Case Study

'The Middle Show' Aims for TV Heights

Black20.com Web Program Hits Improv Notes

By Published on .

The Creators: Neil Punsalan is the creator of Black20.com's Web show "The Middle Show." The show is hosted by writer-producer David Price, while Mr. Punsalan serves as executive producer. As a comedian and actor, Mr. Price trained at Ohio State University and performed improv and stand-up comedy in New York before landing "The Middle Show" hosting gig in late 2006.

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The Distributors: The show has been carried on Web video destination Black20.com since its launch in early 2007. Black20 also distributes the show to iTunes, YouTube and MySpace. "The Middle Show" has released more than 170 episodes and has earned more than 5 million views across those distribution partners, not including the iTunes views. In addition, the show is carried on the video screens in New York taxi cabs, where it has garnered more than 3 million impressions.

The Sponsors: "The Middle Show" landed its first sponsor this summer in Loopt, a service for mobile phones that lets users share their location with friends. Under that deal, Mr. Price integrated Loopt into segments of the show. For instance, he used the service to help deliver packages to friends around the city when he worked as a bike messenger for a day. Because the ad deal called for branded integration into the show's content, Mr. Price said he worked hard to strike the right balance when discussing the product. "We weren't sure how it would work and we both worked together to figure out how much is enough and how much is too much," he said. "You need enough integration so it's natural but not shoehorned in there. Sometimes it was too much and sometime it was too little, but most viewers understood what we were trying to do."

The Content: The comedy-variety style show is modeled after late-night talk shows. "It's the best part of a late-night talk show, the man on the street, the funny celeb interview or just the funny desk bit," Mr. Price said. "The idea has always been that we love the late-night talk show feel and style and energy." In an episode this summer, Mr. Price pretended to drop a donor heart from a cooler on a busy New York street, claiming it was an implant for the actress Bernadette Peters. In another episode, he ran a lemonade stand from a New York park.

The Backstory: "I created 'The Middle Show' huddled in a basement watching reruns of 'Late Show with David Letterman,'" said Mr. Punsalan, a Black20.com founder. In the early days of the show, Mr. Price and Mr. Punsalan would grab a camera and head onto the streets of Manhattan to shoot improv bits. The style of the show has remained largely the same though the staff has grown to include two more writer-producers, a videographer and an editor. Together, the creative team plans the intros and the concepts for the shows, but the meat of each three-to-four minute episode is about 85% improv, Mr. Price said. "If we have a specific joke we think is funny we try to work it in, but it's mostly me interacting with people and hoping something funny happens," he said.

Endgame: Black20 is currently creating a 22-minute version of the show to pitch to broadcast and cable networks for a possible on-air run. The producers plan to shoot the pilot in later October and pitch it to networks in November. "We would love it to be a late-night talk show that also has an Internet presence so the Internet and television are working together seamlessly and you get stuff online you couldn't get on TV," Mr. Price said.
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