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This story originally appeared in the March 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Comedy Central is taking its brand to bookstores.
The network is launching a publishing imprint with Running Press (part of the Perseus Books Group) with plans to release everything from memoirs to joke and novelty books. The first title from Comedy Central Books will be a holiday themed novelty book from actor-comedian Denis Leary. It’s set to roll out in October with a multiplatform marketing push highlighted by a new Leary-headlined comedy special on the network that will be reminiscent of 2005’s Merry F#%$in’ Christmas.
“I am truly delighted to be in business with Running Press and deliver a funny Christmas book based on a special I did for Comedy Central seven-and-a-half years ago,” says the Boston native and star and creator of FX’s recently wrapped firefighter drama Rescue Me. “Sorry for the delay, but I was a tad busy with Rescue Me, two teenaged kids, two Red Sox World Series victories, the 17th Boston Celtic NBA championship, the Bruins winning the Stanley Cup and online porn. Mostly the porn.”
There will also be a robust digital and social media marketing campaign around Leary’s book, which is still untitled, that will include a dedicated web site where fans can get a sneak peak of the book and purchase advance copies.
The imprint is the latest brand extension for the Viacom-owned channel whose 360-degree content approach already includes DVDs, CDs, consumer products and stand-up tours and where the network’s marketing muscle is key in driving sales of those ancillary businesses. Comedy is central to the lives of the network’s target audience of young men 18-34, or millennials. In fact, the network recently commissioned a study with Nielsen Entertainment Television that found that comedy is more important than music, sports or personal style in how young men view themselves and others, with 88 percent identifying sense of humor as the foremost aspect of self-definition. In fact, the majority of the 2,000 respondents said they would rather be stuck in an elevator with Jon Stewart (66 percent) than Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning (15 percent).
As the network has methodically built a business model around the comedy-as-currency attitude of its millennial audience, a publishing imprint was the next logical step says, Mitch Fried, executive vp enterprises.
“We look at Comedy Central as a place where we provide the best of humor in all areas of our viewers’ lifestyles,” he says. “So the publishing industry is something that we needed to address. Our audience is reading. It’s a natural way for us to get the message out about comedy in multiple formats.”
The imprint will focus on new material from up-and-coming talent. But at least in the beginning, it’s bread-and-butter is likely to be spinoff books of existing series such as Workaholics and Comedy Central’s Indecision franchise and titles from comics like Leary, who have an existing relationship with the network. Comedy has been a healthy genre for the publishing industry of late with Tina Fey’s Bossypants, Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? and Chelsea Handler’s Lies Chelsea Handler Told Me making multiple best-seller lists.
Stewart and Stephen Colbert will stay put with their current publisher, Grand Central Publishing, part of the Hachette Book Group. But the success of multiple books from the respective hosts of The Daily Show and Colbert Report has certainly been instructive for Comedy Central executives. Stewart’s latest humor tome, Earth: The Book, was the sixth-best seller of 2010.
Daniel Tosh, who hosts the network’s top-rated Tosh.0, is not attached to a publisher. So if he decides to pen a book, the Comedy Central imprint would be a natural home.
Comedy Central Books will not engage in the kind of bidding war that ensued for Fey’s memoir – she landed a reported $5 million advance from Little, Brown Book Group. But there is still plenty of upside, says Fried, who ads that the imprint gives Comedy Central another sweetner to offer talent during deal negotiations. Eight years ago, Fried launched Comedy Central Live Entertainment, which produces stand-up tours with network talent including Tosh, whose upcoming tour kicks off March 9 in Las Vegas. Today, stand-up is Comedy Central’s fastest-growing ancillary business. And Fried sees similar potential in publishing.
“I want to have my own Comedy Central-dedicated section at book stores,” he says.
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