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Searching for Gold in the Podcast Mines
In the stand-up comedy boom of the late 80s, the big dream, Jerry Seinfeld success story was a strong stand-up act that culminated in a traditional network sitcom, and all the money. But as comedians keep migrating to their own podcasts, it's conceivable that the whole touring the country and learning to succeed on stage part might become an unnecessary step towards becoming a TV star. IFC, whose whole brand sort of relies on being the cable home for alt-comedy at this point, has wisely been most active in tapping into the oversaturated comedy podcast universe. Even shrewder, they've been more ambitious than just slapping a radio broadcast on TV like those old Howard Stern shows. Their first attempt was Comedy Bang! Bang!, hosted by superconnected LA comedy dude Scott Aukerman. In streaming audio form I tend to find CBB a little too self-amused, to the point that it flirts with being smug (though I get that famous pals riffing is sort of the point for people who like it). The star-studded IFC version, which adds Reggie Watts as one man "band-leader," is something pretty special though. It takes the undying formalism of late-night talk shows, which has survived attempted drowning by irony over decades of Letterman, Conan, etc., and turns its confines into a Dada explosion of awkward pauses, puns taken seriously, and genre demands turned completely absurd.
Maron, their forthcoming sitcom based around Marc Maron's wildly popular WTF podcast also seeks to expand outward from its online format, yet seems somehow riskier. Maron's long-form interviewing is so good that pushing him into a more jokey half-hour sitcom almost seems like wasting demonstrated talent. He's basically the alt-comedy Dick Cavett, so why not set him up on an intimate set with guests, and just let them talk? Why reinvent the what finally made him truly famous? But who knows, it could be great, and then we'll have both things?
The takeaway again seems like TV execs capitalizing on hard-fought web popularity, rather than deep-diving into the Internet for truly unknown talent. You gotta hit a certain level and bring an audience with you to move up. Which is fair, if less than revolutionary. (As we saw with the Kickstarter Vero Mars thing, TV is its own level down from movies, but that's another topic...)