COMMENTARY | Being funny is a tough business. From age 20 to 24 I was a cartoonist, unleashing my humor on the University of Wyoming campus, and the Internet, from my daily comic strip Patrick & Matt. For four-and-a-half years I did my best to make people laugh, think, and get paid a little bit. I had a website and everything! However, my bids for syndication and my goals of following in the footsteps of Calvin & Hobbes’ Bill Watterson fell flat.
It’s tough to get recognized in comedy, which makes the intriguing announcement by NBC seem a bit like a mythical unicorn. The chance for aspiring comedy writers to get their pilots made and shown by a major network? According to Entertainment Weekly, NBC will allow people to post videos of their ideas starting May 1, after which they will be judged by a slew of comedians and producers. Ten finalists will be chosen, voted on, and the top one or two will get made as a pilot, with NBC having the option of producing up to four additional episodes.
Like the unicorn, aspiring writers have to wonder if this is the real deal, where unknowns have a shot, or if the comedy writers chosen as the winners will be well-connected insiders. Could this just be a ploy by NBC to drum up ratings?
Though there is the potential that this is just a ploy, NBC does stand to win big if it seeks to crowdsource some creativity. Like most big organizations, NBC has likely fallen prey to groupthink and nepotism from time to time, allowing sub-par ideas to flourish simply because they were propagated from a high-ranking executive. At top levels you tend to have big egos, with leaders automatically assuming that their ideas are inherently superior.
Unfortunately, these leaders may have lost some of their creativity and ability to innovate during their years of rising through the ranks. Getting fresh ideas and fresh blood into all organizations is important, but can be resisted by those who prefer the status quo. The entertainment industry, where personal relationships may be more important due to less reliance on traditional resumes could be particularly prone to nepotism and use of social capital instead of seeking “outsiders” as newcomers. As a result, new ideas may be less forthcoming than assumed, with newcomers not wanting to “rock the boat” and put forth ideas clashing with those of friends and family who got them the audition/job/gig/what-have-you.
NBC has incentive, therefore, to get some fresh ideas from those truly outside the showbiz network. Will they pick a fresh idea from an outsider? Pick a safe idea that’s been done before? Go with an “outsider” who’s really just a friend of an existing insider? Only time will tell!