It’s the new style.
Comedy Central’s new talk show Hood Adjacent with James Davis takes on the complexities of being a person of color in today’s America. It was developed from James Davis’s monthly standup show, Urban Dictionary, though an increasingly more common talent incubator helped develop Urban Dictionary into Hood Adjacent: Snapchat. The social media app that was once used to send dubious images between college students is now playing a huge role in the programming of a popular cable channel.
Davis made the leap from Urban Dictionary to Hood Adjacent by creating the Comedy Central series Swag-A-Saurus, which was distributed through Snapchat’s Discover page. In the minute-long videos, Davis would define a new slang word for the viewer. It became the highest-rated series on Comedy Central’s Snapchat roster.
Swag-A-Saurus’ high ratings proved two things to the executives at Comedy Central: Davis could draw viewers, and the show’s concept was relevant to the network’s key demographic. Adults aged 18-34 make up 63 percent of Snapchat users. Adults aged 18-34 are also who mostly make up Comedy Central’s audience. Snapchat is the perfect landscape to test new programming before the network sends the concept to series because of this demographic overlap.
Davis is not the first Comedy Central anchor to have a short form series on the network’s Snapchat channel. Nikki Glaser had Quickie with Nikki, a Snapchat companion series to Glaser’s television show Not Safe with Nikki Glaser. And Troll Cliché, Moshe Kasher‘s Snapchat series, similarly supports his show Problematic with Moshe Kasher. However, Davis’s trajectory stands apart from Glaser and Kasher. His Snapchat series was a key factor in getting his television series greenlit initially. Conversely, Glaser and Kasher created their Snapchat series to go with their already greenlit shows.
While Comedy Central’s use of Snapchat to incubate new show concepts is novel for that particular social media app, television networks have a history of using the Internet to incubate new show concepts. MTV gave the sketch group Stella a show in 2005 due to their popular Internet videos. Five years later, Funny or Die branched out from only producing Internet sketches to having a show on HBO. The popularity of the website acted as a proof of concept for the network to invest in the TV series.
Before Snapchat, Comedy Central found new comedic voices on YouTube. Both the creators of Workaholics and Broad City had audiences on the video site prior to shooting pilots for the network. Mail Order Comedy, the Workaholics creators’ YouTube page, was created in 2006. The first uploaded video on the page only has 65,000 views. YouTube provided an outlet for the comedy team’s development, and viewership rose to 1,720,000 views on a video posted two years later. The Broad City web series pilot, first posted to YouTube seven years ago, currently has 830,000 views. In both cases, Comedy Central bought the shows in part because both series had built in fanbases. While many other factors surely contributed —famously, Amy Poehler’s cosign helped the Broad City creators make a deal with the network — proof of viewership was a big part.
Comedy Central is not the only network to fill time slots with Internet cultivated programs. TruTv has used the YouTube channel Above Average, the Internet wing of Broadway Video, to create the sketch show Rachel Dratch’s Late Night Snack. Two other Above Average series, Seven Minutes in Heaven with Mike O’Brien and Cocktales with Little Esther, can now be seen on Late Night Snack, which is distinct in the new world of Internet video concepts going to television. The series keeps the short form of the videos, unlike Workaholics, Broad City, and Hood Adjacent. Seven Minutes in Heaven is not expanded into a long-form TV show. Basically, the viewer is watching a YouTube video on television.
The Internet and social media benefit networks in many ways. Of course, there will be a built-in audience when a network takes a YouTube concept to series. Networks hope that the core fanbase that watched the YouTube series will make the jump to television. However, Comedy Central still receives its largest viewership on the Internet. Additionally, networks like Comedy Central and websites like Funny or Die keep production costs low by incubating comedic talent online and through social media. Production for Funny or Die sketches is quick and cheap. The cheap production and fast turnaround allow these companies to have minimum cost and maximum output. The high output allows Funny or Die to premiere new concepts at an unparalleled rate.
While the 12-year history of Internet incubation has its share of hits and misses, Hood Adjacent with James Davis will test Comedy Central’s new network programming strategy. If Davis’s show connects with audiences, there will be a high chance of other Snapchat exclusive programming making the leap to television.
Check out a segment from the show below.