Ever since the days of I Love Lucy, the production of most TV comedy has been driven by one guiding principle: Create shows that can appeal to the masses, run for 200 episodes, and live on forever via (highly profitable) syndicated reruns. In other words, broad yuks equaled big bucks. “Comedies used to try to be everything to everyone, all the time,” says Samie Falvey, the chief content officer of an upcoming Verizon–AwesomenessTV premium-content service, who during her decade at ABC oversaw development on a slew of successful sitcoms that delivered on the old mandate, including Modern Family, The Middle, Last Man Standing, and The Goldbergs. This model hasn’t died completely; CBS, for one, won’t let it. But as with everything else in television of late, small-screen comedy is undergoing major metamorphosis. The same peak-TV dynamic that resulted in a sharp uptick in the number of really great one-hour dramas a few years ago is now partially behind a quality surge on the half-hour front.
Cable and streaming networks, no longer obsessed with finding a comedic voice everyone in America can agree is funny, are giving comedy creators the latitude to make the shows they want rather than adjust their acts to fit into some premade sitcom template. Whereas auteur-driven comedies such as Larry David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm and FX’s Louie were once outliers, they’ve now become almost the rule, at least outside of the broadcast networks. Series such as Atlanta, Master of None, Insecure, Fleabag, and Better Things — all launched within the past 18 months — represent what Falvey calls “a literal abandonment” of the old order. Creators, she says “are now like, ‘I’m making this for myself!’ They’ve come back to their own voices and stopped trying to serve some mass audience.” Entire networks are even shifting their comedic mind-sets. Following a trail partially blazed by IFC (Portlandia, Documentary Now!), TBS, whose originals once were designed to simply hold on to viewers who came to the channel for reruns of The Big Bang Theory or other old broadcast sitcoms, spent 2016 rolling out a slate of quirky, hand-crafted half-hours such as Search Party and People of Earth (while also giving Samantha Bee a weekly platform).
The people most responsible for this new comedy boom are, of course, the writers and actors who bring the shows to life. But the executives who oversee development — and foot the bill — for these comedic delights also play a critical role. They’re the ones tasked with finding and nurturing new voices, making sure the finished product gets seen and, somehow, figuring out a way to make it all work financially. In order to get a better sense of why so many good things are happening in TV comedy right now, Vulture assembled a group of five top TV executives last month who’ve been intimately involved in this new comedy golden age. During a 90-minute conversation at M.i.’s Westside Comedy Theater in Santa Monica, CA, the group talked candidly about the financial realities of making half-hour television today, the push to get more diverse voices involved, and comedy under Trump. What follows is an edited transcript of the discussion.
Samie Falvey, chief content officer of a premium content service being developed by Verizon and AwesomenessTV
Brett Weitz, executive vice president, original programming, for TBS
Joe Lewis, head of comedy and drama for Amazon Studios
Casey Bloys, president of programming for HBO
Kate Lambert, senior vice president of series at FX
Do you agree with my premise that the business model of comedy has changed? It used to be about making 100 episodes, and comedy was sort of a profit engine. Now, obviously most of you are in the business of making money, but it’s not a straight line. Is there a shift?
Casey Bloys: That’s been true for the broadcast model. I don’t think it’s ever been the case for HBO or Amazon.
Brett Weitz: You get to profit through different means now, as opposed to what once was very easy: get to 100, syndicate the hell out of it, and run it for days and days. Now, you’re knitting together a quilt to try to make a blanket, and it’s all these different ancillary avenues. We may do well on ad sales, international sales. We still sell to Netflix and Amazon and Hulu and all these other companies to try to make ends meet.
Joe Lewis: One of the best recent inventions in television is the end of a series as an actual concept. I don’t know how you write an end to a show when you don’t know if that end will come in year three, four, five, ten. The very invention of that changes the nature of the business.
I’m sure we all say no to great material all the time for a number of reasons. One of those reasons might be, I’m not sure this can break out. If a story doesn’t have an end, you can feel that even in the early episodes. It’s all an effort to make something people are going to watch, not just the week it comes out, but in five, ten, 20 years. Part of that is to make a complete work.
