Nearly 10 years ago, before sites such as YouTube, Funny or Die, and College Humor started curating funny videos and giving exposure to unknown talent online, Dan Harmon and Rob Schrab created Channel 101. The monthly festival showcases short films, in the format of television pilots that are five minutes or less in length, and tells the audience to decide which five shows will be “picked up” for another episode to screen at the next month’s event.
At the same time that early Channel 101 creations like “House of Cosbys” and “Yacht Rock” turned into viral hits, projects created by or featuring stars like Jack Black, Drew Carey, Sarah Silverman, Andy Samberg, Aziz Ansari, and Rob Huebel began to garner more mainstream attention. As a result, many of the other writers, actors, and filmmakers who have screened their work at Channel 101 have been hired to write and perform on network sitcoms, feature films, commercials, and more. (Harmon would go on to create “Community” for NBC, while Schrab wrote and directed “The Sarah Silverman Program.”)
“The Channel 101 Experience,” a new 45-minute documentary that premiered as part of the Riot LA alternative comedy festival in September, reveals the decade-long history and evolution of Channel 101 from a small gathering of like-minded filmmakers into a pop culture institution that has influenced sketch, film, television, and online comedy. The film is also an opportunity to see how talented writers, directors, and actors can take control of their own destinies by creating work that appeals directly to audiences and their peers, rather than network executives.
Watch the full documentary:
According to the Channel 101 website: “The deadlines are unreasonable, the time limit is impossible, the pay is nonexistent and the judgment is blunt. The amount of ego and sense of entitlement with which you enter is exactly proportional to the amount of pain you'll experience before you leave. Channel 101 is where you learn three things: How to fail, how to succeed, and finally, how there is no difference between the two. After all, the only thing as bad as being told your pilot failed is being told that your third episode was worse than your second. And the only thing as good as having the number one show is having a chance to come back with something new. In the meantime, you become harder, faster, and fearless. You surrender to the audience as life-giving God and acquire total creative freedom through that surrender. You make connections with fellow creatives, you have something to look forward to all the time and for a few shining moments here and there, you're in the zone and your life takes on a little meaning.”
Channel 101 screenings are now held monthly in Los Angeles and New York City. The next Channel 101 screening will be held Saturday, Oct. 27, at the Downtown Independent in L.A.; new pilot submissions are due Tuesday, Oct. 23.