Rob Corddry's Web series 'Childrens Hospital' hits Adult Swim
Rob Corddry's dressed in scrubs, examining young patients and cracking wise because he believes in the "healing power of laughter." It doesn't help, though, that his character is wearing creepy clown makeup and telling jokes that are completely age-inappropriate. Oh yeah, and he's incompetent.
Welcome to "Childrens Hospital," a web hit that's looking for success on TV. If it succeeds, it'll be one of the few that's ever made the transition at a time when more and more well-known actors -- Jason Bateman, Will Arnett, Justine Bateman and Kenan Thompson among them -- are creating and starring in content for the Internet.
Cartoon Network's Adult Swim has picked up "Childrens Hospital" for its Sunday night block, giving it a strong "Family Guy" lead-in and already ordering scripts for a second season. It premieres July 11.
Mike Lazzo, head of Adult Swim, said he'd found the series on the TheWB.com, a sister Time Warner division, and was "startled beyond belief at this network-quality sitcom on the Web," he said. "We just had to have it."
"Childrens Hospital" is a Webby Award-winning parody of melodramatic series like "Grey's Anatomy" and "ER," populated with attractive, oversexed characters who spout self-aggrandizing lines like, "I'm a doctor, damn it. It's what I do."
But just because audiences like a Web series hasn't meant they'll watch it on TV. In fact, the path is littered with road kill such as the Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz drama, "Quarterlife," which lasted a single episode on NBC, and "In the Motherhood," which went from hit Web series to dead ABC sitcom. AtomicWedgieTV.com's "Secret Girlfriend" had a short and vilified run on Comedy Central. ("Ugly Americans" has had more luck, giving Comedy Central the confidence to bring another Web series, "Workaholics," to air this summer).
At least "Childrens Hospital" will be in like-minded company on Adult Swim, a young male-targeted late-night block of edgy animation and irreverent comedy. The block has picked up the existing webisodes that debuted on TheWB.com in '08 and new material filmed by Warner Bros. TV this spring. It'll pair "Childrens Hospital" with another live-action short series, an action-adventure parody from Chris Elliott.
Lazzo understands why stars want to create specifically for the Web.
"They can take more creative chances, and they have the kind of latitude they'd never have on a big budget network show," he said. "It reminds me of the early days of cable."
Still, there's a bias against Web properties, maybe because so many have failed to hit outside that medium, but Lazzo thinks "Childrens Hospital" may help break that taboo.
"We won't necessarily say, 'Direct from the Internet,' on the marketing," he said, "but I think the line's more and more blurred. If it's good, it doesn't matter where it comes from."
Corddry has stocked "Childrens Hospital" with familiar faces, among them Malin Akerman, Lake Bell, Megan Mullally and Henry Winkler. Guests include John Cho, Ed Begley Jr., Nick Offerman and Rachael Harris. The former "Daily Show" correspondent and "Hot Tub Time Machine" star is on a whistle stop tour to promote "Childrens Hospital," having appeared at the recent Bonnaroo music festival and planning next to go to TBS' Just for Laughs comedy festival later this week.
Corddry isn't the only actor-comedian working on original web productions.
Justine Bateman, who's spending more time behind the camera than in front of it these days, is in development on a Web adaptation of Alloy Entertainment's book series, "The Clique." Her FM78.tv production company is creating the live-action series with Warner Premiere, a Warner Bros. division that sells digital entertainment through iTunes and other platforms.
"The Clique," with a dozen books already published, has shades of "Mean Girls" set in a privileged teen world (not unlike Alloy's "Gossip Girl"). Bateman's planning to create new characters for the Web series.
Separately, "Saturday Night Live's" Kenan Thompson will guest star in a new web series rolling out on Atom.com called "Johnny B. Homeless," created by friend Al Thompson. Thompson paid for the production himself from commercial residuals and his roles in movies like "A Walk to Remember" and "Love Don't Cost a Thing." Atom recently launched the first "Johnny B. Homeless" season and ordered a second.
There's a familiar name on the marquee of "Dial Star," another new Web series, but it's not an actor. It's a brand. (It's both, really, if you count cameos of AnnaLynne McCord from "90210.") AT&T gadgets are front-and-center, and, in effect, they're the reason-for-being for the videos that follow a starlet-wannabe who picks up McCord's dropped phone and goes all "Single White Female." AT&T's media agency and NBC Universal Digital Studios created the series, which will prominently feature all the technology its wafer thin stars can carry.
Along commercial lines, Will Arnett and Jason Bateman recently launched their new production company's first project, a Web series for Wrigley's Orbit chewing gum. They created, wrote, directed and starred in "The Prom Date" -- the first of three webisodes -- and plan more videos for Orbit and other advertiser clients.
-- T.L. Stanley
Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Television Entertainment/Darren Michaels
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