Samie Falvey: It’s much more like the movie business: You have to break out pretty quickly or else you’re not in the game. In the old days, especially for broadcast comedies, you had time to grow. Famously, Seinfeld was on three years before it really took off. Now you have to event-ize a comedy in the way you do a drama because people have to show up.
Bloys: It’s always been something we thought about, but it’s gotten more important: What does a show do for your brand? My guess is Search Party will do more for TBS’s brand than …
Weitz: … the five shows that preceded it, except Samantha Bee. I’m a 24-hour network. Comedy is probably six percent of the entire [network schedule], but we’re 100 percent of perception. Between Samantha Bee and Search Party and some of the shows that have done well for us, those will start to right the ship for where we’re heading.
Falvey: The other thing about comedies is they used to try to be everything to everyone, all the time. In some cases now, there’s a literal abandonment of that, where [the creator is] like, “I’m making this for myself!” Creators have come back to their own voices and stopped trying to serve some mass audience.
None of you are at a broadcast network now. Samie, you were at one most recently: You’re one of the few people who actually helped develop a real distinct comedy brand in the last five or ten years of broadcasting, with ABC’s family programming. Do you think we’re going to see even broadcast TV go a little bit more specific?
Falvey: Look, there are challenges. Obviously, we didn’t build it overnight. You do see [creators] abandon their voice and chase the joke — that is a huge pitfall in broadcast. When I got to ABC, I knew family was part of the legacy of that network. I knew the contemporary American family was not being represented. Those are the only things I knew. You could do that at every network, and go, “What is the contemporary version of the thing people adore and love about [the network], and what part of that would feel relevant today?”
FX, you were pioneers in general-interest cable networks. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Archer even — those were shows that were distinct, but they still felt like big-laugh shows that were aiming for broad audiences, long runs, and maybe even syndication. Shows like Atlanta and Better Things and Louie feel like you’re moving in a different direction. Have you purposely made a shift?
Kate Lambert: We have, but we’re cognizant of it. It’s actually harder to find a broad, smart Silicon Valley–like comedy that is funny.
But do you think it’s a change in strategy to go that way or a necessity?
Lambert: Necessity. You’re trying to be original. That means you’re looking for different voices. Strategy for sure, too — it’s always about managing and balancing your portfolio of offerings to subscribers or consumers.
Bloys: As Kate was saying, a smart, hard-funny show is still the hardest thing to do. Harder than drama. But on the other hand, [the challenge with a show like] Enlightened was, I had so many conversations with critics saying, “But it’s a half-hour, and it’s a drama.” I’m like, “Okay, great.” They really could not wrap their minds around it.
Lewis: Would Enlightened or Freaks & Geeks, if they came out today, have longer runs because people wouldn’t need to understand immediately what it is? My guess is they would.
Falvey: People get caught up on which shows get put in what category because of awards season. I feel like that is a thing of the past. Amazon has blown that up, and the people who complain are the ones who are edged out of these categories.
Do we agree that what’s happening now is a boom of sorts? The last time we had something like this was in the 1990s, when stand-ups and almost anyone with a pulse was getting their own half-hour.
Bloys: That was a sitcom boom. That was business-driven, because everybody was looking for the next sitcom to make some money, not because they were necessarily good for NBC or the ABC brand. It was just “What’s the next round?”
So that was a commercial boom. Is this a critical boom, sort of how Mad Men and the dramas of the early 2000s heralded a new age in drama?
Lewis: It’s a content boom. You can call it a critical boom, but really it’s everyone struggling to find the largest amount of people for whom any given show is their favorite.
Weitz: Comedy can be big, broad funny; it’s self-serious. But it doesn’t require as much engagement as a drama. I literally wait moment to moment until Game of Thrones returns. The reason comedy is working right now is because it surprises and delights very quickly with not much of a commitment.
Do you think because people have become overwhelmed with so many great dramas, comedy is having its time right now because it’s easier to digest?
Bloys: Let’s have some comedy self-esteem here. Our success is not because of drama. Our success is because of …
Weitz: … Good comedy.
Bloys: Because there are so many more platforms, you can take chances on a lot more people. And people are finding the shows that speak to them. They may, numbers-wise, be smaller than traditionally broadcast television had been, but the important thing is, people are finding their lives reflected more to them, so they have more interest in the shows.
