NBC announced a new content development scheme Tuesday night: the NBC Comedy Playground. Essentially a crowd-sourcing of sitcom pitches, the network's latest effort to air shows people actually want to watch is its "broad comedy" commitment taken to its logical – and extreme – conclusion.
While "Comedy Playground" sounds like it could be a low-budget spinoff of Hollywood Game Night, where NBC wrangles whatever "stars" it can convince to hang out on a jungle gym for primetime TV, it's actually a "grassroots initiative" to think up new ideas for comedy series. In other words, NBC is asking the American public to come up with its programming.
Here's how it'll work: From May 1 to June 30, entrants who are "broadly-skilled creative, comedic talent" can apply and submit pitches to the Comedy Playground. You must submit a 5-10 minute video of something funny you've already created, and then a 5 minute video describing your pitch for NBC. Pitches must be for a live-action, 30-minute situation comedy (sorry, Family Guy ripoffs). Submissions are then judged by NBC reviewers ("employees from various departments"), and if you submission is scored high enough, it moves on to the semifinals, which is judged by NBC executives. The finalists then score funding to produce 20-minute "pilot presentations," and the ultimate winners are selected by a panel of NBC's top talent (Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, and Michael Schur, among others). Two winners will get their shows ordered to series and aired on NBC. A third winner, chosen by popular vote, will get a digital series on NBC.com. Check out this nifty infographic on the whole process:
On the surface, this sounds like a neat idea. It could be, as NBC describes it, "an innovative way" to "discover fresh, comedic voices." But there's no way this actually works, right? Let's consider the current state of NBC comedy. Two years ago, NBC entertainment chair Robert Greenblatt unveiled his "broad comedy" manifesto, lamenting that shows like Parks and Recreation and Community "tend to be a bit more narrow than we'd ultimately like going forward." He called Whitney a "step in the right direction." Since then? Every "broad" sitcom NBC has thrown on air has come and gone, while Parks and Community survive. Yet NBC still remains committed to this approach. And the "Comedy Playground" is just a gimmick to continue on the same futile road.