truTV President Chris Linn Talks on Creating TV Content for the Smartphone Era
The first day of the cable portion of the Television Critics Association Winter 2018 tour in Pasadena, California was full of TV talent and critics eager to get the latest scoop on shows coming out this spring and summer. We sat down with truTV President Chris Linn to talk a bit about how his network, which has recently shifted to delivering primarily comedy content, reaches its audience and keeps viewers coming back for more.
How has truTV evolved in the past several years?
In 2008, truTV became the reality arm of Turner, and this was during the big reality boom, and it had solid success in terms of leadership but because the landscape was so cluttered, it ended up being the louder and more egregious version of what everyone else was doing and it was difficult for it to build a distinct brand outside of that. I came in 2013 to help rebrand the network and to move it more towards premium content, to find a new white space and to help elevate the audience and the content so that it would fit with the rest of the Turner brand. In 2014 we flipped the switch to turn it into a distinct comedy brand.
We see ourselves as the home for creator-driven comedic programming that has a distinct point of view. All of our shows have a singular piece of talent in the center of it that have an idea or a specialty or a concept that is unique to them. It's a lot passion projects and the show is the organic expression of that passion.
How might the way people watch television today, on the go and at their own time, affect the creative process behind the content?
When I was at MTV I spent a lot of time understanding millennial expectations for content--and comedy is currency for millennials. We went the comedy route at truTV knowing that it's uber shareable, that social and digital platforms all rely on that for circulation. I think our shows by design are segmentable. We produce full-length programming but they're made up of small segments and they can become bite-sized pieces for promotion and for enjoyment on other platforms. Our content is ideal for mobile distribution. As these other platforms become available and as specific behaviors are generated for how those are digested, it has us think about how our content can live on other platforms. We always think, ‘What can be the broadest use of our content,’ so then we create this ecosystem where people are finding our content everywhere.
What role does comedic programming play in our media culture today and why is important?
If you look at the world right now, with all the conflict and uncertainty and political divisiveness, we need more comedy than ever before. We've made a conscious choice to stay away from too much political commentary and divisive topics. There are a lot of people doing that incredibly well right now, but we see truTV as the oasis away from that. If you look at our shows like Impractical Jokers or The Carbonaro Effect or At Home With Amy Sedaris, it's real escapism. It's absurdity, it's fun, you're laughing. it's a chance to get away from it all.
What new shows are you particularly excited about?
We're excited to share Bobcat Goldthwait's Misfits & Monsters. It's the definition of creator-driven content, it's a passion project. It's [Misfits & Monsters] a comedic twilight zone, these are all stories that he [Bobcat Goldthwait, a comedian and filmmaker] has been carrying with him for a very long time. He has a unique and masterful way of how to bring shows to life. Laff Mob's Laff Tracks is another one from producer Bob Sumner. It's a reinvention of standup comedy. When we first got into the comedy space we were pitched a ton of standup comedy specials and I think people were surprised we didn't start producing a lot. But it is so saturated right now, everyone is doing it. We made a conscious decision to wait until we had our unique take on it, and this show is just that. It mashes up standup comedy with visual recreation--it's the music video of standup comedy. It delivers a different experience; it's both auditory and visual.
Are there any long-term goals you can share with us?
It's to continue to attract the best talent and help them make the best version of their passion projects. I think we've had a lot of success in building these 365 degree franchises. Impractical Jokers has the linear show, they have social, they have a tour, they have a cruise, it's experiential. We're doing the same thing with The Carbonaro Effect. We're hoping for Laff Mob's Laff Tracks that in the future, it can tour. So we want to continue to develop these franchises that aren't just TV shows. That you can touch them in multiple different platforms, you can experience them in person. It's about continuing to build on this foundation that we've established, to nurture the fan response and to grow the scope of the network.