Lewis: There’s also a matter of creative entropy. People flow to an area where there’s more possibilities. Three, four, five years ago I used to pitch everyone, even drama writers: “Come work in comedy. You can literally own the space. You can do something crazy, and you’ll be the first to do something. Isn’t that exciting?” Now I find myself making the opposite pitch for hours: “Comedy — so much has been done, but there is so much more to do.”
This is a question that has to be asked: We’re seeing more diversity, to some degree. Some of the big comedy successes recently have been with people who are not white. That’s been awesome and refreshing to see. But even in putting together this panel, it was hard to find people at top levels who are not white guys.
Lewis: A lot of times, you in the critical community are talking about what’s happening. By the time a show comes out, I’m done thinking about that show and talking about it. The stuff I’m thinking about is happening a year or two out. We do a lot of responding to criticism about the stuff you’re doing presently. But you really take a long-term point of view. It’s also art. We all have a limited number of slots, no matter where you are. You can’t do everything at once. So I look at Amazon and I say, I think we’ve done a great job in diversity with respect to women. On the comedy side, two-thirds of our showrunners are women, 50 percent of our directors are. We have not done as well with diverse, ethnic points of view. In the long run, I know we will because that’s our aim. We actively go out and buy shows to try to achieve that aim. And we’re aware of institutional bias against people of color. But you can’t do everything at once. A lot of times, it becomes a little bit of an echo chamber talking about the problem, when everyone here, I think, is dedicated to the solution.
Bloys: For Insecure, we hired a director, Melina Matsoukas, who had done music videos, but she had not done narrative before. So we were like, All right, let’s take a shot. And it worked out: She’s great, and she’s going to come back in the second season. I imagine she is going to have a big career in whatever she wants to do. The nice thing for a company like ours that is smaller is as we get to know everybody involved in the show, they’re going to work on other shows, and that’s how you grow it internally.
Samie, you and your bosses at ABC sort of made diversity seem almost effortless.
Falvey: For us, back in the day, it was really a strategic decision. You looked at the landscape and thought, The only way you’re going to break through is if you try to find things that feel really different. When you stop to look around you’re like, Oh. All of the voices that aren’t being spoken for are of color. The one year we launched Black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat, and Cristela was such a crazy year. We had spent seven years before that trying to find either a blended-family show or a black-family show or an immigrant-family show. And that year, there were literally no white creators anywhere that we wanted to work with anyway. [Laughter.] It was fortuitous because the best shows we had were those shows. But it was also super-risky. There were tons of people who were like, “That’s fringe. Those shows are never going to make it. White people will never watch those shows.”
Bloys: Like The Cosby Show. Nobody watched that. [Laughter.]
Falvey: But you had this tremendous sense of responsibility because it had been since The Cosby Show or All-American Girl for Fresh Off the Boat. You thought, If people do not watch any of these shows, no one will ever again pick up a show with a person of color in it.
But the fact is, they are working. Atlanta is working, and Insecure worked in its own way. It’s not a huge monster ratings hit, but for your HBO brand, it’s great. It’s getting raves.
Bloys: You know what’s crazy? The social-media interaction around [Insecure] is not as high as Westworld, but close to 150,000 social interactions per episode, which is insane.
Hollywood being Hollywood, and seeing that diversity works — will people in positions of power get the message? Do you have to try harder to make sure it continues and really commit to even more diversity?
Bloys: You have to commit to continue. You’ve got to be aware of it and continue to push.
Lewis: You still have to overcome an institutional bias. If you say, “I can only hire someone who’s run a successful show before,” chances are it’s going to be a white dude because that’s who’s been given the chance to make these. You have to give people chances where you might go, “Are they ready?” But every time so far that we’ve taken a chance on a new director or a new writer, I’ve been so happy with the results. On Transparent, we’ve broken a ton of directors. It helps that Jill Soloway is backstopping people. Nothing makes me happier than having so many creators subverting the traditional male gaze in our shows by virtue of who’s writing the shows. There is a long-term creative gain — to the community, to television, to our programming.
