More proof that high quality, longer-form content is a growing trend, the My Damn Channel Comedy Network recently introduced its first-ever half-hour series to join its slate of web programming with “We Got Next.” Of course, the Comedy Network extension of My Damn Channel was only just launched in 2013, so every new series is probably their first ever in some category — but I digress.
Most notably, the show’s two co-creators and writers are power TV veterans Kenya Barris, a co-creator of “America’s Next Top Model,” and Hale Rothstein, a writer and producer of “The Game.” With that sort of TV pedigree behind it, viewers can expect “We Got Next” to up the web series game and be America’s next top web series (Yeah, I wrote that. What do you want from me? [This is what being a “new media journalist” for too long does to a human being. This becomes this.]). Billed as “bro-mantic” and a “raunchy, sarcastic and out-of-bounds” comedy show, the premise centers around four very different guys Paul Bartholomew, Lance Barber, Bumper Robinson and Bill Fagerbakke) who make terrible decisions each week after their pow-wows playing pick-up basketball. Go watch it and support it, because it’s hilarious, and we need more hilarious — not just “funny” — web series.
I was able to interview Kenya Barris and Hale Rothstein — who gave the funniest, most braggadocious answers NMR has ever received, which goes to show the comedic talent behind “We Got Next” — about the show, and their insightful thoughts on doing a premium web series versus television. And for those anticipating the new seventh season of “The Game” — I’m admittedly in that group — check out the bonus mini interview that Hale kindly indulged, which I snuck in at the end (Tee hee! I’m such a rebel … remember what I was saying earlier about what being a new media journalist does to a person? Yup.).
How would you describe “We Got Next”? What can viewers expect when tuning in?
We would describe “We Got Next” as without a doubt the greatest show ever created … okay, if it’s not the greatest, it’s definitely in the conversation … okay, if it’s not in the conversation, it’s like five feet away, eavesdropping. No, but listen, the one thing we do believe is, it’s funny — at least that was the intent. For six episodes, we tried to give you a balls-out, unapologetic comedy that we’re hoping will make people laugh … and if it doesn’t, then we’ve wasted a lot of time and money. Now as for the viewers, they can expect something new and refreshing — something they’ve never seen before, but in a good way — not like butt-hole tattoos — from the setting of a gym to the pacing of the show to the ability to go as far as you can imagine with stories and characters. We had real creative freedom with “We Got Next” and we took full advantage. The other thing is, you’re really going to get a real peek inside four distinct guys who are as crazy as they are lovable. More specifically, the male viewers can latch on to moments or characters they relate to while the female viewers can get a chance to be a fly on the wall and pick up on some secrets that men have been coveting since the beginning of time. And the children … well, we’re not sure they’re the target audience, but if any kids are watching, we’d love to know what they’re getting out of the show. Seriously. Let us know.
How was this series developed?
We had similar sensibilities when it came to comedy as far as what we liked, what we didn’t — and that made us want to write something together. So we started kicking some ideas around — nothing was sticking. There was a show about a suicide bomber with Lou Gehrig’s disease and a taxidermist who was killing all of his subjects — we spent a couple weeks tossing around gems like these. And like most things in life, the perfect idea was right under our noses. You see, we would go play in weekly pick-up basketball games with a bunch of other out of shape degenerates and we spent a lot of time on the sidelines — we were never on a team that won and actually got to stay on the court, but it was on the sidelines where the show came to us. We were surrounded by other guys from all walks of life; guys that would never be in the same place together — at least, not on purpose. And we found this magical thing where once we stepped off the court onto those sidelines, something very real and organic happened. Guys started talking about their lives and their problems. It was mostly about women because 99 percent of what men do is actually about or for women. We’re actually doing this interview right now for a woman. But as we and the guys around us started emoting, it immediately hit us. It was like John Nash in “A Beautiful Mind” — the walls just kind of fell down … This is our show. We managed to find the one place guys can be guys and still feel like guys. Because let’s be honest, guys don’t meet at a restaurant or call each other up on the phone and talk about what’s bothering them. That’s not real, and we wanted to be in the real business. So we took four characters from all walks of life, who would never normally be in the same zip code as one another and made them teammates. And that was the jumping off point. That’s where “We Got Next” started. The funny thing is, we wrote the pilot at Peet’s Coffee on Ventura Blvd. in three days, and we were sure that was a bad sign — not because most people prefer Starbucks or Coffee Bean but because that just seemed way too quick to write something worth a damn. But the day we finished the script, we both went home, read it and called each other immediately… we were like, “Holy shit … this is really good … right?” So the next day we sent it to our representatives and they confirmed it for us: they loved it. That’s when we knew we had something special.
