Comedy Central Humors Its Audience
Jun. 15, 2000
NEW YORK (AP) _ For a decade, Comedy Central has worked hard at developing a sense of humor.
``What Comedy Central is about,'' says general manager Bill Hilary, ``is being different, being nonderivative of the (broadcast) networks, being a place for people with slightly more outrageous tendencies.''
Now Comedy Central is heating up its summer schedule with a premiere week designed to further clarify its comic sensibilities. Starting Sunday, the cable network will launch three series, expand to a fifth night (Sunday) of original prime-time programming, and unveil new episodes of seven returnees.
Sunday at 10 p.m. Eastern, look for the unrepentant ``Man Show,'' the only talk/comedy half-hour that pledges to end each edition with buxom females bouncing on a trampoline (and never lets its viewers down).
At 10:30 p.m.: The new ``Strip Mall,'' a soap-opera spoof with comedian Julie Brown as a former child star (and murderer) who is down on her luck, but not her wiles. Biding her time as a barmaid at the Funky Fox Bar, she'll do anything to break free from the demented merchants and patrons of the Plaza Del Toro shopping center.
Monday at 10 p.m., the cockeyed cautionary tale ``Strangers With Candy'' returns, still asking: Can a 47-year-old juvenile delinquent learn her lessons at high school this go-around?
At 10:30 p.m., an inspired British comedy troupe, the League of Gentlemen, populates a brand-new series of the same name. Three funny chaps bring to life more than 60 residents _ men, women and a transsexual taxi driver _ of the quaint, highly peculiar village of Royston Valley.
If you're thinking Monty Python, you're in the neighborhood. Meanwhile, expect ``Are they local?'' to become a favorite catch phrase among the comedy cognoscenti.
Tuesday at 10 p.m., the third launch, ``Don't Forget Your Toothbrush,'' combines game-show elements of ``The New Price Is Right'' and ``Let's Make a Deal'' with raise-the-roof revelry. Mark Curry (``Hangin' With Mr. Cooper'') presides over stunts and pranks whose payoff just might be a dandy vacation, which the winner must embark on, toothbrush in tow, immediately upon winning it.
Airing at 10:30 p.m. are new episodes of the original British edition of ``Whose Line Is It Anyway?'' from which the ABC series was adapted. Clive Anderson is host of this improv display.
Wednesday at 10 p.m.: ``South Park.'' Enough said, other than that Comedy Central recently re-upped its most popular series for another three seasons and at least 30 new episodes.
At 10:30 p.m., ``Comedy Central Presents'' a half-hour of standup that spotlights comics including Lewis Black, Kevin Nealon and Wanda Sykes.
Thursday at 10 p.m., ``Win Ben Stein's Money'' continues to be the only quiz show where the host is called upon to spring for the contestant's prize _ and must defend his bankroll or go home broke.
And at 10:30 p.m., ``Turn Ben Stein On'' features interviews with guests including Charlie Sheen, Drew Carey and Carmen Electra.
That's the lineup, but what's the big picture? Talk to Comedy Central execs and you hear the words ``breakthrough'' and ``edgy.''
``Stylistically, we want young, hip, current,'' says its president, Larry Divney. ``This is not Leno. Or Letterman. Or even Conan.''
Although tickling a viewer's funny bone isn't heart surgery, it's still a serious operation. Even so, Comedy Central has avoided losing patients. In fact, its household audience has increased by 25 percent in the past two years.
Comedy Central is the only all-comedy network _ actually, a hybrid of two faltering startups merged in 1989. But beyond that, it reigns as the sole national comedy brand, a brand that Divney means to extend beyond its TV boundaries.
One vast new frontier is the network's Web site. ``We want to build it out,'' says Divney, ``enhancing its promotional aspects with more entertainment content. Look at it now, and again in about two months, and then at the end of the year. You'll see three different sites.''
Among the Web site's future offerings, Divney hopes to plant cameras in undiscovered comedy clubs and transmit video of stars-in-the-making across the Internet.
Another spinoff: Comedy Central radio. A 24-hour comedy network on radio! A no-brainer!
``Yeah,'' says Divney with a confident smile.
On Comedy Central's TV network, Hilary adds, look for original feature films before too long, as well as additional program genres given comic treatment. ``We might even expand into sports with a comedy twist.''
Hilary, who came to Comedy Central from London and the BBC earlier this year, is also hoping to introduce a live, late-night programming block.
``We want to showcase new talent and new ideas,'' he says. ``We want to make sure Comedy Central is still out there, making people ask questions about television, about comedy, about themselves.''
And (it goes without saying) making people laugh.
On the Net:
Comedy Central: http://www.comedycentral.com
Elsewhere in television ....
`NIGHTLINE': ABC News' ``Nightline'' continues its yearlong look at a combined fourth- and fifth-grade class from Public School 27 in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, tonight at 11:35 p.m. Eastern. ``Master teacher'' Lesley-Diann Jones juggles teaching and conflict resolution, working with one student who threatens to kill another and dealing with a student who accuses her of calling the youngster ``an idiot'' _ a charge that gets the parent and principal involved and almost prompts Jones to resign.
Frazier Moore can be reached at fmooreap.org