What about the executive ranks?
Weitz: We have a very diverse group.
Falvey: When you look around town, there are a lot of really smart, exciting creative executives who are making decisions, who are helping bring in talent, who are of all genders and are incredibly diverse. I think at the highest levels of companies, it does reflect what America looks like.
Do you see the multi-camera sitcom as part of this new comedy creativity boom? I really liked Netflix’s One Day at a Time, as did younger colleagues of mine at Vulture. Are you going to try to reinvent the form?
Lambert: I don’t know that we would. It was interesting to me a few years ago when John Mulaney and Rob McElhenney and a lot of these young guys wanted to take back the safeness of the sitcom and figure out how to sell it and how to package it for their generation. [At FX], I can’t see having a laugh track. What I want now is authenticity.
Lewis: But multi-cam is also a good dramatic form. It’s theater. We’ve bought multi-cam [scripts]. We haven’t made any yet, but we’re actively trying to. In an effort to find something that people feel comfortable with and that’s different than what’s out there, it strikes me there’s a chance that multi-camera might be an opportunity to do that. The question is, would broadcast comedies write about what’s going on in society? You do see that in Jerrod Carmichael’s show, The Carmichael Show, and some others.
ABC’s Cristela — which was cancelled after one season — was a show I thought, at its best, did that, too. Samie, you were there for it. Why didn’t it work?
Falvey: Look, it was heartbreaking. It was the Cinderella story of the year. [Cristela Alonzo] literally rehearsed in a church basement because it didn’t get picked up [as a full pilot]. We found $500,000 to pay for it. And what came through in this ramshackle production was this bright shining star that was her. She was so lovable, and we thought the show would be the next big thing. Ultimately, it speaks to the challenges of broadcast comedy. It’s a huge lift. And along the way, we didn’t sustain like we needed to. The episodes weren’t consistent.
How about other formats? Do you think there needs to be more pushing in areas other than a half-hour, whether it’s a ten-minute series or quarter-hour?
Weitz: In a world where people are watching things on Snapchat in ten-second increments, the consumer is ready and accessible to any form of comedy, as long as they walk away feeling fulfilled. They want an end. They want to feel like there’s satisfaction. We talk about it all the time. We’re looking at a late-night block. We’re looking at other types of iterative platforms. Is it 11 minutes? Is it short-form content? Is it branded entertainment? Is it little interstitials that build out to something bigger?
Lambert: It’s more about your contract with your viewer. The premium is on, “Come here, we’re going to give you something you haven’t seen,” whether that’s tone, point of view, voice, form, narrative structure.
Bloys: You want the FX brand to be something someone would pay for. Ultimately, that’s where everything is going, with [cord-cutting]. So it’s important that the TBS brand, the Amazon brand, means something, that there’s a promise to a viewer that, if you are curating it, it’s going to be, if not your taste, at least interesting. All of this is about moving to branding and going directly to the consumer.
Casey, you’ve got Jon Stewart about to launch something that won’t be a traditional half-hour series.
Bloys: Jon Stewart will be interesting, because he is doing short-form content. My thing with short-form content has always been, there’s so much of it out there that it’s kind of undifferentiated. The idea with Jon is, every piece is his point of view. So just as every half-hour hopefully has a very strong point of view, short-form has got to have the same authentic feeling.
Samie, your company is really going to be aiming at a generation used to watching shorter content on mobile devices. I know you've still months away from launching, but what's the big idea behind what you're doing?
Falvey: It’s early days, but we want to offer creators a type of platform that they haven’t had before. There are a ton of short-form content [producers] out there, but they haven’t had the resources of television. So what if you could do 100 minutes and have an ending and be done with your story? The idea is to create a brand, that you would want to pay for, of short-form content that’s made primarily for mobile viewing. It’s to offer creators a sandbox they can play in that they don’t have anywhere else. We’ll pay real TV rates, we’ll pay actors their [regular fees], and they can come in and work for a couple weeks, and move on.
Does the fact that comedies are generally still cheaper to do than dramas allow for more risk-taking?
Bloys: It’s certainly easier to say yes to a show that’s going to cost you a total of $20 million versus $100 million.
