How Funny Is The Future Of TV Comedy? (And How You Can Be Part Of It)


You’re all familiar with network comedy TV shows. They’re reasonably safe, reasonably mainstream and reasonably non-risque. Gotta love that canned laughter.

Network TV comedy shows often center around a quirky or dysfunctional family or an urban tribe/ group of friends. They all last around 22 minutes to allow for commercials in the 30 minute time slot.

This formula has worked for decades. TV syndication has been a blessed cash cow for the main terrestrial networks. But this business model is already starting to fray.

However, emerging online networks have distorted the TV comedy landscape. Enter the brave new world of live streaming. New players include Bento Box, See So and Anonymous Content. This is over an above Netflix, Hulu and similar popular online streamers.

Some of the main networks own stakes, or wholly own these smaller players. Perhaps this is part of their strategy for economic survival?

The remit of these new TV comedy players is that they’re looking for brash, fresh, individual voices. Forget about pulling back on those cringe-worthy scenes in case the ratings drop and financially maim a terrestrial TV network.

Today, the critical viewership mass is much lower, so go nuts. Find your niche audience and “go there” in your comedy writing. Be bold. Be daring. Be unique. And don’t be afraid to push your comedic envelope. Don’t self censor. Just be incredibly funny.

Formats are also more diverse than the typical 30 minute slot of network TV. I’ve seen examples of 1-3, 5, 15 and 30 minute comedy shorts on different online platforms.

These are the typical formats of online comedies:

SCRIPTED/PREMISE BASED
This format most closely resembles the structure of TV network comedy. Think of shows like “Bojack Horseman” with a strong narrative spine.

NON-PREMISE
This is really a group of characters having random wacky adventures. The shows are self contained and there is no clear series arc.

SKETCH/SKIT COMEDY

This is a few pre-taped pieces which fill a time slot. They are sometimes live. A skit is a shorter than a sketch and often builds up to a punchline.

STAND UP

This could be a live TV special of a long form stand up comedian. It could be a live transmission of a comedy festival.

IMPROV/ WORKSHOP

This is a much rawer form of live comedy. It has less structure and the gags are not as tight. Comedic works in progress if you will. Often, the comedians will go on stage with little more than a thin concept.

GENDER COMEDY

Technically, this comes under the scripted comedy category. However, I felt it warranted its own mention.

Gender is important when networks identify their target demographics. For instance, Comedy Central has traditionally skewed towards the male 14-24 year old demographic. However, this is changing with surprising female centric shows like “Broad City.”

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