NBC Creates 'Comedy Playground' Initiative to Launch Two Series in 2015

Jason Bateman Amy Poehler Seth Meyers Mindy Kaling Split - H 2014
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Jason Bateman Amy Poehler Seth Meyers Mindy Kaling Split - H 2014

Jason Bateman, Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling and Seth Meyers are among the A-listers on the advisory board, which will select the two winning projects from up-and-coming comedy writers to debut on the network.

NBC is looking to A-list comedy stars and producers to help find up-and-coming comedy talent for potential series through a new contest it is calling "NBC Comedy Playground."

Billed as a "grassroots initiative," NBC Comedy Playground is a national campaign designed to give aspiring comedy writers in the U.S. the chance to bring their concepts from pitch to air. With the help of an all-star advisory board, NBC intends to pick two winners through the NBC Comedy Playground to create original comedies being eyed for summer 2015 bows, which will make up a one-hour block.

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The A-list board includes a who's who of NBCUniversal talent in front of and behind the camera in film and television, as well as comedy veterans: Aziz Ansari, Jason Bateman, Robert Carlock, Sean Hayes, Mindy Kaling, Jason Katims, Josh Lieb, Eva Longoria, Adam McKay, Seth Meyers, Todd Milliner, Will Packer, Amy Poehler, Craig Robinson, Maya Rudolph, Mike Schur, Adam Scott and Mike Shoemaker.

Through the NBC Comedy Playground, NBC is actively seeking alternative development avenues for new talent and projects in the comedy space outside of the traditional film schools and comedy clubs in New York and Los Angeles. Showrunners

Comedy writers can begin submitting ideas for proposed digital and network comedy series starting May 1, with participants able to submit up to two video samples (5-10 minutes each) of previous work and up to two original video pitches (2-5 minutes per pitch) to www.nbccomedyplayground.com.

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An NBC selection panel then helps select 10 finalists, with NBC funding for each of them to produce pilot presentations based on their original pitch. Two winners will then be chosen by the advisory board, with NBC consulting. Their shows will be given series orders and broadcast on NBC.

Meanwhile, the remaining eight finalists not chosen will have their pilot presentations voted on by the public with the winner developing their project as a digital series for NBC.

“We are taking a bold, alternative approach in what we hope will uncover original comedy minds who are looking for a way to get into the television business,” said NBC Entertainment Jennifer Salke. “We love that an incredible A-list roster of producers, writers and performers have jumped in to help us find that untapped talent.”

In unveiling the contest in Pasadena on Tuesday, Salke noted that this long-gestating project serves as an "expressway into the network" and is a direct result of "what's happening on the Internet and what's happening at the network." Salke was hopeful that there would be enough material to take up a one-hour block on the schedule.

"Obviously we're going to look for shows that we think will appeal not to a broad audience [but one where] there's a vision ... so there's a viewership," she said. To hear her tell it, the emphasis rests on cultivating voices -- and "if we find a hit show in the process, great." Salke promised that the internal process in determining the finalists will be as "unfettered as possible" and the projects will likely be overseen by production executives.

When the question was posed about whether thought was given to making the Comedy Playground process into its own show, Salke admitted that conversations were had: "We thought about that. Let's wait til next year."

Networks have more seriously looked at alternative development avenues to find new comedy franchises. Fox in January inked a multiplatform comedy development deal with The Lonely Island to find projects for digital and broadcast platforms. Earlier on Tuesday, The CW announced it would bring its CW Seed digital series Backpackers to television with a 10-episode order.

The timing of NBC's announcement comes as the network has continued to struggle to find new comedies, relying on veteran half-hours like critically acclaimed but modestly-rated Parks and Recreation (already renewed for a season seven) and perennial bubble show Community, as well as freshmen About a Boy and Welcome to the Fishers. NBC is also bringing acquired comedies Welcome to Sweden, from Poehler's brother Greg Poehler, Working the Engels and original offering Undateable from Bill Lawrence for summer launches.

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