Lewis: And give someone who’s never done it before a chance to do it.
Lambert: We built a whole comedy model off of that exact [idea] with Louie. Even with Sunny: If you’re building subversive comedy that might take three seasons to really find an audience, how do you do it? It’s got to be cheap, and then, frankly, you’ve got to make the artists part of the profit participation and figure out how to make it a business — build success in the long run, not just the short-term, fees-upfront business.
Lewis: I get so excited, though, when you can marry that idea to scope and production value. Then you can apply that risky mind-set that we all come in with and go, “We can be wrong on this one because we believe in it,” and it’s not going to lose that much money. That’s what I love about the subscription model versus ad-supported.
Lambert: Perhaps, but does Atlanta look any less cinematic to you?
Lewis: It’s a beautiful show. I just mean when it comes to the options that are given to you. We had a pilot out last year called The Tick, and it’ll be out later this year. Fox made a version of The Tick once and the joke was there was never any crime in the city because they couldn’t afford crime. For the reboot, Wally Pfister, who shot Batman Begins, was able to shoot it and give it that kind of scope. It sounds so reductive, but my company encourages you to take risks no matter the size of the budget, and that’s the exciting part.
Weitz: It helps the rest of us [that you can just] spend whatever you want to spend.
Lewis: I wish it were the case that you could spend whatever you want to spend.
Weitz: You and Netflix make my life real easy. [Laughter.]
Bloys: You and Samie don’t have to worry about profit or anything.
Lewis: But it’s not not worrying about the business. It’s constructing a whole business at Amazon. Television is a small part of our business, but it’s such that you can take risks, whether it’s delivering food or doing a cloud backend server for a host of other companies or making television. It’s the same risky DNA.
Lambert: I was wondering what new product we might be hearing about next — coming soon, on Amazon! [Laughter.]
Lewis: We launched a store yesterday where you just grab what you want without paying for it [at a checkstand]. The thing is, you still don’t want to overspend. I would be mad if I walked onto The Tick and saw an omelet bar for catering, because that is overspending. But if that [money] goes to the scope of the show, to me, it just opens up the ideas we can ask for. It lets me say, “Bring the action comedy that’s in movies to television.”
Sure, but Amazon and Netflix clearly have a lot more money to spend on projects than more traditional networks, such as an FX or TBS, right?
Weitz: That is the thing we have to deal with. [A producer with an idea] can walk into Netflix, walk into Amazon, [and hear], “What do you want to spend? When do you want to do it? Just make it look great. Make it look like a feature film.” And that’s just not the business we’re in. [FX] does Atlanta for a number, and does Atlanta with a tax rebate. I do shows anywhere from Atlanta to Fiji to Vancouver just to try to get a tax break to make it look as cinematic as possible.
What’s the difference in budget between basic-cable shows, HBO comedies, and Amazon comedies?
Bloys: At HBO, we go anywhere from under $1 million to over $3 million.
Weitz: At TBS, we’re under $1 million, too, to as high as $1.8 million or $2 million.
Lewis: We’re in line with premium-cable shows at Amazon.
There are an increasing number of outlets that are just devoted to comedy. There was always Comedy Central, but now TBS has gone in that space, TruTV is in that space. You’ve got Adult Swim, Seeso, and FXX, which is the young play for comedy. Is it a good thing that there are all these networks focused just on the comedy? Or is it going to dilute the waters?
Weitz: We’re all competitors, but even when I was a studio guy, I remember you didn’t take the same pitch to all networks. We have projects that were at FX that are now TBS [like Louis C.K. and Albert Brooks’s upcoming animated comedy The Cops], and they’re very different than when they were at FX. They’re now broader-skewing; they’re not as provocative as some of the FX stuff is. If you want the niche-y, out-of-the-box comedy stuff, you go to Adult Swim. If you want patina comedy, you go to HBO. If you want provocative social-commentary comedies and dramas, you go to FX. The same with Amazon. There’s an opportunity for everybody to go to different places.
It’ll be interesting to see how Tracy Morgan’s show, which was at FX and is now at TBS, evolves — or will it?
