Lorne Michaels’ Broadway Video and Amazon’s Audible have struck a deal to create multiple audio-only original comedy programs for Audible listeners, Variety has learned, starting with an absurdist medieval series created by “Saturday Night Live” star Kate McKinnon and her sister Emily Lynne.
“Heads Will Roll” is the first of Audible and Broadway Video’s joint endeavors. Described as a “workplace comedy that takes place in a medieval castle,” the 10-episode audio show started out as a passion project of McKinnon and Lynne’s, Broadway Video head Britta von Schoeler told Variety.
McKinnon plays Queen Mortuana, an evil queen who must contend with a peasant uprising. Lynne stars alongside her as JoJo, the queen’s raven sidekick. The series features about 90 characters in all, including some very famous voices.
Think Tim Gunn as the queen’s army general, Meryl Streep as an outspoken actress aiding the peasant rebellion, Audra McDonald as the queen’s frenemy, a flurry of McKinnon’s “SNL” castmates, the Fab Five from “Queer Eye,” plus Peter Dinklage as “a prince who has a bird fetish,” aka a love interest to Lynne’s character.
“We’re so excited to collaborate with Audible and Broadway Video and be part of the recent explosion of audio,” said McKinnon and Lynne jointly via email. “We grew up playing music and doing voices together and we had the time of our lives using this medium to build a fantasy world that could be as big as we wanted it to be.”
Although Audible has previously developed comedic fiction and memoirs, this partnership marks the audiobook company’s first venture into long-form scripted comedy originals, according to Audible Originals’ editor-in-chief David Blum.
And comedy factory Broadway Video is an “ideal partner for us,” he said, as they experiment with new forms of immersive storytelling. Broadway Video’s shows include “SNL,” “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” “Miracle Workers,” “Portlandia,” “30 Rock” and others.
The Lorne Michaels-founded entertainment company has teamed up with Audible before, launching in 2016 a parody travelogue hosted by “Portlandia” star Fred Armisen, in character as Candace Deveraux.
“It just came off so well that as soon as we heard that Audible was going to be doing long-form originals, we started the conversations with them and have now come together to create a robust slate of original comedy series,” said von Schoeler.
Audible and Broadway Video’s second joint project is “63rd Man,” starring John Cena, written by “SNL” writer Bryan Tucker and Zack Philips, and produced by Austin Breslow. The series revolves around a not-quite-pro-level college football star who “will take any tryout, exhibition or gig – no matter how suspect – in hopes of being noticed and getting onto an NFL roster.”
“When we remember our favorite moments in sports, often the first things that come to mind are sounds: the announcers, the crowd, the buzzer,” said Tucker in a statement. “’63rd Man’ hopes to use audio to give the listener that same feeling, while also being a funny character comedy.”
Launch dates for both series have yet to be announced.
“Heads Will Roll” has been recorded and is now in edits, said Broadway Video’s von Schoeler, who likened production to that of a full season of a television show.
“We’re kind of inventing the format to some degree as we go along,” she said. “But I think humor is certainly a language that the whole world speaks, and I think it’s going to be super appealing to a really, really wide audience.”
Audible, like its tech-titan parent Amazon, doesn’t disclose all too much in the way of revenue or metrics. But when it comes to measuring audience reception from the millions of customers who subscribe to the service for $14.95 a month, Audible’s Blum hopes that the series’ narrative storytelling will draw in listeners and keep them engaged with some very funny content as they go about their day-to-day.
“I would be very happy to hear that people are falling off treadmills because of this,” Blum joked. “That would be one very important metric of success – if hopefully nobody hurts themselves.”