CAMPAIGN INTERNATIONAL: MEDIUM OF THE MONTH - Comedy Central’s line-up of old and new shows draws massive audiences

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.

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:

anna.griffiths@haynet.com.



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