Over the past two years, TV Land has become home to a slew of hit original comedy programs. Early experiments, like The Jim Gaffigan Show and Hot in Cleveland, bridged the gap between the typical syndicated shows viewers of TV Land were used to and the new wave of original programming.
“A good comedy is getting harder to make,” said Keith Cox, president of development and production at TV Land. “You have a shorter amount of time to both be funny and tell a story like a drama.”
Despite this, TV Land is doubling down on its investment in original comedies by partnering with established improv groups like the Groundlings for its new series.
Viewers have so many options these days for where to find their new favorite show: they can browse skinny bundles, SVOD services, stand-alone apps from the networks themselves, or peruse online streaming or linear TV. Some viewers may not even find their newest obsession on the original network it aired on.
“I don’t know if people watching Younger know that it’s a TV Land show,” said Cox. “They’ll DVR it and love it regardless. Soon, we hope to hoodwink them with our other great comedies.”
Younger, co-starring Broadway icon Sutton Foster and actress/singer Hillary Duff, was created by Darren Star and is decidedly different from traditional TV Land programs. The show, about a 40-year-old single mom who tries to pass herself off as 26 to land a job—was a big hit with viewers. Since it’s been available as a video-on-demand product (streaming on Hulu) and near the top of the iTunes TV charts, Cox thinks viewers “watch a show first, then love it” before they connect the dots between what network it originally aired on.
“This is the best opportunity we could get, to build our audience as they build their new brand,” said Katy Colloton, co-creator, executive producer, writer and actor for Teachers.
Teachers, which debuted early last year, started as a web series from a sketch comedy group out of Chicago called The Katydids; each member of the group has some variation of the name Katie. After 24 episodes, the team was approached to package the show for a potential sale.
“At TV Land, they weren’t going to buy the show to change it,” said Colloton. “They were buying our voice and gave us a lot of creative control, which is what we wanted.”
That decision to connect with an established group with a clear voice wasn’t an accident. TV Land’s newest show, Nobodies (which premiered last month), also came to the network in a similar way.
“Some networks assemble writers, hire actors who have never worked with each other, and a whole crew that no one knows,” said Michael McDonald, showrunner of Nobodies and former Groundlings improv coach to the three creators of the show. “That’s not what happened here. This project is a direct reflection of how much we all knew each other prior to working on the show.”
“All of our original shows try to show a personal story, with a great vision, and then a layer of humor,” he said.
“These shows like Nobodies and Younger are all trying to reach a demo of smart, educated women and give them something to laugh at to take their mind off of whatever,” said Colloton. “TV Land is heading in a different direction, and that what works for us.”
Younger tends to attract a more urban and affluent viewer than the average TV Land audience, and is the most-consumed TV Land Original on video-on-demand. Though its ratings took a tumble from its second season to its third (losing 15 percent in viewership from people aged 18-49 according to Nielsen data), it did premiere against the World Series and other networks’ election coverage.
Teachers, on the other hand, saw a large increase in ratings from its first to its second season; it rose by 18 percent in viewers aged 18 to 49 and by 21 percent in viewers aged 25-54.
“It’s not marketing that’s telling me what shows to watch,” said Cox. “It’s my friends, and that’s the discussion we want to be in. Word of mouth is more critical than a billboard.”