NBC launches new initiative to find comedy talent

In an effort to cast a wider comedy net, NBC is taking things to the online playground.

The network announced Tuesday an initiative called "NBC Comedy Playground," a national campaign that the network describes as a way to invest in "new cutting-edge comedy" outside the traditional developement model.

Beginning May 1, aspiring comedy writers from across the country can submit their show ideas in video-form presentations, to be considered for digital and network comedy shows. Up to 10 finalists will be chosen, and NBC will provide funding for each finalist to produce a full pilot presentation based on the pitch. There are restrictions, which include that a contestant can't have had a show on air and can't be an executive producer or show runner on a show currently. 

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"In our quest to break new comedy at the network, we wanted to open up another avenue for talent and to find original voices," NBC Enterainment President Jennifer Salke told reporters Tuesday at NBC's press day in Pasadena. "It pushes forward the marriage between what's happening on the Internet and what's happening on the network." 

And the judges panel is one to challege the star power on"American Idol" and "The Voice." The contest will have an A-list advisory board of comedy heavyweights, which include Amy Poehler, Jason Bateman, Mindy Kaling and Seth Meyers (to name a few), that will help the network widdle down the projects to two. Those two winners will have their shows broadcast on NBC.

Sounds like a show unto itself, and Salke said they'll see how this goes in determining whether to pursue it again with cameras capturing it all.

No set episode count is in place yet for the winners, but Salke said up to six is likely. Contestants whose submissions are not selected retain the rights to their projects.

Salke said she's confident the network will find enough viable submissions.

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"There are hilarious people making hilarious videos on the Internet all day and night," Salke said. "It's time to bring those people in to network television."

She also recognized that the show ideas selected may not appeal to a broad audience, but the goal is to find those that will have enough impact that there will be viewership.

The unselected finalists' presentations won't be for nothing, though. Those that aren't selected will be posted to the "NBC Comedy Playground" site where the public can vote on their favorites -- the one with the most votes will then be developed as a digital show.

The enterprise comes at an important time for the network. Once a kingpin in the comedy space, it hasn't had major laffer hit on its hands in years.

After rejiggering its Thursday comedy block last fall with three new series -- "Sean Saves the World," "The Michael J. Fox Show" and "Welcome to the Family" -- in an effort to broaden its base, the network canceled all three shows following low viewership. Its midseason comedy entrants -- "About a Boy" and "Growing Up Fisher" -- have proved consistent, though modest, performers; "About a Boy" hovers around a 2.0 or 2.1 in the 18-49 demo, and "Growing Up Fisher" just below that, with around a 1.7 or 1.8 in the demo.

Meanwhile, veterans "Community" and "Parks and Receation" are also quiet performers.

The network's investment in beefing up its comedy slate can also be seen this summer, when it will launch a handful of comedies -- "Undateable," "Welcome to Sweden," "Working the Engels" and "Taxi Brooklyn."

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