To the uninitiated, Comedy Central’s weekly line-up looks like a
compilation of the worst that repeat-addicted satellite channels have to
offer. There’s the endless Saturday Night Live reruns, a drip-feeding of
80s comedy ’classics’ guaranteed to make you cry at the very mention of
John Cusack, and a smattering of what seem like eccentric, low-budget
gameshows and variety programmes.
It’s not what you’d expect from a station that boasts one of the most
desirable advertising demographics in the US and is creeping
threateningly into the turf of the ageing broadcast networks.
When Comedy Central launched in 1991, it didn’t seem too concerned about
establishing a brand identity of its own. The station, a joint venture
from the media heavyweights Viacom and Time Warner, made do with old
Benny Hill episodes and the dubious Mystery Science Theatre 3000 - the
story of a man who is forced to watch bad movies for all eternity.
Comedy Central had limited cash for original programming so it
concentrated on developing a few low-budget gems that could guarantee a
distinct reputation and a loyal audience following. When these shows
began to premiere in the mid-90s they transformed the station’s image.
Their tiny half-hour slots are still dwarfed by repeats, but between
them they have succeeded in weaning Americans off cheeseball humour and
introducing them to all that is scatological, cynical and sexist in
modern comedy. Comedy Central is now the most British piece of
programming in the US.
South Park is the station’s franchise player. Its juvenile animation and
very adult dialogue has been a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic
for the past three years. Once South Park began to deliver a 51 per cent
share of 18- to 24-year-olds it confirmed Comedy Central as a choice
destination for beer, movie and car ads and made the station one of the
nation’s leading venues for ever-expanding dotcom spots.
Comedy Central is far from a one-show station, however. The critically
abhorred Man Show, featuring beer-swilling presenters, semi-naked women
on trampolines and little else, is its second-highest rating programme,
while the comic gameshow Win Ben Stein’s Money offers a veneer of
respectability by scooping three Emmy nominations this year.
It is politics, though, that could prove Comedy Central’s most winning
piece of programming. The Daily Show a Day Today-inspired take on
current affairs, ensures that the network maintains some fresh
programming in the midst of all the repeats. The show’s presidential
election special ’Indecision 2000’ has lured the soft drink manufacturer
Snapple into a pounds 2.5 million sponsorship commitment, seven times
its national annual media spend.
COMEDY CENTRAL FACT FILE
Ownership Viacom/Time Warner
Distribution National Cable
Broadcast hours 8am - 3.30am
Average viewing audience 63 million
Top shows South Park, The Daily Show
Edited by Anna Griffiths Tel: 0181-267 4892 E-mail: