FunnyOrDie.com makes leap to TV

By Jake Coyle

FunnyOrDie.com co-creator Will Ferrell as legendary newsreader Ron Burgundy in Anchorman. Photo / Supplied
FunnyOrDie.com co-creator Will Ferrell as legendary newsreader Ron Burgundy in Anchorman. Photo / Supplied

NEW YORK - Will Ferrell and Adam McKay forged their partnership years ago on Saturday Night Live. Now, in a much different way, the two are back on TV with a sketch comedy show.

In the US this Friday, HBO will premiere Funny or Die Presents, a new half hour series that compiles clips from the comedy video website that McKay and Ferrell co-created in 2007.

The show arrives as part of a new batch of HBO comedy. The Friday slate also includes the premiere of Ricky Gervais Show, the start of season eight of Real Time With Bill Maher and the second season of The Life and Times of Tim.

Funny or Die Presents is the fruition of a deal hatched in 2008 between the site and HBO, which purchased a piece of FunnyOrDie.com reportedly in the neighbourhood of about US$10 million.

There's further overlap in that HBO airs the McKay and Ferrell-produced hit Eastbound & Down, which is prepping a second season.

Funny or Die Presents represents an increasingly common fusion between web-created content and television. When the series was announced, Ferrell sarcastically asserted the deal was "the missing link moment where TV and internet finally merge."

The show is introduced by a 1950s-style TV host who intones: Funny or Die is at the forefront of computer technology, leading the way in computer comedy programming. Tonight marks a departure from our usual business model as we join the ever-declining world of broadcast television."

McKay, best known as the director of comedies such as Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy and Step Brothers, says that joke is "70 per cent true and 30 per cent joking."

When FunnyOrDie.com launched, it was rare in its combination of professionally created content (from Ferrell, McKay and their Hollywood friends) and user-generated videos that, if deemed funny enough by viewers, could compete with the pros.

It has had some mammoth hits, such as The Landlord (nearly 70 million views) and the beloved series Between Two Ferns With Zach Galifianakis.

It has often capitalised on the news cycle by rapidly creating timely videos. Videos submitted by users have been far less likely to find viral success, but McKay believes the contributions have gotten "way better."

Funny or Die Presents isn't the next Saturday Night Live - it's somewhat slight, unabashedly cheap programming. McKay describes it as "the least noted or developed TV show that's maybe ever been put on."

"The whole concept of Funny or Die ... was the idea that people could have a place to put up whatever they wanted to put up with no notes and no filter," McKay says. "The TV show came out of that same spirit."

McKay was a writer at Saturday Night Live in the late 1990s. He has occasionally written sketches, including one performed by Tina Fey as Sarah Palin. In Funny or Die Presents, he sees an unfiltered sketch show not beholden to network demands or audience expectations.

For frequent visitors to FunnyOrDie.com, the material on the HBO show will look familiar: Will Ferrell as Abraham Lincoln with Don Cheadle as Frederick Douglas in Drunk History; Rob Riggle and Paul Scheer in Designated Driver.

"It has an energy to it," says McKay. "There are some pieces that are brilliant and some that are kind of a mess. It feels really kind of free."

The show, produced by FunnyOrDie.com creative head Andrew Steele, is essentially a step in a direction toward longer-form material. McKay's goal is to transition the site further into TV and low-budget movies.

"That's probably the next big step for 'Funny or Die' - to continue to sort of blend the two," says McKay.

- AP

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