Weitz: I’ll tell you on Friday when we get the script. [Laughter.] It will. We wanted something in that series that FX didn’t want, and that was where we lined up with Tracy. We wanted to lean into the family dynamic of that show, and that’s what he really wanted. On the FX side, he really wasn’t being pressed in that way; it was being pulled out. We’ll see what it becomes. But the idea of having Tracy Morgan for our network is cool.
This seems like a good time to bring up everyone’s favorite word — agents. In the ’80s and ’90s, it seemed like sitcoms came from comedy clubs. Development executives would spend their Friday and Saturday nights seeing shows and going, “Sue Costello? You’ve got a show!” How are comedy voices coming to you now? Are agents more or less important than before?
Bloys: There’s no one way. It used to be stand-ups, you’re right. You’d go to Montreal or Aspen and give a deal. There were spec scripts. Web series are a good way, like what we did with Issa Rae. Even if they’re not great, they at least show the tone that they want to achieve. Sometimes it’s through agents; sometimes it’s your own reading.
Lambert: The internet has revolutionized comedy. Literally, the minute their joke is out there, it’s on the internet. You have to then scrap it and move forward, which is a very different style of incubating a comedy brand than trying to build a set to then sell as a show.
Lewis: You’re also seeing people who don’t need to write specs — who could sell a pitch — write specs. That continues to be my favorite way to find ideas. Someone writing a spec shows passion, shows that they care about it. We might say, “We want an idea like this,” or, “We’re looking for these four things,” but people who write their own scripts are the ones, at least for us, that have cut through and become those shows that people talk about.
Weitz: As much as we all make fun of agents, they are still an incredible feeder system into our offices. We also have Conan O’Brien, so we get a lot of stuff through him. We have an overall deal with Conan’s production company, Conaco, which has proven to be pretty fruitful. We had these 23- and 25-year-olds, the Shipley brothers, who wrote a random spec about a plane crash as PAs on a set. Their manager gave it to us — and then they went and made Wrecked. So [ideas are] everywhere.
Are talent holding deals still a thing? It used to be a network or studio would pay comics with even a little bit of buzz a lot of money on the off-chance that you might be able to develop a show based on their acts.
Weitz: We don’t do them.
Is anyone doing them?
Lambert: Not talent deals. We’re doing producing deals, writer deals. Louis [C.K.] has been an incredibly terrific producer for us. He brought us Zach Galifianakis. Zach’s not even on the marketplace!
Lewis: And he brings you Tig Notaro, and then you guys bring it to us. That was great!
Lambert: I could go down the list of shows from Louis C.K. as an incredibly prolific producer.
You’ve all made deals with big names. Do you think that’s where the future of comedy still is, or are you more likely to go for emerging talents? Joe, Amazon did the Woody Allen show. It did not get the critical response you probably wanted, right? Do you regret that?
Lewis: If you look back at the history of cinema, Woody is one of the greatest comedic filmmakers of all time. I’m personally trying to work with the best filmmakers and creators. Now, some of those might be people who have a history of making films or TV shows that have been successful. I consider Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who’s behind Fleabag, to be one of the greatest creators. She just happens to be one who has less experience. All you’re trying to shake out is who can really deliver what they’re saying and who is the real deal. Jill Soloway was not a highly sought-after feature-film director/show creator. Without a doubt, she’s one of the best creators in the world. So whether they’re old or young, they’re great filmmakers who have been making films for a while, and I would love to work with all of them.
Bloys: It’s similar to your question about where you find comedy. Working with people like Mike Judge or Amanda Iannucci and Dave Mandel — established comedic voices — or someone like Issa Rae, who’s not as established — you don’t know. A name, no name: Nobody knows anything. Nothing ensures success.
Lambert: It’s where the talent is in their headspace, right? Where is Louis C.K. in his career when you’re catching him?
So you’re not opposed to paying for talent, but do you think there’s less of an incentive than there was, maybe, ten years ago to go for the big name?
Weitz: You don’t need to. It’s not even the biggest incentive.
Bloys: When you’re building a slate, I don’t think you want all stars or all who are unknowns. It has to be a mix.
One last thing on the auteur side. There have been a lot of autobiographical shows, from Louie to One Mississippi. Are we reaching the peak on that form? Are you worried that people could say to some of these comedians, “Who are you? Do I care?”
