viernes, abril 13, 2007

South Park y las audiencias

Al cumplirse su décimo aniversario, South Park sigue siendo un fenómeno de multitudes. Viacom, quien es su propietaria y la distribuye, acaba de demandar a Youtube por el pago de derechos de autor de la serie y una decena de artículos se abocan a descifrar el éxito de la serie animada creada por Matt Stone y Trey Parker. Cada capítulo de South Park es visto por 1,7 millones de personas, la mayoría concentrado en el público masculino. En este segmento sólo es superado por ESPN. Esto ha abierto el apetito de diversas empresas y plataformas, especialmente las telefónicas. South Park es un espacio cuestionado por la mayor parte de las estructuras del poder en Estados Unidos y que cada cierto tiempo pone en aprietos a Viacom. Pero el poder de las audiencias ha permitido que la censura no se filtre. El negocio es demasiado bueno como para permitirlo.
Por Bill Carter
Nobody in broadcast television has been laughing much lately at the state of comedy. This season exactly one situation comedy, “Two and a Half Men” on CBS, is among the 20 most-watched shows on television.

“South Park” game on cellphone, likely to be announced today.
That does not mean people have stopped looking for laughs, of course. In the midst of mostly grim days for comedy, the cable channel that is self-proclaimedly in the comedy business, Comedy Central, has never been merrier.

Ratings for the channel’s prime-time shows have increased 12 months in a row, and its all-day schedule is on pace to score its best season ever.

Some of that is explainable by the continuing strength of the channel’s signature shows, like “South Park” and “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.” Both of these shows continue to generate audiences and attention for the network. Today the channel’s parent company, Viacom, is scheduled to announce plans for a cellphone game based on “South Park.”
The move is designed to play to Comedy Central’s core audience of young men and boys. Few channels other than ESPN have such a heavy concentration of male viewers; audiences for some Comedy Central shows are more than 70 percent male.

One reason for some of the increased ratings is an adjustment by Nielsen Media Research, which for the first time is including a calculation that adds some viewing by college students. In that sample Comedy Central is the No. 2 cable network among male viewers, trailing only ESPN.
Beyond “South Park” and “The Daily Show,” new additions have pushed the network’s ratings: “The Colbert Report” has proved to be an ideal late-night match with “The Daily Show,” and a new sitcom, “The Sarah Silverman Program,” has scored some of the best first-season ratings in the channel’s history.

What seems to be happening, at least according to the channel’s chief executive, Doug Herzog, is that Comedy Central is stepping into the void that years of lackluster broadcast comedy have created.
“A decade ago I used to say we really weren’t the comedy network. NBC was,” Mr. Herzog said. “They had all those great must-see comedies. But now I think we have the heavyweight crown in comedy. It’s ours to defend.”

That boast gets some backing from Doug Mitchelson, who analyzes Viacom for Deutsche Bank. “Comedy Central is doing a fantastic job with its programming,” he said, noting that the channel’s audience size has grown for four straight years. He also said the channel is especially well positioned to take advantage of the migration of the audience to the Internet and mobile devices.

What seems to be making it all work is the fit of the channel’s sensibility with what the comedy audience now expects. Mr. Stewart defined it as “shows that reference a point of view.” He jokingly called the channel “the Sam’s Club of comedy — a central warehouse of comedy where our comedy comes in giant boxes.”

The boxes are actually still rather small, at least when they begin. Ms. Silverman’s show was considered a hit out of the gate; after only two episodes had played, the channel ordered a new season of 14 more episodes. The series averaged about 1.7 million viewers, not big by network standards. Still, that represented a 150 percent improvement in the channel’s ratings in the 10:30 p.m. Thursday time period. (The show has since moved to Wednesday.) “The Sarah Silverman Program” was also the most-watched show in all of television at that hour among men ages 18 to 24.

Ms. Silverman, along with many other of the channel’s stars, said that the environment at Comedy Central was most hospitable to her brand of often outrageous humor. “Where else could I do it?” she said.

Not that the channel leaves its stars completely to their own devices. Ms. Silverman said she has had battles over subject matter. “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t get frustrated when someone who isn’t funny for a living tells someone is who is funny for a living what is and isn’t funny,” Ms. Silverman said.

The creators of “South Park,” Matt Stone and Trey Parker, have had occasional conflicts with the channel as well, but Mr. Stone said that a decade ago he and his partner had watched early Comedy Central programming like “Mystery Science Theater 3000” and decided, “This is where we belong.” He added, “You can see a show now and say, ‘That feels like Comedy Central. That smells like Comedy Central.’ ”

The channel now has a distinct whiff of political satire, thanks largely to Mr. Stewart, Mr. Colbert and the “South Park” guys. In tonight’s “South Park” episode, for example, an animated version of Hillary Clinton visits town. Mr. Stone said of the satirical shows, “That stuff gets a lot of press and attention, but I still think our biggest shows are just about the kids being weird.”
The Bill O’Reilly-like character that Mr. Colbert plays is both political and weird, which is exactly his intention. “No one ever calls and says, ‘Don’t do this,’ ” Mr. Colbert said.
Certainly no one at the channel minded when Mr. Colbert stirred a media firestorm with his satirical-guns-blazing performance at last year’s White House Correspondents Association dinner, where he stayed fearlessly in character despite the discomfort his routine was apparently causing in his dais partner, the president of the United States.

“That day I got off the train in character,” Mr. Colbert said. “I don’t want to be in that town and not be in character. The character is my magic carpet.”

So is Comedy Central the only place to be for contemporary television comedy? Not really, according to the people who work there. The premise that the network sitcom might not make a comeback found no takers at the channel.

Mr. Stewart, Mr. Herzog, Ms. Silverman and Mr. Colbert all spontaneously endorsed comedy being made elsewhere, namely at NBC, with its comedies “The Office” and “30 Rock.”
“Are there any better characters on TV than Alec Baldwin in ‘30 Rock’ and Steve Carell in ‘The Office’?” Mr. Stewart said of the actors on two Thursday night NBC comedies. (Mr. Carell was formerly a correspondent on Mr. Stewart’s show.)

Why do those shows work? Mr. Herzog suggested they come from a comic sensibility familiar at his channel. He said that one of NBC’s Thursday night comedies, “Scrubs,” is now playing extremely well in reruns on Comedy Central.

“That show fits because it is true to our core,” Mr. Herzog said. “And that is point-of-view comedy, cutting-edge comedy, subversive comedy.”


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