All the cool kids are doing it. truTV, known for reality skeins like “Impractical Jokers,” “The Carbonaro Effect” and “Billy on the Street,” is delving into the scripted series world for the first time tonight with its high school-set comedy “Those Who Can’t.” You know the rest of the saying: “teach.”
“Those Who Can’t,” already being referred to as “TWC” by the tru crew, has an interesting backstory. Developed by Adam Cayton-Holland, Andrew Orvedahl and Ben Roy of the Denver-based comedy troupe The Grawlix, who play three troublemaking teachers, the pilot was intended for Amazon Studios. But when the streamer went with “Transparent,” “TWC” became available.
For truTV President Chris Linn, who was looking to broaden the network’s portfolio, the circumstances and timing were fortuitous. The tru pilot was announced in December 2014 and the series picked up in March of last year, with additional episodes just announced in December.
“We enjoyed it tonally, and it clearly had a voice and a point of view,” he said in a phone interview from his offices at Time Warner Center in New York. “We re-piloted it, tweaked it, and further developed the female character [the school librarian, played by Maria Thayer]. She’s really one of the boys. We loved the pilot so it was an easy decision. We love that they are a strong comedic unit, and you can see that on screen.”
The half-hour comedy portrays the teachers of Smoot High as far less competent than the students they teach, with each day a struggle to beat the system and survive on their own terms — while aiming to keep the audience entertained with their antics.
Linn, who joined truTV in May 2013 from MTV, where he was executive VP of programming, said he’s looking to elevate the network’s on-air content. “Nothing does that more than a successful scripted show. We have a number of scripted and other formats that will hopefully differentiate and stretch the boundaries. This felt so easy and right. If you’re a fan of our other programming, it feels like an easy transition.”
He’s already put a lot of faith in the new show. After seeing the bulk of rough cuts, more episodes were ordered and after its current run, the comedy will return for a second season later this year.
“Those Who Can’t” is part of an overall shift moving away from reality to comedy. “We have a number of other shows in development including our new documentary, ‘truInside,’” he said. “It’s part of a rebrand over the past year to push for more comedic and innovative formats.”
Sister network TBS is also in the midst of a rebranding by expanding its original programming slate to more than 15 scripted and unscripted series over the next two years.
The throughline for truTV, which Linn termed as “scrappier” than TBS, is built around standout talent that have strong voices and deliver a fun ride for viewers.
Also on tap, “Comedy Knockout,” a game-type format where comedians try to outdo each other, with the loser having to read an apology written by the other comics.
Marketing all these new programs provides its own challenges. “We lean heavily into viewers to evangelize. Social, online, they share it back,” Linn said, while noting traditional methods still play a big part in getting the word out. “Social and digital are key for us. You can move ‘Jokers’ anywhere and they’ll find it. ‘Billy’ clips get picked up everywhere. There’s a similar thing building with Adam and clips going viral.”
The median age of truTV viewers has dropped 10 years in the past few years, to 33.
“It’s attributable to more innovative premium content that feels new and fresh. We’re trying to deliver content that’s entertaining but has a fun, shareable takeaway. We’re trying to innovate and not do the same thing,” Linn said. “It’s about building shows around talent, and being a creator-friendly place to do business, where people’s vision and voice come through.”
Most importantly, he said about “Those Who Can’t,” it’s really fun.
(“Those Who Can’t” premieres on truTV Thursday, Feb. 11, at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT, 9:30 p.m CT)