You guys are veterans of TV, and very successful ones at that. Why a web series now?
Honestly, we never looked at it like a web series. To us, it was always a TV show that happened to be for the web … which is probably actually the definition of a web series. But just look at it — it looks like a TV show. It’s the same length as a TV show — it even smells like a TV show. And it’s exciting being at the forefront of a revolution. There’s no doubt that the web is the future, and as far as original content produced for the web, we are one of the first to enter those waters. There’s no blueprint we’re following. We’re making the rules as we go. When you sit around in a writer’s room all day like we do, you’re constantly talking about stories from old shows going back as far as “I Love Lucy.” Well, when it comes to the web, there’s nothing to reference. We’re laying the groundwork for the future. And one day, maybe some fresh-faced kids will be talking about this show called “We Got Next.” And let us be clear: We are in no way comparing ourselves to “I Love Lucy.” That would be completely insane … just crazy … Wouldn’t it?
Have you discovered any surprising differences between getting this show done and a TV show done? What are the adjustments you’ve found you had to make coming from TV, if any?
The surprise was how much more work it is. As TV writers/producers, we’re no strangers to a heavy work load. But it’s specific. It’s writing, being on set, and editing. That’s pretty much it … oh, and eating. Writer/producers eat a lot. But for “We Got Next” it felt like we had to do everything. And at times, we did. We didn’t have a huge staff. We were the writers; we wrote every episode. We were the producers. We were the music supervisors. We had control of the money … that was scary. We weren’t set up like a normal TV show where you have a studio and a network and this huge staff with money and support. I guess, the easiest way to put it, would be if someone came up to you right now and said, “Here’s a check for ‘x’ number of dollars. Now go make a TV show. And when you’re done, turn it in.” We’re not saying we didn’t have help — we did. The team we put together was amazing and we wouldn’t have wanted to do it with anyone else. But the responsibility was all on Hale and Kenya. That’s one of the reasons we killed ourselves to make this show, because our name was on the line. That’s why we were in color correction, using our own cars in the shots, bringing in clothes and sneakers from our own collection, whatever it took. We did everything humanly possible to make the best show we could have.
How much more of a shift to web series do you see audiences making in the future? What sort of impact do you see web series and online videos having on TV and movies?
The web is obviously the future of media consumption, especially now with the advent of smart TV’s. And really, the shift has already begun. The audience is already online and watching TV less and less. So as long as the content being produced for the web is of high quality, it will only continue to grow.
“The Game” bonus interview
“The Game” is one of my biggest TV pleasures. Any teasing you can do on what’s happening in season 7?
Hale Rothstein: I can say that Tasha’s triangle with Rick and Pookie isn’t over.
How did you feel about the departures of Pooch and Tia? Is Brittany Daniel back due to popular demand, or was her return always planned?
It was hard to see Pooch and Tia go. I worked with them for five years and really got to know them on a personal level, especially Pooch. When you’re on a show that lasts season after season, these people become family, so when one of them leaves, it’s sad. But at the end of the day, this is a business, and you understand why they needed to move on.
And as far as Brittany … We’ve always wanted her back. Just like now we want Pooch and Tia to come back. That’s the world we’ve built — a show where characters can come and go in an organic fashion. And our job as the writers is not to force it — to really find the right time or story to bring those characters back. And that’s what happened this season with the character of Kelly. The writers came up with a great storyline for her and luckily, Brittany loved it as well.
I’ve noticed through the seasons a few blatantly racist jokes about Asians and some homophobic jabs as well. I’m not one to be P.C. at all, but I do wonder if the writers have a conscious agenda in regard to those groups sometimes. What’s the story there?
There’s no agenda in our writing. Honestly, we just always try to go for what’s funny. And if you look at the show as a body of work, we make jokes across the board. And at the same time, we’re constantly trying to look for ways to uplift characters and destroy stereotypes.