Short Form Web Series Hot Date Goes Long On Pop TV

luke copyHot Date, which started as a short-form video web series on CollegeHumor, is about to take the linear TV plunge, launching Wednesday, November 8 at 8p and 11p on Pop TV. Electus/Big Breakfast adapted and packaged the series, as it did for truTV’s Adam Ruins Everything – an exercise that does not come without its challenges. Showrunner and executive producer Luke Kelly-Clyne talks about what it takes to go long. (For a deeper dive into the promise and possibilities of short form video, check out the Cynopsis Short Form Video Festival – details are here.)

Cynopsis: What’s the genesis of Hot Date?

Luke Kelly-Clyne: Emily Axford and Brian Murphy (Murph) – who happen to be married in real life – had this idea for a relationship comedy series that spotlights all of the different hyper-relatable issues that couples run into today. Throughout the show, they’d play heightened versions of themselves, as they take aim at these various topics in each episode.

At Big Breakfast, we first developed and produced the idea as a short form series for CollegeHumor, with each three-minute episode tackling a different topic – from diet menus to the very true fact that Murph loves vacationing at Disney World. It took off online fairly quickly, and people really loved Em and Murph’s take – today, the web series has more than 100 million total views. With that success, we started thinking about how we could adapt the format and develop the series for TV. What we landed on was this unique blend of sketch comedy within a traditional long form structure that allows Em and Murph to build off of what made the web series so popular, while also incorporating new elements that will work on this new medium. We also found an incredible network partner and collaborator in Pop. They really let us experiment and find this show’s voice. 

 Cynopsis: What are the biggest challenges adapting a web series for linear TV? How will Hot Date be different as a linear show?

Kelly-Clyne: The format for the Hot Date web series was very simple – Em and Murph sitting across from each other at a dinner table. But of course, that’s not enough for a 22-minute show, and that’s a big hurdle all creators and producers have to face when figuring out, “Okay, but how is this bigger than two or three minutes?” 

When adapting for TV, you can’t take the traditional development process for granted, and one of the things that excites us the most at Big Breakfast is the creative exercise of taking a great web series to television (like we did  Adam Ruins Everything). So even though we had landed on a formula that found success online, we still spent a lot of time fleshing out the series and building the Hot Date world.

Within that process, it’s really about recognizing what’s made the web series so successful and determining what elements of the original version will best translate to a TV audience. For Hot Date, a major part of that meant allowing Em and Murph to showcase their robust skillset in character work by playing multiple roles an episode (in addition to versions of themselves), including recurring characters that show up throughout the season.

So it’s evolved from the hyper-focused “couple on a date” setup into a series that encompasses the entire dating scene, with multiple storylines and characters in every episode – Em and Murph playing many of them, alongside some great guest stars including Will Arnett (who’s also a series EP), Kevin Pollak, Ben Schwartz and Mena Suvari.

Cynopsis: What are the qualities that would make a short-form series a good candidate for a linear show?

Kelly-Clyne: The common denominators usually seem to be a defined demo and an impassioned fan base. For comedies in particular, there needs to be extreme clarity of idea and clarity of voice. If a short form digital series has this, and is bolstered with extreme talents like Em and Murph who can execute on the comedy, it’s got great potential to find an audience on television.

Cynopsis: What kind of short-form content should not be adapted?

Kelly-Clyne: If a short form series has an established audience online and a talented team behind it that’s well-equipped to develop it for linear, there’s always a chance of finding success on television. It just comes down to cracking the code in the development process and finding that right balance of what made the show so successful online, paired with the addition of various story and format elements that will make it even more appealing for a traditional TV audience.

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