Magazine article Variety

Netflix Takes a Stand for Standup

Magazine article Variety

Netflix Takes a Stand for Standup

Article excerpt

By DANIEL HOLLOWAY

i#'@gdanielholloway

comedy central is heavily invested in the Trevor Noah business. In 2015, the cable channel plucked the comic from near obscurity to succeed Jon Stewart as host of "The Daily Show." Two months after Noah premiered on the late-night talker, his standup special "Lost in Translation" premiered on Comedy Central. Since then, the network has aggressively marketed Noah and stuck by him as "The Daily Show" host, waiting out early, lackluster ratings that have only recently showed signs of growth.

Comedy Central would appear to be a natural home for Noah's next standup special. But when his newest effort, "Afraid of the Dark," debuted last week, it did so on Netflix.

Noah's special is just one item purchased in a Netflix shopping spree that has made the streaming service the dominant buyer in the standup marketplace. Two years ago, top-tier comedians could land $5 million-$l0 million for a cable TV special. Now, comics such as Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, and Amy Schumer are landing $10 million-$20 million per special from Netflix. The streaming service is also doling out $3 million-$l0 million for second-tier comedians.

For Netflix, the money spent on standup represents a drop in the programming-budget bucket compared to premium original drama series. Netflix spent $120 million on the first season of "The Get Down"- and that's factoring in New York state tax incentives.

"Unlike drama, which costs them billions, what they're able to do with standup for $100 million is dominate," says Brian VolkWeiss, who has produced specials for Aziz Ansari, Maria Bamford, and Bill Burr. "They basically said, let's take everything off the table so that if the public wants to tune in to high-end comedy, it goes to Netflix."

In recent months, the streaming giant has signed deals for specials from Louis C.K., Dave Chappelle, and Sarah Silverman, as well as Seinfeld, Rock, and Schumer. Last week, it announced plans to host Tracy Morgan's "Staying Alive," his first standup special since the 2014 car crash in which he was severely injured and fellow comedian James "Jimmy Mack" McNair was killed.

Most of those deals are for two specials from each comic - ensuring that for several years to come, none of them will be appearing on HBO, which spent decades owning the standup space. And Netflix is locking up comics at a time when standup is riding a swell in popularity. …

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