Yahoo unveiled its first-ever full-length scripted series orders at its Digital Content NewFronts presentation Monday, calling on established Hollywood veterans to deliver half-hour comedies that will bow by year-end and in 2015.
Paul Feig, the writer-producer behind NBC’s critically acclaimed but short-lived “Freaks & Geeks” and director of hit theatrical “Bridesmaids,” will exec produce “Other Space,” eight half-hour episodes chronicling a misfit group of space adventurers who stumble upon an alternate universe.
Mike Tollin, executive producer of the WB hit series “Smallville” and “One Tree Hill,” is teaming with TV director Bryan Gordon (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) for eight half-hour episodes of “Sin City Saints,” which follows the exploits of a Las Vegas-based pro basketball expansion team.
In an interview with Variety prior to its NewFront presentation at Manhattan’s Lincoln Center, chief marketing officer Kathy Savitt said two more longform scripted projects will be announced in the coming weeks. “We want the world’s best showrunners, writers and directors to tell the best stories,” she said.
With the help of producers with proven track records, CEO Marissa Mayer is is making Yahoo’s biggest bet yet on original programming with the intent of making the kind of splash Netflix accomplished with its own big-budget efforts. But Yahoo has a history of underwhelming efforts in shortform content dating back nearly a decade, when Hollywood vets Terry Semel and Lloyd Braun struggled to turn the portal into an entertainment powerhouse.
While Yahoo’s video efforts were the focus of the presentation, Mayer opened the event by framing video as one of four key growth areas for the company, along with mobile, social and native advertising.
Yahoo is counting on the massive daily traffic across its many properties to deliver sizable audiences to its new programming. And there have been some bright spots in an otherwise checkered track record, including “Bachelor” spoof “Burning Love,” which migrated to TV on E! after several seasons on Yahoo. Last fall, Yahoo tried to build a comedy block of originals anchored by “SNL,” peppered with clips from Comedy Central and the Onion.
Savitt emphasized that scripted longform is just one part of a multipronged content strategy at Yahoo that will also embrace live daily content as part of a newly revealed partnership with Live Nation Entertainment that will live-stream a music concert from somewhere around the globe every day on Yahoo beginning this summer. Savitt was joined on stage by Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino.
Yahoo also touted two other prongs of its video strategy: premium content licensing and video extensions to its growing stable of digital magazines. The company disclosed at the presentation that a new magazine devoted to travel will join its existing food and travel magazines.
What separates Yahoo from the competition is the scale of its audience, she noted.
“They tend not to release the (measurement) numbers because it’s difficult to get quantity for even the most acclaimed shows,” said Savitt. “The reason we’re different is we drive big audiences.”
Also appearing on stage at the event was Tollin, who is partnered with Peter Guber at Mandalay Sports Media, cited the popularity of Yahoo Sports in his decision to bring “Saints,” which will be written by Chris Case, to Yahoo.
“When Yahoo planted its flag and said we’ll be in the business of doing half-hour comedy, our ears perked up,” he told Variety. “What a perfect platform to have the most heavily visited sports destination on the Web.”
“I couldn’t be more excited to be making ‘Other Space’ with Yahoo,” said Feig, who did not appear at the event but tub thumped for his show via a pre-taped segment played for the crowd. “This show has been a passion project of mine, and for it to be one of Yahoo!’s first scripted series feels like the futuristic adventure I’ve always wanted to take.”
Mayer has already locked a big name in Yahoo’s programming stable by luring Katie Couric, who has a prominent presence on the site as a “global news anchor.” Couric was also on hand at the presentation.
The two series will be launched via Yahoo Screen, a video platform that can be accessed on the Web or on a branded app available for consumption across devices and on TV via bestselling set-top boxes including Apple TV and Roku. All episodes will be available at once for binge-friendly viewers, though specific launch dates have yet to be determined.