Comedy Hopes To Arrest Viewers With 'Reno 911’

Coming off the strong sophomore performance of Chappelle’s Show, Comedy Central has high hopes for the second-season debut this week of Reno 911!.

The series, about a fictitious police force based in Reno, Nev., was a pleasant surprise for Comedy Central, averaging a 1.4 rating in its 10:30 Wednesday night slot. The network hopes the series mirrors the success of Chappelle’s Show and improves ratings from its freshman campaign.

While negotiations continue with comedian Dave Chappelle for a third season of his sketch comedy show and other projects, Chappelle’s Show finished its second season with a 2.6 household ratings average, well above the 1.7 the skein garnered during its first-year run.

“We’re actually very excited about [Reno 911!],” said Comedy Central executive vice president and general manager Bill Hilary. “The series has evolved and matured and we’re hoping that it can build on its great ratings from its first season.”

Hilary said the series’ second season will feature more “dramatic” storylines, as well as cameo appearances from Traci Bingham, Wayne Brady, Donna D’Errico, Lou Ferrigno, Dick Gregory, Lorenzo Lamas, Martin Mull, Phil Lamarr, Brian Phelps, Kenny Rogers and Sean Young. “No one else is doing that improvisational, dramatic comedy thing. We’re breaking new ground,” Hilary said. “There are enough people out there who find the show smart and funny.”

To further promote the series, Comedy Central will release the complete first season of RENO 911 on DVD June 22, said the network. The 2-disc DVD boxed set, released through the network’s Home Entertainment division and Paramount Home Entertainment, will feature all 14 original episodes, extended alternate/deleted scenes, audio commentary from the cast on four episodes and a special hidden feature.

While Chappelle’s Show and Reno 911! have scored for the network during the key Wednesday 10:30 time slot after South Park, other shows parked there have not fared as well.

The animated Shorties Watchin’ Shorties has thus far failed to keep pace with the Chappelle’s Show since replacing the popular comedy series in April. Through May 26, the Denis Leary-produced animated series is averaging a 1.1 rating over five episodes. Hilary said the network will air another seven episodes later this summer during a yet-to-be determined time slot.

Last fall, another animated series, Kid Notorious, produced a disappointing 1.1 average in that time slot before moving to Tuesdays at 10:30, where it performed slightly better. The future of the animated skein, based on the life of Hollywood producer Bob Evans, remains up in the air, according to the network.

“Not everything has done as well at 10:30 as Chappelle’s Show and Reno 911!,” Hilary said. “The problem with the time slot is that you have to do well.” The network is also bullish about its new talk/variety series The Graham Norton Show, which bows this summer, and a new animated series Drawn Together, set to debut later this fall.

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.