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‘Undateable’ Breaks Modern Broadcast Boundaries by Going Live

After a successful go at a live episode last season, NBC is taking a bold step with an entire live season of Friday night sitcom “Undateable.”

From Bill Lawrence and Adam Sztykiel, the bro ensembler is helmed by comedian Chris D’Elia, who at the first season 3 table read found himself cracking up at a joke in the script, which took a direct jab at his appearance. “I want to know who wrote that!” he jokingly threatened.

D’Elia breaking into laughter is the least of the exec producers’ worries. With the live format, Lawrence and Sztykiel say that they actually look forward to unexpected moments from talent, which is largely a cast of stand-up comedians who have practice in off-the-cuff live comedy.

“If you watch any of the old episodes, these people all laugh at each other so much and I feel like people in sitcoms on TV don’t usually laugh on camera and they’re real. They aren’t fake laughs,” Lawrence tells Variety. “We think they’re endearing and so we’ve kept them on the show.”

If there is any concern, it’s for technical choreography or the fact that talent will be so funny, scenes will run overtime — and with a live show, there’s no luxury of the editing room.

“The only thing that’s really complicated, we face a computer screen that tells us how much time we have left. And when these guys add material, we have to cut things and still have the show make sense on the fly,” Lawrence explains. “So if they’ve added two minutes of jokes and we no longer have room for the two scenes left to resolve the story, in the commercial break, we have to figure out how to make the story end. It’s not like ‘SNL’ where we can just drop a sketch — if we drop a scene, the show doesn’t make sense, then.”

Sztykiel adds, “Even if it’s an epic disaster, it will still be more interesting than a normal regular half-hour or hour of TV.”

The creator’s notion points to the new wave of live programming, which NBC has found much success in with Neil Patrick Harris’ “Best Time Ever,” and, of course, the likes of “The Voice” and “America’s Got Talent.”

“NBC really likes live TV so I knew that it would make them excited,” Lawrence admits. “Part of the battle in network television is having the network you’re on be very excited about your show, especially because it’s a tough landscape for network comedy.”

Undateable” has handed a late renewal for its third season after sitting on the bubble, though it did rank as one of NBC’s most successful comedies as of late. The pickup marked the network’s only returning comedy for this current season, and the live component was likely an added bit of oomph that seems worth another go-around, especially considering last spring’s live episode resulted in a bit of a ratings uptick.

“We live in a world where people still look at the numbers the next morning, even though they shouldn’t, which drives me crazy,” Lawrence says.

While the duo does hope that the live aspect brings more live viewers — “I’m hoping the live thing still works with comedy,” Lawrence says, as the last live scripted show was Fox’s “Roc” in the ’90s — they also realize that the content needs to attract an audience. Luckily, a benefit of shooting live is that hot topics and “zeitgeist-y moments” can be added into a script moments before the curtains rise or even during a commercial break. (For instance, if Shia LaBeouf is arrested on a Friday night, the cast can take a jab at the faus pax.)

With so much content competition, the folks at “Undateable” are giving their best go at trying something new. In addition to going live and including breaking topics by way of jokes, the cast will be engaging with viewers via social media during the shoot. In other words, at-home viewers can weigh in on what the actors wear, drink or even say.

The show’s team is also engaging in a daily Periscope, offering behind-the-scenes content from rehearsals and the writers’ room, and will feature a “friend of ‘Undateable'” hosting a live pre-Periscope from backstage at the show’s Social Lounge. Following each night’s wrap, a post-show with a musical guest will take place for the in-studio audience and viewers at home.

With so much packed into the live 30 minutes each Friday, Lawrence says with a smile: “I think there will be at least one epic disaster. Because there always are on the show.”

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