- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 12, 2008

HBO’s ‘Funny’ side

HBO is hitching its star to Will Ferrell’s FunnyorDie.com Internet video venture, Variety reports.

The premium cable biggie has bought a small equity stake in the two-year-old comedy Web site and has commissioned 10 half-hours of programming from Funny or Die as part of the deal, the trade publication says.

The wide-ranging pact also envisions the two sides partnering on a host of future projects, from the live comedy tours that Funny or Die is developing to a possible Funny or Die-branded programming block on one of HBO’s offshoot channels.

For now, though, the Web site is focused on recruiting a veteran producer to help Mr. Ferrell and his Funny or Die partners - Adam McKay, Chris Henchy and Judd Apatow - shepherd the initial order of 10 half-hour projects.

The specifics of those programs are still being worked out. Some segments may be stand-alone entries, while some may be multiple installments revolving around the same concept or characters.

“We do know we want it to be in the same family of the comedy that we’re doing on the Web site - just a wide range of anything from a funny offbeat talk show to a maybe more traditional-type sitcom to a show with puppets,” Mr. Ferrell told Variety. “We don’t want to limit ourselves in any way, which is what we love about the stuff that we do for Funny or Die. The spitballing on these ideas is going to be the fun part of all this.”

HBO’s interest in Funny or Die is believed to be less than 10 percent of the company. The Web site, which bowed in 2006 with backing from the venture capital shingle Sequoia Capital, completed a second round of financing late last year that valued the company at about $100 million.

According to Variety, FunnyorDie.com has averaged about 3.2 million unique visitors per month during the past few months, primarily for short comedy videos produced by - and sometimes featuring - Mr. Ferrell and his film- and TV-producing partners, Mr. McKay, Mr. Henchy and Mr. Apatow.

‘Gossip’ spinoff?

The producers of the CW’s “Gossip Girl” are said to be pondering a spinoff, one that will revolve around either Taylor Momsen’s Jenny or a new, yet-to-be-introduced character, TVGuide.com says, citing a story in the Hollywood Reporter. The “Gossip Girl” books at one point split off Jenny on her own adventures in the “It Girl” series when a series of humiliations forced the lass to make tracks for boarding school.

According to THR, any “Gossip” spinoff would not necessarily land on the CW. Although the network would get first dibs, the series ultimately could get snatched up by ABC Family or any other outlet hungry for a youth-skewed commodity.

Short takes

mJamie Kennedy is joining the cast of the CBS drama “Ghost Whisperer” as a regular, the Hollywood Reporter says. On “Ghost,” which returns for a fourth season in the fall, Mr. Kennedy will play Eli, a graduate student in psychology at the local university who forms a bond with Melinda (Jennifer Love Hewitt).

mMTV Networks Chairman and CEO Judy McGrath is considering running Oprah Winfrey’s new cable network, called OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) which is expected to launch in 2010. Miss McGrath has worked for Viacom-owned MTV for 27 years, according to TVWeek.com.

mJustine Bateman can add “sitcom writer” to her credits. She just wrote an episode of the Disney Channel’s hit “Wizards of Waverly Place,” says TVSquad.com, citing a report by the New York Daily News. “Television used to have an awful lot of sitcoms. It’s interesting to see Disney is really a place where there are sitcoms,” Miss Bateman told the newspaper. “Going back 15 years, there were a fair amount of sitcoms families could watch. I absolutely love ‘30 Rock’ and ‘The Office,’ but I don’t know how many 13-year-olds are watching that stuff.”

2 CC shows on Hulu

Viacom has cut a deal with Hulu, the Internet TV joint venture between News Corp. and NBC Universal, to provide full-length episodes of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report,” Multichannel.com reports.

Viacom spokesman Jeremy Zweig confirmed that the company has “started a test with those two programs” on Hulu.

Hulu is hosting 13 episodes each of “Daily Show” and “Colbert” along with shorter clips from the shows.

Comedy Central already hosts four weeks of full episodes of both shows on its own sites: TheDailyShow.com and ComedyCentral.com/ColbertReport, with thousands of additional clips.

Hulu officially launched in March with complete episodes from about 250 broadcast and cable TV shows from NBC, Fox, MGM, Sony Pictures Television, Warner Bros. Television Group and others.

Compiled by Robyn-Denise Yourse and Hilary McArthur from Web and wire reports.

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