, Central downplay comic rivalry

Cable networks still compete for laughs, ratings

Comedy is serious business. Just ask TBS and Comedy Central.

Turner Entertainment Networks prexy Steve Koonin appeared to plant a flag for cable comedy supremacy during his July 17 keynote at the Just Comedy confab in Montreal, declaring TBS the No. 1 comedy net on cable TV and noting in a breezy PowerPoint presentation that his channel enjoyed a 75% primetime ratings advantage in Q1 over what he identified as the runner-up in cable yuks: Comedy Central.

This drew protestations afterward from the Comedy Central denizens in the room, who were on hand as event co-sponsors.

“The fact is, we’re in very different businesses,” said a spokesman, noting that his channel narrowly targets young males with primarily original comedy-variety shows like “The Daily Show” and such originals as “South Park,” while TBS seeks a much bigger, broader aud with offnet sitcoms like “The Office” and family-focused originals including “The Bill Engvall Show.”

“Yeah, you can say you’re No. 1 on cable with sitcoms — you win that argument,” the rep said. “But if you look at all the ways we’re able to leverage our original programming, I don’t think it’s even arguable that we’re the No. 1 comedy brand.”

For his part, Koonin later dispelled any notion of a brewing rivalry, agreeing that the two cabler’s biz models were as different as “apples and kumquats” and explaining that Comedy Central was mentioned merely to provide “context” to TBS’ recent ratings triumphs.

“There is no rivalry and there is no comedy war,” says Koonin, adding that Turner sees its true rivals as residing primarily outside basic cable.

“We’re going after broadcast,” he says.

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