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Above Average Steers Focus to Original Comedy Series for TV, Digital Services

Studio backed by Broadway Video and Turner has projects in the works for YouTube Red, truTV, Snapchat, Shudder

Above Average started life in 2012 as the digital-comedy arm of Lorne Michaels’ Broadway Video, the company best known for producing “Saturday Night Live.”

Now, Above Average is putting its shoulder into developing bigger projects, beyond just short web series. Last May, the New York-based company recruited a new CEO: Marc Hustvedt, co-founder of the Streamy Awards and ex-CEO of Supergravity Pictures. Hustvedt has set a goal of doubling the number of Above Average’s original long-form series in development from six in 2017 to 12 in 2018.

“When you hit that five-year mark, you have to ask yourself: What do you do best?” said Hustvedt. “One of the areas we’re really seeing traction is making premium comedy for digital platforms from emerging voices.”

As part of refocusing the company, Hustvedt also reallocated staff previously producing short-form content for Facebook on a daily basis — which didn’t have revenue associated with it and sometimes wasn’t exactly on-brand.

Exemplifying Above Average’s new focus on premium comedy is “Liza on Demand,” a half-hour series starring and executive produced by popular YouTube comedian Liza Koshy (pictured above on set), which the studio is producing for YouTube Red. The eight episode series, officially announced in November, is currently in production in L.A.

Other projects are in the pipeline. Above Average has inked a script deal with AMC Networks’ Shudder horror-streaming service for “Dead Bodies.” Written and created by Morgan Evans, the seven-episode series is a darkly comic anthology series all revolving around one topic – corpses – with an interconnecting narrative and an ensemble cast.

Turner’s truTV recently ordered nine shorts of Above Average’s spoof-y “Athlete Commercials,” which will be included as short-form segments in the second season of “Rachel Dratch’s Late Night Snack” comedy show. “Late Night Snack” will premiere on truTV after the 2018 NCAA March Madness tournament.

And NBCUniversal’s E! Content Lab ordered a pilot of a game show from Above Average, finalizing the format for a new short-form series called “How Low Will You Go?” being developed to premiere on Snapchat in 2018. The series, created and written by Jon Perry, pits competitors against each other as they set their “I’d do it for…” price lower and lower in exchange for completing ridiculous and wild challenges — until one person chickens out.

Above Average’s bigger ambitions got a boost in 2016, when it raised $15 million in funding from Turner and Advance Vixeid Partners, the independent investment arm of Advance Publications and Conde Nast. Jennifer Danielson, who had helped launch Above Average and oversaw the group, left last fall to join Comedy Central as head of digital content operations.

The market for premium comedy also has expanded. A few years ago, Comedy Central was about the only game in town. Now, there’s a slew of buyers, ranging from traditional networks like TBS, IFC, truTV to streaming players Hulu, YouTube, Netflix and Snapchat. Said Marc Lieberman, Above Average’s president of studio, “In the last 12 months, we’ve really seen the opportunity to build out our studio business.”

On another front, Above Average is also developing two new projects with Turner’s Super Deluxe. “Adjunct Professor,” in which host and “professor” Casey Jost invites three comedian colleagues to his classroom to lecture on life lessons. The “Untitled Alison Rich Project” is a fantastical series about a woman whose life is falling apart because in all of her past lives she was a huge a-hole. Each episode features Alison Rich (“The Goldbergs,” “Drunk History,” “Angie Tribeca”) playing both her present-day self as well as one of her past life selves.

Also in development are several original series that Above Average initially launched as short-form web series. They’re  are now being packaged as pilots for long-form series, which the company plans to shop around to TV and digital platforms. “We can incubate the content, to let it walk and talk, and then elevate it into premium digital and TV,” Hustvedt said.

Current shows being pitched as pilots for long-form series include two co-productions with Broadway Video: “Sound Advice,” a co-production with Broadway Video, starring “Saturday Night Live” cast member Vanessa Bayer and created by Vanessa and Jonah Bayer; and “Backseat Bitches,” created by and starring Melissa Hunter and Jessica Lowe.

Other pilots include “Cocktales with Little Esther,” based on shorts that were part of season one of truTV’s “Rachel Dratch’s Late Night Snack”; and “Swimming Lessons,” with animation produced by Bento Box Entertainment (“Bob’s Burgers,” “Legends of Chamberlain Heights”).

Meanwhile, Above Average also recently produced a short film (14 minutes long) for IFC. “Celebrity All-Star,” which premiered last month on IFC’s Comedy Crib, follows an unruly cast of C-list celebrities who are locked out of their hotel rooms. The film was created by Brooklyn-based Sisters Weekend and produced by Above Average.

Pictured above: Liza Koshy on the set of “Liza on Demand”

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