It's 2 p.m. and I'm sitting on a blue exercise ball in an office at Culver City Studios, across from Emmy-nominated TV writer/producer Daniel Kellison. To the right are the essentials for a late night work-athon: stocked mini fridge, snacks, Bulleit Bourbon. Covering the walls, like the masterpiece of a CIA terrorist tracker, are hundreds of multi-colored index cards boasting the names of some of the best musicians, directors, writers and comedians in town. “It's like A Beautiful Mind in here,” Kellison jokes.
Kellison co-created Crank Yankers and The Man Show and was the original executive producer of Jimmy Kimmel Live. He also and spent eight years producing for David Letterman. As of late, he has taken a step away from his old Hollywood roots and become the co-founder of two new original YouTube comedy channels: JASH (Josh pronounced with a Southern accent) and Video Podcast Network.
JASH is a YouTube channel that launched last week, featuring original content overseen by all-star actors Sarah Silverman, Michael Cera, Reggie Watts and famed cult comedy duo Tim & Eric — with Kellison's help. Kellison's index card collage represents the artists the partners are already collaborating with or hope to in the future. Each partner has complete autonomy to create whatever content they want: short films, sketches, series, one-offs, talk-shows, animation, and music videos, with the proceeds shared equally. (The Video Podcast Network, Kellison's other project, features fully produced visual podcasts from some of the most popular comedy podcasters — first and foremost, Adam Carolla.)
So far today, Kellison has chatted with Vampire Weekend and Sarah Silverman about producing a music video. He'll talk with comedy music duo Garfunkel and Oates this afternoon. At 5:30 he's got a meeting with singer Pitbull, and then dinner with Mike Judge and comedian Scott Henry Phillips to talk about doing a series. The next day he's set to fly to New York City to shoot a Wes Anderson-esque short based on a story Cera found and loved called “The Brazzaville Teenager.”
One wall of Kellison's card rainbow is strictly for Comedy Week. YouTube's initiative for 2013 is comedy, so they're investing millions of dollars in a weeklong extravaganza of comedy content produced by their partners and featured on their home page starting May 19. Even though JASH still had not launched, YouTube approached Kellison's company HaChaCha to help produce the unprecedented event.
“We were like, 'Oh my God! There's no way we can do that. We launch in March and they want to do this in May,” remembers Kellison. “Then Mickey, my partner said, 'We're fucking stupid if we don't do this,' so we threw our hat in the ring and now we're producing Comedy Week too. It will probably sink our ship. We've taken on too much cargo.”
Kellison and crew are actually pretty confident in their abilities to create a profitable business off free online video. In addition to their performing partners, they've got a crew with a proven track record online and in more traditional media. Partner Doug DeLuca has 20 years experience in TV and film and was responsible for building Jimmy Kimmel Live's incredibly successful YouTube channel. Exec VP of Operations Mickey Meyer moved from TV production on shows like The West Wing and Breaking Bad to helping build YouTube production company Maker Studios. Global YouTube network Fullscreen also came on as a partner.
While those still working in traditional television are left bemoaning dropping ratings and revenue, for Kellison, business is booming. “I can't imagine anything more exciting,” he enthuses. “Normally, you spend seven months making a TV pilot and in one screening it's 'Yay' or 'Nay.' We have two things in production now and we don't have to go through any clearances. It's so freeing on a creative level.”
It was YouTube who approached HaChaCha with the idea of investing in a comedy channel. “They essentially said, here's a bunch of money. You'll have 100 percent creative autonomy. You'll never get a note from us ever, and in the end, you'll own 100% of what you make,” says Kellison.
YouTube has recently been funding dozens of new channels in an effort to raise the quality of content expected on the site and grow its relevance in the competitive media market. “I think YouTube is smart to get as many creators into their space as possible,” Kellison adds. “The media world is all melding into one. We're right on the corner of going to an app on your TV or computer and just watching whatever you want.”
JASH premiered online March 10. You can find a couple videos up already at www.Jash.com.