IFC Laughs It Up With The Onion

IFC is developing Onion News Network, a new faux-news series based on the satirical weekly broadsheet and Web site, The Onion.

Set to bow in the first quarter of 2011, ONN will be structured like a nightly news program, featuring fabricated stories and over-the-top lifestyle, consumer advocacy and human interest segments. A lacerating send-up of the goofy “Coverage You Can Count On” brand of local nightly newscasts, ONN’s two-minute clips encompass everything from outrageous consumer reports (“Stouffer’s to Include Suicide Prevention Tips on Single-Serve Microwavable Meals”) to breathless action news bulletins (“Breaking News: Some Bullshit Happening Somewhere”).

The ONN clips on The Onion Web site may take jabs at your local newscast’s fire/murder/weather/pets/sports format, but the production values rival that of ABC’s Good Morning America or CNN’s The Situation Room. The ONN team delivers the news with unflinching deadpan, and the juxtaposition of TV news archetypes and delirious stories about pop culture (“FCC Okays Nudity On TV If It’s Alyson Hannigan”) and sports (“Kentucky Violated NCAA Rules While Recruiting Basketball-Playing Dog”) lend the segments a certain mirthful bite.

The Onion launched ONN in March 2007, investing a reported $1 million in the initiative. The linear TV version will tap many of the same staffers that produce the online videos.

IFC’s acquisition comes as the network looks to build on its independent film cred. Bearing a new tag line (“Always On. Slightly Off.”), IFC is picking up a number of original comedy projects, including a new strip from Arrested Development co-stars David Cross and Will Arnett, and an eight-episode series that chronicles the reunion of ‘80s/‘90s sketch comedy troupe, the Kids in the Hall.

Cross and Arnett’s The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret will debut in fall 2010, while Kids in the Hall: Death Comes to Town premieres on IFC in August.
IFC executive vp and general manager Jen Caserta said that while comedy will play a significant role in helping redefine the network’s programming slate, it’s only one piece in an evolving mosaic. “We’re doing comedy because our audience craves it,” Caserta said. “But we’re also moving into music shows and gaming…those major genres that define and inform the indie lifestyle.”

Caserta added that the sensibility of the new fare will align nicely with IFC’s library of indie films, such as David Mamet’s 1987 directorial debut House of Games, Richard Linklater’s Rohmer-esque Before Sunrise and Troy Duffy’s cult crime flick Boondock Saints.

Comedy is not entirely new to IFC, which in October 2009 acquired the off-net rights to all 53 episodes of Arrested Development from Twentieth Television. Two years before bringing aboard the Bluths, IFC picked up the rights to The Whitest Kids U Know, after corporate cousin Fuse chose not to renew the show after its first season.

Along with the greenlighted series, IFC’s development slate features a half-dozen comedies, including the animated I Love the A.D.’s (working title) and ‘80s crime drama spoof, Dieter Horn in Night Port.

In addition to bringing the funny, the new comedies will allow IFC further opportunities to offer commercial time in traditional 30-second increments. (As the network runs all of its movie titles uncut and uninterrupted, IFC’s ad sales team has developed a number of innovative branded integrations and presenting sponsorships.)

“As much as we do a really good job with branded content, we do accept traditional advertisements outside of our movies,” Caserta said. “Our shorter-form series certainly provide us with more flexibility to sell :30s.”

Per SNL Kagan estimates, IFC in 2009 took in $18.2 million in net ad sales revenue, an increase of 9 percent from its year-ago take ($16.7 million).