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Yahoo teased its foray into longform original programming in April at the Digital Content NewFronts with the announcement of projects from exec producers Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) and Mike Tollin (Smallville). Some attendees grumbled that the small slate failed to impress, but the Sunnyvale, Calif., tech giant has more than compensated for those concerns with a landmark decision to revive cult comedy Community for a sixth season.
The deal comes after studio Sony Pictures Television spoke to several suitors, including online streamer Hulu, about the former NBC comedy from exec producer Dan Harmon.
Yahoo chief marketing officer Kathy Savitt, who has been leading the tech firm’s push into longform programming, spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about why she wanted to revive Community (hint: she’s a fan), the “creative genius” of Harmon and whether Yahoo will look to revive other beloved but ratings-challenged series.
Why did you decide to bring back Community?
Yahoo has always been a place where people come every day to consume all kinds of content. This year we made a really significant and serious commitment to taking our large audience and becoming the platform for creators to find the audience that they want and need. It could be voices on Tumblr, or other young voices, or it could be brands — really connecting them with a whole new level of audience. Recently we announced our deals with Paul Feig to do an original sitcom, with Mike Tollin. We said, “This is just the beginning of some of these very select projects.” Today marks the next one we’re announcing: Community, which is an incredible show. It’s certainly the greatest example that I’ve seen in a long time of a story that has not only connected with an audience but deserves to have a huge platform to introduce new audience members to the power of the show.
Sony’s Zack Van Amburg told THR that you entered negotiations after they were already having advanced conversations with Hulu. What was your pitch to win Sony over?
We’ve been fans both personally and professionally of the show Community and Dan Harmon, who is a genius, but also we are really impressed and inspired by the Community fan base. This is a fan base that has used digital channels to show their passion and advocacy for a program that’s really important to them on so many levels. We’ve been looking at it for a while. I don’t know who came in first, last, et cetera, in terms of timing, but I think for us it was really about being that connective tissue between creators and audiences. We started speaking with Sony, and I had a wonderful series of conversations with Dan Harmon about our passion for the show. To us, it’s about the content. How could we enable not just the existing audience to find it, but to grow that audience so that the show is able to flourish and prosper not just in season six but well beyond?
What is your financial commitment to the show?
We’re acting like any other network. We’re working closely with creators, writers, producers, the director to bring a world-class show. We’re not talking about the financial terms of the deal. I think we all had a meeting of the minds that we want to be able to continue and be able to expand on the level of excellence the show has brought to its fans for the last five seasons. I think Sony — and the talent and creatives involved — was very smart to want to make sure that if it was to continue, it was going to continue in a world-class way, and I think that Yahoo not only understands that but is going to wave the purple banner to make sure that it has a world-class home on Yahoo Screen.
How will you be marketing the show?
We definitely will be giving the show our full support from a marketing and a network standpoint. Obviously we will market significantly on Yahoo, and we’ll also be marketing with some of our offline marketing partners as well as off-network.
Were there any concerns or questions that Dan Harmon brought up during your conversations?
I’m not going to go into the details of our conversation other than to say that Dan is truly a creative genius and probably one of the most authentic creators I’ve had the privilege of meeting. That was really impressive to all of us. We wanted to make sure that he felt comfortable that not only were we going to continue to provide the show a world-class home, but we wanted to provide a creative platform for him and his talented team to do their very best work. That was as important to us as it was to him. That is very much a part of what we want to do with all of our creators — give them a platform on Yahoo and on Tumblr, which Yahoo owns, to tell their best and richest stories.
How will Community fit into your new slate of original programming?
It will definitely be part of the slate. The other two shows will not be premiering until the first quarter of 2015. Community will actually launch before the end of the year. New episodes will actually roll out, which is exciting. We’ve announced three projects so far. Stay tuned for more. We also announced Yahoo Live, which is our unprecedented partnership with Live Nation where we are streaming a full live concert every single day on Yahoo from all of Live Nation’s big acts that are touring throughout the next year. That, while it’s not scripted, is another really bold exclusive and unprecedented move that Yahoo’s made.
Would you consider buying other existing series?
We are passionate about giving a home to the best storytellers. So we tend to be very open-minded to where those great stories come from. Sometimes that will be from A-list writers, sometimes it’ll be from studios, sometimes it’ll be from those young, nascent voices that you see doing incredible things elsewhere on the Internet, and sometimes it’ll be from brands. That’s why I think Community is such an incredible announcement today. Here is a show that’s got great characters, great writing, a great creative team and a fantastically talented cast. It’s a real pleasure to be able to give new life to Community and, you know, bring Greendale back.
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