CBS Interactive Ramps Up Development Slate

CBS Interactive is developing four new original series for the Web, including the cop show spoof Below the Law, which won the award for Best Comedy Pilot at last fall’s New York Television Festival.

Below the Law, which depicts two brothers who, after being rejected by the police academy, elect to fight petty suburban crime. The show was created by comedian Dany Levy, a regular on Comedy Central, along with the TV writer Stephen Basilone. “It’s sort of a cross between Hot Fuzz and Dukes of Hazard,” said Jigar Thakarar, CBS Interactive’s director of Web original content.

Also in the works are the Middle Ages-set comedy Knights of the Not-So-Round Table, American Baby—which has been likened to the mockumentary movie Best In Show—and Dick Rathbone: Office Tool, which features the annoying phone conversations of an arrogant cubicle worker.

Thakarar said that CBS has deliberately not gone beyond the pilot stage for any of these shows and thus has yet to announce any start dates. That’s because CBS has just begun to actively sell these concepts to advertisers, who may end up influencing these shows’ creative direction. “Everything’s on a rolling schedule,” he explained. “That’s been our model from the beginning. Since the get go, we’ve had sponsors drive content. It just makes more sense to move forward with a brand on board. That way you can integrate them during the development process.”

According to Thakarar, the days of shooting a full season of a Web series and then seeking sponsors after the fact may be ending, particularly in this difficult economic environment. “It’s very difficult to go back and seamlessly integrate a brand after a series has been shot,” he said. “You’re seeing that trend not across the industry. A lot of shops that were financing shows upfront and then looking for sponsors are not around anymore. There’s been a shift away from the deficit finance model. It’s still a proving ground.”

Thakarar sees a wealth of brand integration possibilities for these new series. For example, Dick Rathbone: Office Tool could accommodate numerous office supply companies, while Below the Law is a natural for auto brands and package goods advertisers. Also, Knights of the Not-So-Round Table will deliberately feature anachronisms—and thus the show’s knights could be seen using cell phones and iPods.

CBS has launched a handful of Web originals in the past, including the book-club-themed Novel Adventures, which launched last year. Thakarar called that series “successful” and said that a second season was a possibility. However, its sponsor Saturn—given parent company General Motors’ trouble—was unlikely to return.