The first episode of the U.K. anthology series “Black Mirror” tells the story of a British prime minister blackmailed into having sex with a pig. While some undoubtedly found this unspeakably revolting, it inspired a more positive, epiphanous reaction from CollegeHumor’s Sam Reich.
“I was like, ‘God, this series has so much potential to be funny,’” said Reich, who’s head of video for CollegeHumor and president of its production company, Big Breakfast.
Instead of writing a letter to “Black Mirror” creator Charlie Brooker, begging for more comedy, Reich set out to develop an original series that mined humankind’s dark relationship with technology for laughs instead of cerebral chills.
The result is “Bad Internet,” which premieres today as an exclusive on ad-free video and music subscription service YouTube Red. The first episode (below) depicts a dystopian future, in which society is divided into groups dictated by a BuzzFeed quiz.
When “Bad Internet” was still in the concept stage, Reich worried that someone else might beat them to the punch with a similar series.
“I thought, this is in the ethos right now,” Reich recalled. “Someone comes up with a series idea and it makes perfect sense, and then, as it turns out, two other people have come up with that same idea at the same time.”
Fortunately, at the time, YouTube was in the midst of jump-starting its initiative to add exclusive, original content to YouTube Red, which was still in the pre-launch phase.
Newly-hired VP of YouTube Originals Susanne Daniels heard CollegeHumor’s pitch for “Bad Internet” during her first month on the job last September and quickly gave it the greenlight. CollegeHumor’s eight-person writing staff polished off the scripts in October, and they were filming before the end of December.
“Bad Internet” deviates from YouTube Red’s standard casting model. The first few batches of exclusives for the service have been projects built around stars native to the platform, such as the series “Scare PewDiePie” and the Lilly Singh documentary “A Trip to Unicorn Island.” While “Bad Internet” does feature an installment about a comedic showdown between YouTube stars Justine Ezarik (iJustine), Rosanna Pansino and Smosh, the cast is otherwise a mix of CollegeHumor personalities and traditional TV stars including Will Arnett, Jack McBrayer, Cheri Oteri, Jean Smart and Oscar Nunez.
CollegeHumor is a grizzled veteran of the digital entertainment space. Founded in 1999, it targets the 18–49 demo with a regularly-refreshed supply of videos, pictures, articles and jokes. In recent years, it’s been making forays into linear television with projects such as the special “CollegeHumor’s Comedy Music Hall of Fame” on IFC and “Adam Ruins Everything,” which will premiere its second season on TruTV in August.
While successfully incubating online shows shows for traditional TV has been the viewed as a brass ring accomplishment, Reich is excited to be working on digital platforms, where projects can be in the 10-minute range — like “Bad Internet” and “Fatal Decision,” which can currently be seen on Verizon’s mobile-first platform Go90 — or whatever length the story requires.
“There are no universal hard and fast rules,” Reich said. “The fun thing about the sandbox we’re in right now is you can be whatever you want. Who’s to say if it has to be 11 minutes or 14 minutes or 35 minutes or what. The quetion is, how long does this feel like it needs to be?”