Fox Broadcasting is going into business with the Lonely Island, the hugely popular comedic rap band featuring Andy Samberg and childhood friends Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone.
Fox announced the development deal Monday at the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Pasadena.
The plan is to set up a "micro-studio" led by Samberg, Schaffer and Taccone. The goal is to attract comedy projects from promising writers that could expand into television programs for the Fox network, its sister cable channel FXX or become Web series for Hulu or other online distributors.
"The idea behind it is to side-step the machine of the pilot process by giving us the power to greenlight projects," Samberg told a small group of reporters at the Fox press tour. "We have a bunch of friends, and they are calling now that they've heard that we have this deal with Fox."
Fox Broadcasting Entertainment Chairman Kevin Reilly a few months ago pitched the studio concept to Samberg, who stars in Fox's freshman hit show "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," which won the Golden Globe Sunday for television comedy or musical.
Samberg also won a Golden Globe for performance by a TV actor in a comedy.
Reilly is trying to transform how the television industry, or at least Fox, finds and shepherds stories onto the screen. Reilly told reporters Monday that Fox was not going to order as many pilots during this spring's traditional network pilot season, and instead commission pilots throughout the course of the year.
For years, the major networks have scrambled and bumped elbows as they geared up to make more than 60 pilots during the compressed pilot season that primarily runs from February through April.
But broadcasters are finding it increasingly difficult to compete with cable networks, which produce fewer original series and can be more selective in what projects they greenlight. In addition, other content providers, including Netflix, who are not wedded to the decades-old rituals of television business also have jumped into the fray -- providing even more competition.
The arrangement marks Fox's third alternative development venture. In 2012, Fox launched "Animation Domination High-Def," its alternative animation studio. Last year, Fox signed a development deal with the digital studio WIGS, a venture from producers Jon Avnet and Rodrigo Garcia.
The Lonely Island group members -- Samberg, Schaffer and Taccone -- joined NBC's "Saturday Night Live" in 2005, where they created the popular "SNL Digital Shorts." Samberg was an "SNL" cast member, and Schaffer and Taccone were writers on the show.
The digital video shorts they created, including "Lazy Sunday" and "Jack Sparrow" with singer Michael Bolton, influenced pop culture and helped video website YouTube gain traction.
The group's videos have generated more than 1.2 billion views on the Lonely Island channel on YouTube. They produced three platinum singles and one gold single, "Like a Boss." They won an Emmy in 2007 for music and lyrics they wrote for an early digital video.
The three friends came together when they were growing up in Berkeley. Taccone co-wrote and directed the 2010 feature film "MacGruber," starring fellow "SNL" alums Will Forte and Kristen Wiig. Schaffer directed the film "Hot Rod" in 2007 and "The Watch," in 2012 with Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill.
Samberg said of the new venture with Fox: "We are all super excited about it."
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