Montreal 2008: Just Comedy’s opening keynote

This year, to entice the industry who no longer can hobnob on the ski slopes of Aspen each February, the folks at Montreal’s Just For Laughs created a spinoff two-day confab called Just Comedy, which formally kicked off this morning with a keynote address from Steve Koonin, president of Turner Entertainment Networks/TBS. The schedule billed it as a chance for Koonin to talk about the state of comedy and reaching the youth market. What it really turned out to be was a chance for Koonin to trumpet the rebranding of TBS from Ted Turner’s UHF "SuperStation" into the "Very Funny" channel and take a few shots across the bow of Comedy Central.

And don’t forget a stereotypical laugher. Koonin opened his address by talking about the health benefits of laughter, including stress reduction. "Obviously, those doctors never a met a Jew," Koonin said. HEY-O! Koonin also publicly called out the Variety reporter in the room to beg her not to write about something painfully silly he said about the fact that TBS bought the 1-800 VERY FUNNY number from a porn company (that’s not the silly part from his story) and someone being uptight or something, yawn yawn yawn.

We learned, too, all about TBS, and how just as Turner did in ye olden times, Koonin’s channel is rebuilding itself upon the backs of successful syndicated programs, using Family Guy, The Office, Seinfeld and Friends to launch new original comedies such as The Bill Engvall Show, My Boys, Frank TV and 10 Items or Less. "We’re not edgy, we’re not snarky," Koonin said, but the network is family-friendly and with broad strokes, getting 75 percent more viewers than Comedy Central in primetime. Note to selves: Comedy Central’s "primetime" consists of reruns until 10 p.m. Koonin also gave a compliment (?) to Comedy Central earlier in his address by saying that network does very well in speaking to "young men." Whereas at TBS, he said, "we in cable look for underserved audiences," and pointed to Engvall for family-friendly sitcoms and Tyler Perry and his House of Payne for black audiences. TBS also has lowered its average-aged viewer from 40 to 33. And don’t you worry, advertisers, because TBS is helping you escape the threat from DVRs and TiVos by introducing "bitcoms" in which comedians deliver 30-second routines based on actual commercial products, "microseries" of two minutes that feature advertisers, and even creating a series such as 10 Items, which, since it’s based in a supermarket, can use food and household products at will in any plotline. We got to see one example of this. If I name the product in the example, do I get paid, too? Oh, and Koonin closed by talking about how TBS has gotten into the comedy festival business, both in Las Vegas but more importantly working with Just For Laughs to introduce a new fest in Chicago in summer 2009.

Hope you all took good notes and now know the present and future state of comedy.

My favorite part was when he talked about Super Deluxe.*

* He didn’t talk about Super Deluxe. Was it only 18 months ago that Turner was launching this online comedy video gem? And now it’s gone. Or rather, just forgotten.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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One thought on “Montreal 2008: Just Comedy’s opening keynote

  1. Steve Koonin’s pushing too fast and too far with TBS. He’s driven away the people who built the network. TBS became a top cable network with loyal audiences, popular shows, and Braves baseball. What he’s doing will work in the short term, but not down the road in the future.

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