Monday, October 04, 2010

Comedy and Error.

My mom and oldest younger brother came out to visit me a few weeks ago. They got to see my new apartment, go to the football opener against UConn, and eat our way through as much of Ann Arbor as we could fit into our stomachs. At the end of Sunday night, exhausted from our gallivanting and carousing, we went to this tiny hole in the wall ice cream place. I've gone on and hosted many a weekend visit, and by the last night, you kinda run out of things to say. So, as we sat there spoon-licking our ice cream, I did the only thing that came to mind. 
I made fun of our basketball team.

It's not that our basketball team is bad [though I think they probably are], it was just that there was a poster on the wall next to us. It had not only last year's schedule printed on it but also a picture of every single team member. These guys clearly were not used to standing still in front of a camera. They were easy targets. One of my favourite things to do is make my mom laugh, and luckily for me, she's pretty easily amused. I got at least fifteen minutes of material from that out dated poster, and yes, I do plan on repeating the routine.

There's a scene in Walk the Line where Reese Witherspoon as June Carter is talking about growing up in an all around talented family and finding her place there. She says, "My sister Anita's the one who really has the pipes... That's how come I learned to be funny. So I'd have something to offer." I don't try to write comedy. Whatever grace God gave to me when He gave me a sense of humor doesn't translate well to the page. But as I've been tracking the trends in television, box office, and online content, I've become more and more convinced that comedy is the future of the writing business.

Broadcast television--I'm convinced that it's just hard to find an audience for a drama. Television is not interactive entertainment. The viewer is completely passive [except when they're fast forwarding through commercials]. We don't come to television looking to be challenged--we come for entertainment and amusement. If you're going to relax after a long day, are you going to choose an hour long serialized emotional drama? Or a light-hearted comedy with a built-in laugh track? What gets easier than having someone else clue you in to when you're supposed to laugh? I personally follow way more comedies than dramas. And clearly it's not as finely split as serialized dramas versus sitcom comedies. There are plenty of successful episodic dramas such as Law and Order:Spinoff and CSI:Everywhere, as well as single camera comedies like The Office or Modern Family. And drama does a whole lot better on cable than on network television, ie Dexter, Mad Men, and Boardwalk Empire.

Perhaps this seems too subjective. How about this--there's no freshman break out show. Solid shows, yes, but there's no Glee or Modern Family [comedy breakouts from last year]. But the first two shows canceled--Lone Star and My Generation. Two serialized dramas. And the rumors floating around of what's on the chopping block next--dramas. There's been no talk of canceling any comedies, even those with disappointing ratings. 

But television is old news. New media is where it's at. Scott Smith over at Screenwriting from Iowa recently posted about new opportunities for writers penning advertisements as content. The writer's strike made an important point that online content and other new media does require an author [and therefore payment], opening up new possibilities ranging from web exclusives, such as The Office has on both their website and Hulu, to character Twitter accounts, like the promoting stunt Community performed before their premiere. Kurt Sutter has been promoting an iPhone app for Sons of Anarchy that will include a great amount of new content. I don't know who's writing all this extra material. I don't know if it comes from the writer's room or if they hire extra staff to create this content. But television is a whole lot more than a weekly half hour episode.

And then, as Scott describes, there's "branding entertainment." Advertisers, trying to adapt to a business model of new media and DVR, are creating content themselves. It's the step beyond product placement. He gives an excellent example of a five minute clip Orbit gum created. I watched it--

And promptly forwarded it to my friend.

1. Because it had Jason Bateman and Will Arnett in it. Automatic go. 2. Because it was funny.

There is so much stuff out on the internet. I believe that, if you're going to put content on the internet, the best way to get it seen is to affiliate it with an already established brand [which is why television based extra content is successful] or get it to go viral. And here's the honest truth--drama doesn't go viral. 

I've wanted to be one of the 2.6 million people trying to take advantage of the "democratic" nature of the internet. I've thought about developing a web series. Making another short. But I always run into the problem that whatever I brainstorm--it's drama. And comedy rules internet success.

Shawna at Shouting into the Wind is about to plunge into web series, and Scott Meyer at Go Into the Story recently wrote an update about web series. Internet content is going to be increasingly important to writers. 

Also, this my new favourite band, Mumford & Sons, an English folk band. But don't let that deter you--they're awesome. Check out their songs. Collect 'em all.

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