NBC’s twice-canceled stand-up comedy competition show Last Comic Standing is once again proving itself to be an unkillable comedy cockroach, earning a previously unheard of third chance to establish itself with audiences after a three-year absence from the airwaves.
More a fixer-upper than your usual television reboot, new producer (and host?) Wanda Sykes is going to have to have a fair amount of work on her hands to sell a series that carries the weight of its past baggage (the Drew Carey controversy and accusations of favoritism in the casting process) alongside all the good, prompting the question: Why not just start from scratch?
Maybe NBC assumes that Wanda Sykes’ presence will be enough to assure both audiences and the stand-up community that this is for real, or maybe they feel that people will be hypnotized by Last Comic Standing‘s potential to make breakout new comics.
During the show’s initial run – which was hosted separately by Jay Mohr, Anthony Clark, Bill Bellamy, and Craig Robinson – comics such as Kathleen Madigan, Doug Benson, Todd Glass, Gary Gullman, and Amy Schumer received ample exposure, helping almost all of them to greater success in the following years.
But while the show did prove to be a stepping stone for some, it also wound up embracing some of the worst parts of “unscripted” television, putting contestants through borderline embarrassing stunts despite their tangential tie to stand-up comedy.
The new Last Comic Standing could certainly double down on such things in an effort to pull in reality TV viewers, but doing so could alienate comics and comedy fans at a time when that might be risky.
Again, Last Comic Standing has been off the air for three years at this point (four by the time it returns in the summer of 2014). In that time, we’ve seen a huge surge in the amount and impact of comedy podcasts like Comedy Bang! Bang!, You Made it Weird, Bill Burr’s Monday Morning Podcast and several others that are either hosted by or prominently feature working stand-up comics that are not household names.
Add to that shows like The Pete Holmes Show and Chris Hardwick’s @Midnight and it seems like there are more and more outlets that want comedians to be funny without making them pay such a high cost to do that.
Are these podcasts and super-late night shows as much exposure as a prime-time network TV show? Probably not, but if you were a comic, would you rather get noticed for being funny or for degrading yourself in a reality TV challenge?
That’s the new reality that Last Comic Standing 3.0 finds itself in, but the presence of Wanda Sykes does give one hope. This is someone who worked her way up the ranks and has surely developed a keen understanding of the business. Sykes has to realize that Last Comic Standing won’t be the only game in town, and that without putting out a product that appeals to good comedians, the show is greatly limited to the fringes of lowest-common-denominator entertainment.
Wanda Sykes has to realize these things, which makes one think that maybe she and NBC are starting from scratch after-all.
The 8th season of Last Comic Standing premieres in June 2014.
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