With years under its belt of running programs featuring everyone from Bill Maher to Dave Chapelle, Comedy Central has long had a distinctive voice. But it never got to make itself heard in a dynamic way each year when TV networks make an annual pitch to Madison Avenue.
That will all change this evening, when the Viacom-owned outlet puts on the first standalone upfront presentation in the nearly quarter-century since Time Warner’s Comedy Channel and Viacom’s HA! merged to form the network as it is known today. In a show that is expected to feature many of its most popular stars, like Amy Schumer, Trevor Noah and Larry Wilmore, Comedy Central intends to make the case that it attracts the younger consumers advertisers say they crave and that its executives are working diligently to move with those viewers as they place more emphasis on mobile devices and streaming video.
“We are everywhere viewers are. We have more content on more screens than other competitors,” said Michele Ganeless, the network’s president, in an interview. “And we are still the best place to get younger guys.”
This week Comedy Central has unveiled a broad slate of short-form programs devised for Snapchat; extended a series order for a lusty program featuring comedienne Nikki Glaser; and renewed popular shows like “Tosh.0” and “Drunk History.” Now it is announcing pick-ups of two new series featuring popular comic Kevin Hart; a comedy-competition series that has comics go head to head in a “roast battle”; and a broad series of specials. The network intends to develop a series of what it calls “comedy documentaries” that will tap comedians, writers, producers and directors to tell specific stories of personal relevance. Each effort will have a distinctive look and sensibility.
The network faces one of the more singular challenges in the TV business. It has launched a series of buzzy programs like Chris Hardwick’s “@midnight” and minted new stars, most notably Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson of “Broad City.” At the same time, the audience to which it caters is growing increasingly comfortable with new ways of consuming video that aren’t always readily monetized. Quarter to date as of March 20, the network’s primetime viewership among audiences between 18 and 49 is down more than 10%, according to research by Todd Juenger, a media-industry analyst at Bernstein Research. And TV-ad sales have fallen in 2014 and 2015, according to data from market-research firm SNL Kagan.
Executives say the network has made significant strides in new arenas. TV ratings for its flagship “Daily Show,” where Trevor Noah has replaced Jon Stewart, have flagged, but Ganeless noted each episode of the show is streamed in full 650,000 times via the network’s mobile app, Hulu and other venues. “We are trying to grow an audience on all screens all of the time, and we are successful in many ways,” said Ganeless.
The network is pleased with the show under Noah, said Ganeless and Kent Alterman, president of original programming at the network, and believe he is gaining new viewers through nontraditional means – viewers who happen to be younger on average than the audience for Stewart. What’s more, said Alterman, Noah is capturing attention overseas, and cultivating audience in 170 different countries.
While Comedy Central continues to develop series with new talent, said Alterman, it is also cultivating special programs from popular comics interested in producing. Amy Poehler is a producer of “Broad City,” and the network has secured production deals for projects from projects from Amy Schumer, Chris Hardwick, Channing Tatum, Olivia Wilde, Jack Black, Eva Longoria, Ed Helms, Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone, along with Abominable Pictures, Above Average, Funny Or Die, Gloria Sanchez Productions, and Serious Business, among others. “They’ve been coming to us because of the credibility we’ve built up,” Alterman said.
Comedy Central’s new programs include the following:
“Kevin Hart Presents: Hart of the City,” an eight-episode series that follows Kevin Hart as he explores local comedy scenes in cities such as Philadelphia. Atlanta, Houston, Birmingham and Sacramento. The show is produced by Hart’s Hartbeat Productions , and is exec produced by Hart, Dave Becky of 3 Arts Entertainment, Leland “Pookey” Wigington and Michele Armour, Jonas Larsen and JoAnn Grigioni are the executives in charge for Comedy Central.
“Untitled Kevin Hart Stand-Up Series” features six half-hour episodes of stand-up in which Kevin Hart will spotlight one up-and-coming comedian each episode. Produced by Hartbeat Productions and executive produced by Hart, Dave Becky of 3 Arts Entertainment and Leland “Pookey” Wigington. Jonas Larsen and JoAnn Grigioni are the executives in charge of production for Comedy Central.
“Jeff Ross Presents Roast Battle” is a new competition comedy special in which comedians go head-to-head, led by Ross and referee/comedian, Brian Moses. Two comics in each round face off, roast each other and a winner is declared by a celebrity panel of judges. The show is exec produced by Ross, Joel Gallen, Amy Zvi, Willie Mercer, Moses and Rell Battle. Jonas Larsen, Christian McLaughlin, Jordan Ellner and Ryan Moran are the executives in charge of production for Comedy Central. Ross will also have a special, “Jeff Ross Roasts the Police.”
Comedy Central will air new stand-up specials from Kurt Braunohler, Deon Cole, Pete Davidson, Joe DeRosa, Trevor Moore, Big Jay Oakerson, Dan Soder and the Goddamn Comedy Jam.