NBC asks viewers for better sitcom ideas

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Got an idea for a sitcom? NBC wants to hear from you.

The broadcast network announced “an unprecedented effort to discover fresh comedic voices” on Tuesday by launching a national campaign offering aspiring comedy writers from around the country the chance to pitch their sitcom ideas.

“We are taking a bold, alternative approach in what we hope will uncover original comedy minds who are looking for a way to get into the television business,” said NBC entertainment president Jennifer Salke.

The initiative, dubbed “NBC Comedy Playground,” pledges to reach beyond the traditional talent labs of film schools and comedy clubs by giving everyday people the opportunity to submit ideas directly to the network.

NBC has enlisted a roster of well-known producers and actors to help them choose the winning concepts. The panel includes Aziz Ansari, Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes, Mindy Kaling, Adam McKay, Seth Meyers, Mike Schur, Amy Poehler, and several others. “We love that an incredible A-list roster of producers, writers, and performers have jumped in to help us find that untapped talent,” Salke said.

Here’s how it works: Comedy writers will submit their idea via an NBC site set up for the contest (below). The network will choose up to 10 finalists. NBC will fund each finalist to produce a pilot presentation based on their pitch. The producer-actor advisory board, in consultation with NBC, will pick two winners from the 10. The winners, who will be paid, will have their show broadcast on NBC (a pilot plus up to four additional episodes, at the network’s discretion).

At a press conference, Salke told reporters, “There are hilarious people making videos and programming on the Internet all day and night and it’s time to bring those people into network television.” She added the network is “not looking for little funny video clips” but rather potential series concepts. The executive also described the process as one that could potentially be less encumbered by the usual network development process. “The goal of this is for them to have as unfettered of a process as possible.”

The crowd-sourcing concept is yet another way that the television development process is becoming increasingly democratized. Amazon previously broke the pilot season mold by putting all their pilots online for viewer voting. Though NBC’s new midseason comedy effort About a Boy is doing solid in the ratings after The Voice on Tuesday nights, the broadcaster’s Thursday comedy block has struggled in recent years in general and this season in particular, with new shows like Sean Saves the World and The Michael J. Fox Show failing to break out.

More entry details: “Beginning May 1, aspiring comedy writers are asked to submit their ideas to be considered for both digital and network comedy shows. Entrants may submit up to two video samples (5-10 minutes each) of their pre-existing work, along with up to two video pitches (2-5 minutes per pitch), each describing a unique, original show idea, to www.nbccomedyplayground.com.” — Sandra Gonzalez contributed to this report

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