Lewis: I don’t get excited about them anymore because I feel like there’s nothing risky about it. If there’s nothing scaring you about an idea, it’s probably six months to a year too late. But I’m open to a great show if it’s not the same.
I’m sure we’ve all been pitched approximately 4,000 versions of Louie. But of those 4,000, very few of them were pitched by people who can direct, write, edit, produce. It’s a show that has something to say that can articulate it. Wanting to do an autobiographical show is different than completely owning every aspect of that show. That show is Louis through and through the same way that One Mississippi is Tig Notaro through and through.
How do you think President Trump is going to affect comedy, and are you thinking about that? Do you have creators who want to be the voice of a resistance? Do you think people are going to go the other way? ABC recently said, we’ve got to look more like America.
Lambert: It will be a great time for art, theater, movies, escapism, discussion — whatever that brings. The other thing we’re talking about is political satire. Is that dead? Is it more important now?
Bloys: It’s more important now than ever. Samantha Bee and John Oliver and Bill Maher — they’ve got to be around, because in many cases they were the clearest voice in the room.
Lewis: It seems like the mistake would be to pretend like you don’t have a political point of view. That’s what I find myself encouraging. Not telling people what they should write, but that they should embrace something specific, because I think people are aware of politics in the world and they’re aware of political points of view and the worlds that surround that.
Falvey: One of the great things about comedy, too, is it gives you a sense of community: It’s meant to be shared and you want to watch it together. At a time where there is so much divisiveness, I can just speak for myself, I have not wanted to be alone. I feel personally that community will be even more important, whatever side you’re on.
Weitz: With Samantha Bee, we got very lucky. We’re not naïve about that. She came off The Daily Show; people knew who she was. But the minute Trump declared for the presidency, the world changed for us, and the show has been on an upward trajectory. People are looking for that salvation. They’re looking for someone to articulate what they’re feeling. And if you follow her on social media, people are like, “Yes, that is exactly how I feel. I wish I could say that.” A strong female going after the boys’ club is very attractive to a lot of people. Similarly, when you sit for 32 minutes and watch John Oliver do a Drumpf rant with a beautiful ending to it? It’s art.
Weitz: We are traditionally a very liberal group of people making content for the masses. But if this is what our world is going to be, we have to make sure we don’t alienate our content from what a lot of people are asking for. I know that’s a weird thing to say, but we can get very niche-y and up our own butts in the way we do our stuff. So you have to remember, at least for me — I’m making content for the middle of the country, not the coasts.
Lewis: I’ve talked about this with Jeff Bezos before, about the role of art in storytelling and politics. You can achieve political ends a lot quicker sometimes through art and storytelling than you can through legislation or lobbying. I don’t know if I would have believed that until I was fortunate enough to be involved with Transparent and I saw civil and social rights change around me. It’s not solely due to the show. It’s a constellation of things. But I do think the show played a role for some people in humanizing [transgender issues], and even if people haven’t seen the show, that emanates out. It’s something you think about more day to day: What can I do? It might just be challenging yourself, but it’s also challenging the medium and challenging institutions at large.
Jon Stewart will be doing politics with whatever he’s doing, right?
Bloys: Oh, yeah. This is not The Daily Show, but it is his voice and take on politics and the world, with animation.
So we can look forward to having regular content that could touch on Trump?
Bloys: Jon Stewart has been setting up this entire operation to respond quickly to things going on. I don’t think anybody thought we would be in a Trump administration. But it’s nice that he will be equipped to respond quickly to whatever the tweet of the day is.
You guys are all part of huge corporations. Amazon has already been under attack from the president-elect via the Washington Post. Saturday Night Live has been under attack. FX is owned by Rupert Murdoch. Do you think you’ll have the support from your corporate parents? Are you worried?
Bloys: No, I’m not worried about interference at HBO at all. There never has been at Time Warner, and I don’t think there will be at AT&T.
Weitz: On the list of things that you need to deal with in the world of the White House, I don’t think the Time Warner–AT&T merger is a top priority anymore. It was on the campaign trail. I don’t think that’s his priority now.