TBS takes comedy reins

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NEW YORK -- TBS on Wednesday cemented its position as Time Warner's new comedy festival specialist as sibling HBO has faded from its involvement in the laughs circuit.

TBS unveiled a new five-day Chicago summer festival, set to launch in 2009, in cooperation with Montreal festival veteran Just for Laughs, which is using that event to expand into the U.S.

TBS also said it will put on the fourth annual Comedy Festival in Las Vegas in November, with live event and touring expert AEG Live again serving as partner. TCF was organized by AEG and HBO, with TBS serving as title sponsor.

"After three successful years of serving as the presenting sponsor of the Comedy Festival in Las Vegas, we're ready to dive into the festival arena full force," said Steve Koonin, president of Turner Entertainment Networks. "These events are a perfect opportunity for TBS to showcase some of the best talents in the comedy industry and to expand the reach of our brand in exciting new ways."

Koonin predicted the expanded live work will be "a nice piece of business" for his operation by putting on festivals created first with consumers and advertisers in mind, even though he expects entertainment industry folks to also scout the events. "We will use the festivals as a mike to talk to comedy fans in a 360-degree way" all year and offer cross-platform marketing opportunities, he said.

HBO also has vacated its early-in-the-year Aspen comedy festival.

Meanwhile, "Just for Laughs: A Very Funny Festival" will likely take over Chicago in June for five days under a deal brokered by CAA. The agency represents JFL, which puts together the annual July comedy extravaganza in Montreal that carries the same name. JFL celebrated its 25th festival this past summer.

"It is very important for us to build our presence outside our well-established Montreal event," JFL COO Bruce Hills said. "We have a presence via our TV shows in many countries and have now moved to Toronto and Chicago" to reach audiences there via live events. However, he emphasized that Chicago will see a festival that is in sync with that market's sensitivity and taste.

Ellen DeGeneres is on board for both TBS festivals, and Koonin said some of TBS' talent, such as Frank Caliendo and Bill Engvall, will be also be featured. Full programming lineups for the two festivals will come later.

However, besides a TBS special hosted by DeGeneres, the Chicago affair will feature a series of stand-up shows by top names; improv and sketch shows, including a collaboration with the famed Second City comedy troupe in the Windy City; Latino and urban comedy specials; and a film component.
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