Comedy Central is slowly transforming into a channel filled with re-runs as the network’s parent company shifts its strategy away from live-action original programming.
Over the last few years, the network has seen a mass exodus of comedic talent as it placed more of a priority on inking deals for off-network animation and sitcoms, including “King of the HIll,” “Seinfeld” and “Futurama.”
The strategy was detailed at length in a Hollywood Reporter story published this week that focused on MTV Entertainment Chief Executive Chris McCarthy, who oversees various cable channels at Paramount Global, including Comedy Central.
The article says McCarthy is interested in keeping Comedy Central’s weeknight news satire program “The Daily Show” and is in the process of launching a search for the show’s next host after current host Trevor Noah unexpectedly announced his departure last month.
Noah’s departure comes as the comedian expressed a desire to focus more on his stand-up tours and his production company. But in key entertainment capitals, it signaled that Comedy Central was no longer a shining beacon of comedy on television like it was in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Many of Comedy Central’s hit original programs like “Reno 911,” “Inside Amy Schumer,” “The Chappelle Show” and “Key & Peele” have been gone for years. Attempts to launch late-night, topical shows to follow The Daily Show have largely petered out: Chris Hardwick, David Spade, Larry Wilmore and Jordan Klepper tried their hand, but none found a resonate audience.
In many ways, the problems at Comedy Central can be attributed to shifting viewer habits: Many are content with watching short-form comedy bits on platforms like YouTube and TikTok, where the network has seen some success. The Hollywood Reporter notes that the Daily Show’s ratings took a dive when Trevor Noah took over for Jon Stewart, but the Daily Show’s digital footprint grew during Noah’s seven-year tenure, raking in around $25 million every year for Comedy Central and Paramount Global.
But beyond the Daily Show and the hit animated sitcom South Park, Comedy Central has launched very few original programs over the last few years, opting instead to license re-runs of shows like “Seinfeld,” “The Office,” “Bojack Horseman” and “Futurama” instead. Licensing older content comes with considerable cost savings and allows Comedy Central to fill its daytime and afternoon schedules with something for those who still have cable or satellite.
The likelihood that Comedy Central will fill even more parts of its schedule with licensed re-runs seems strong: The Hollywood Reporter said McCarthy is “more interested in squeezing margins and pumping out press releases than in cultivating talent or hit shows.” In other words: Get as much cheap content on Comedy Central as possible.
Comedy Central probably won’t look anything like Paramount Global’s other flagship network, MTV, which has been reduced to re-runs of “Ridiculousness” during much of the schedule (MTV’s schedule has become a parody unto itself: There’s a Twitter account that regularly posts the network’s weekly programming, and nearly all of it is Ridiculousness).
But there probably won’t be as many stand-up specials, roasts, skit shows or other types of original programming that made the network the comedy cornerstone of cable and satellite that it once was.