Jon Heder lands Comedy Central show

Net orders 10 episodes of scripted comedy

"Napoleon Dynamite" star Jon Heder has teamed with Will Ferrell and Adam McKay for an unusual Comedy Central sitcom deal that follows in Tyler Perry's footsteps.

The network has ordered 10 episodes of a new multicamera comedy starring Heder as an out-of-work computer IT specialist who returns to his small hometown and moves in with his parents and younger brother. Ferrell, McKay and Chris Henchy will write and produce the series, and Ferrell might opt for an on-camera appearance or two.

If the initial 10-episode run meets a ratings threshold, the network has agreed to order 90 more episodes from Gary Sanchez Prods. and distributor Debmar-Mercury, setting up the project for eventual syndication.

The deal is the same unusual structure that Debmar wrangled for Perry's hit TBS sitcoms "House of Payne" and "Meet the Browns," both of which started off with 10-episode orders followed by massive renewals for total orders of 126 and 80 episodes, respectively.

"It's a very similar business model to 'House of Payne,' " Debmar co-president Mort Marcus said. "Perry is one of only a handful of people who could do this. We believe that Will Ferrell and Adam McKay will be able to deliver something that works perfectly for Comedy Central."

Debmar and producers lured Comedy Central by offering the network a more significant ownership stake in the show than most networks get. Producers and Heder also have slashed their initial fees in favor of higher potential back-end revenue.

"It feels like a real partnership for everyone involved," said Lauren Corrao, president of original programming and development at Comedy Central. "Everybody has a stake in its success and is motivated to make it as successful as we possibly can."

The Heder project is estimated to cost about $50 million over five years, with Comedy Central allowed to pay $10 million per year on a five-year installment plan to reduce upfront costs. Debmar-Mercury, which is funding production on the show, is aiming to crank out 100 episodes in 2 1/2 years for a potential profit that could match or exceed the $200 million-$250 million the first 100 episodes of "Payne" reportedly generated for the show's producers.

The downside is that the deal raises the bar high for a series renewal.

"It does raise the bar, but we do get to put the 10 episodes on the air, and I would love to pick up 90 episodes of a show that is successful," Corrao said. "I think we're all in sync with how successful it needs to be."

Although Debmar has managed to hit two home runs with this deal format, both were under Perry's mega-popular comedy brand. Making a sitcom work on Comedy Central, which has never had a hit multicamera comedy, could prove tougher. (The "South Park" gang's "That's My Bush" mock sitcom from 2001 was the network's only previous effort in the genre). Ferrell and McKay's most recent TV comedy, HBO's "Eastbound and Down," has earned a small but devoted following.
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