MONTREAL -- Industry activity at the Just for Laughs comedy festival here picked up steam Thursday as a panel of TV network executives evaluated preselected comedy show pitches and U.S. festival attendees buzzed about acts showing early promise for potential deals.
"Evil Dead 1&2: The Musical" -- a stage production based on Sam Raimi's horror classics that had two limited runs at a small venue in Toronto last year and has promotional fliers promising viewers "Blood! Chainsaw! Singing!" -- garnered rave reviews and a lot of industry attention. Agents and development executives said the musical could play well in the United States. Showbiz executives also had an eye on "Evil Dead" co-creator and writer George Reinblatt and co-creator and director Christopher Bond. The musical's stars -- Ryan Ward, Kylee Evans and Mike Nahrgang -- also attracted some industry attention.
What particularly impressed industry observers was the strong turnout from young, passionate fans, suggesting that "Evil Dead" could be on its way to cult-fave status a la "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."
"Our crowd gets covered in (fake) blood, stands on their seats and screams," said Reinblatt, who admits that he never watched plays or musicals before writing "Evil Dead," which is based on his love for the Raimi flicks.
"Our musical is not just a show," Bond added. "It's a party, an event."
The creators said they were thankful that Raimi, riding high these days on the success of "Spider-Man 2," has been supportive of their project and has given them all the rights necessary to put on the show.
Meanwhile, JFL's second annual "Just for Pitching" event, held Thursday, saw eight hopefuls presenting their comedy show ideas to U.S. and Canadian TV executives, including Comedy Central programming executive Lou Wallach, Fox's Ann Maney, NBC's Gina Girolamo and CBS' Brian Banks.
Greg Proops earned positive reviews for an improvised sitcom project in the "Absolutely Fabulous" and "Sex and the City" traditions that he developed with his wife. The main character of the sitcom, called "Simply Svelte," would be a fashion guru who juggles work deadlines and his wild lifestyle as well as a girlfriend, an ex-wife and a boyfriend.
"For broadcast, the idea may be a little too racy," said Girolamo, who gave the pitch a thumbs-up otherwise.
Brooklyn-based comic Kurt Metzger had the crowd in stitches with his sitcom idea "Paladin," a parody of 1980s shows in the "Touched by an Angel" tradition. The idea revolves around a guy -- who is no angel but an average Joe -- who wanders across middle America helping families with their problems.
The network executives' panel liked some of Metzger's ideas and lauded his funny presentation style but suggested they may be better suited for recurring sketches on another show. "You are hilarious," Maney told Metzger. "For me, the show would be filming you pitching this idea to various heads of networks."
Confronted with the question of whether the sitcom is dead as a genre, the network panel admitted that the genre has been under siege.
"I don't think it's a business that audiences have been into as of late," said Wallach, adding that he would hope the sitcom is dead, "because it's not a business we're in."
Other executives said their networks are these days having their eyes set only on sitcoms that seem to have extraordinary promise. "You can't get away with mediocrity," Banks said.
Added Girolamo: "Reality TV is giving us a run for the money," meaning that new sitcom ideas must be passionate, distinct and have a strong point of view."