Porn can't be the only thing that makes money on the Web

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Why is it that so much of the great comedy we're seeing these days is the stuff that one can download off of the Internet, specifically YouTube or similar sites? Is it simply that three or four minutes has come to represent the ideal length for comedic material in the age of the short attention span? Is that why the overwhelming majority of comedy features and TV comedies flop? Do we simply lack the patience nowadays for a more detailed comedy experience?

This materialized as an issue for me this week given how NBC on Wednesday announced a forthcoming spinoff of "The Office" as part of its newfangled 52-week schedule, and the fact I rarely heard much water-cooler chatter (perhaps because I'm not around a water-cooler) with regard to primetime TV comedy. It has effectively disappeared from the radar -- even the once-trendy single-camera variety.

The stuff that people are talking about is almost exclusively short, eccentric, Internet-driven and ultimately viral (still the buzzword of the moment) in its impact. There is occasionally a great TV comedy moment that sneaks through someplace other than on Comedy Central ("The Daily Show," the Peabody-winning "The Colbert Report" and "South Park" remain the standard), but in the main it's about cyberspace now.

Even the stuff that starts on network TV thrives only after it hits the Web, such as the inspired pair of videos that began life on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and involved Kimmel and Sarah Silverman claiming fictitious sexual relationships with Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, respectively. Each of those have passed the 12 million mark in total views.

Another piece of comedic brilliance that caught fire of late is one born on the site SuperDeluxe.com and involves comedian Craig Bierko's conducting an interview with John Malkovich in a bathtub and is dubbed as the first installment in a series entitled "Bathing With Bierko." It is now all the rage in the cyber ether.

Making any real money from Internet comedy remains the primary challenge. You can't just surround comedy shorts with a bunch of banner ads and expect sponsors to flock.

This is a question that's being asked these days by co-owners Mark Feldstein and Brad Roth and their promotion/advertising/marketing company known as Stun Creative. The founders have made a nice little business of their firm but aren't content to rest on their laurels. So this week, they unveiled a 10-part digital series of six-minute comedy installments titled "The Writers Room" that's available on the C-Spot, the new multiplatform comedy channel distributed by Sony Pictures TV.

"Writers Room" is funny, savvy, droll and uncommonly realistic, glimpsing behind the scenes at a fictional late-night talk show hosted by actor-comedian Kevin Pollack and starring real-life comedy writers and former showrunners. For the moment, it's merely a really cool concept in search of a genuine television canvas, because the Internet itself can't yet financially justify an actual full-length effort.

Yet the question isn't so much if that will change, but when.

"It isn't like this is new," Feldstein said this week. "This kind of content is being done more and more with TV as the endgame in mind. We put in great production values, real story lines, real arcs. We want TV executives to see this and think, 'I could see this on my air'. All we need is to get hooked up with advertisers and a backer."

Ah yes, only those. It's still seen as The Future. But here's a news flash, TV industry: The future is already here.
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