NEW YORK — Evan Shapiro thinks you deserve to laugh more. Wherever you are. With hot- and cold-streaming comedy from any screen in reach.
He thinks Seeso, his new streaming comedy channel, will do the trick.
"We want to give you more and better laughter," he says, adding that when you log on to Seeso, a dose of comedy content is served to you with barely a moment's delay, "because we also want you laughing FASTER."
Shapiro is a former president of IFC and Sundance channels and was an executive producer of such laugh generators as "The Onion News Network," "The Whitest Kids U'Know" and "Portlandia."
A year ago he became executive vice president of NBCUniversal Digital Enterprises, and, jumping onto the OTT (over-the-top) video bandwagon, "We're launching this brand-new product, direct to the consumer, with 2,500 hours of content, 20 original series and a brand-new platform built from scratch. And we are doing it organically, from within, as opposed to making an acquisition."
Seeso may be a homegrown part of the Comcast empire, but its indie vibe is reflected in its offices on Manhattan's lower Broadway, many blocks removed from Rockefeller Center's Comcast headquarters, in an airy loftlike space where affirmations are scribbled on the walls alongside a sprawling humor taxonomy of planned Seeso content ranging from the British chat show "Man to Man with Dean Learner" to New York stand-up on "Night Train with Wyatt Cenac."
The ad-free Seeso, which officially launches Thursday, will be available by subscription for $3.99 per month. But if you're seeking laughs before then, a beta version is available for sampling.
"Seeso is not exclusively for a younger audience," says Shapiro, explaining that Seeso targets no particular demographic, but instead is aimed at a "psychographic": comedy fans of all kinds.
Its span of programing seems to bear him out.
Old favorites include "30 Rock," "Fawlty Towers," "Parks and Recreation," "Saved by the Bell," "The IT Crowd," both the British and U.S. versions of "The Office," and every season of "The Kids in the Hall." Next-day episodes of "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" and "Late Night with Seth Meyers" will be available, as well as all 40-plus years of "Saturday Night Live," "Monty Python's Flying Circus" and Python movies "The Meaning of Life," "Holy Grail" and "Life of Brian."
Initially, original fare will include "The UCB Show," from Upright Citizens Brigade founders like Amy Poehler; a dating/sketch-comedy series, "Dave & Ethan: Lovemakers"; "Sammy J & Randy in Ricketts Lane," a musical comedy about mismatched housemates (one an attorney, the other a puppet); and the animated "Cyanide & Happiness Show," based on the Web comic.
Shapiro promises a brand-new helping of stand-up every day and three to five new pieces of long-form content every week.
With this constant replenishment, Seeso is designed for regular check-ins, which might range from a burst of stand-up during your morning commute to an evening's film festival at home on your big screen.
"We're aiming to be a habit," he says.
The name for the channel was sparked during a brainstorming session when Shapiro and his colleagues nailed down the Seeso mission: Comedy concierges finding the good stuff and bringing it to you on whatever device you prefer.
"Then," recalls Shapiro, "someone said, 'How will they KNOW this is the good stuff?' I said, 'Come and SEE SO for yourself.'"
The timing for Seeso could be ideal: Viewers who long flocked to broadcast and pay-TV networks are now embracing big-tent streaming channels like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. CBS All Access, a subscription source for recycled CBS network programming, seized viewers' attention with its recent announcement that in January 2017 it will be the exclusive outlet for a brand-new "Star Trek" series.
Now comes Seeso, a channel laser-focused on comedy "at a point in time," says Shapiro, "when the world is so awful that comedy is more important than it's ever been."
He declines to specify how many subscribers Seeso is hoping for. Rather, he envisions his channel as a potent cultural provocateur.
"Our big measure of success is whether, a year from now, we are relevant," he declares. "If people aren't watching and talking about our content, that means we have failed."
But what if Seeso results in not only talk and viewings, but also such laughter that it causes breathlessness in its subscribers?
"That's not my problem," Shapiro replies with a grin. "I never said it was going to help people live longer."