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Comedy Producer Looks to Field Sports Content

Burbank’s New Wave Entertainment made its first splash in Hollywood by marketing studio movies. Then it swam into talent management and TV production.

Its most recent success came from taking a deep dive into producing stand-up comedy specials. Last year, the company did 33 of them – nearly triple the previous year’s output – featuring performers such as Aziz Ansari of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” and actor Kevin Nealon.

Now, New Wave is about to surf on sports-themed programming after its purchase of New York production company P3 Entertainment.

Brian Volk-Weiss, head of production at New Wave, said the move into sports is a natural extension.

“There is a lot of commonality between sports and comedy,” he said. “It’s a closed-loop world, but if you can get in there, you can do a lot.”

New Wave produces TV series including “Stevie TV,” a VH1 series starring YouTube personality Stevie Ryan, and “Forever Jones,” a reality show about a gospel group in Louisiana that airs on cable channel Bounce TV. But much of its recent growth has come from producing the stand-up specials, which are sold to Comedy Central, Showtime and Netflix. New Wave plans to produce more than 45 of them this year, featuring performers such as Ansari and former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Jim Breuer this year.

The comedy specials are now a $20 million-a-year business, said Volk-Weiss, who declined to disclose financials for the other productions. New Wave in Los Angeles has about 210 full-time employees across its businesses and hires about 125 more to work on specific shows during production. The New York office, formerly P3, has about a dozen full-timers and hires up to 30 more as needed.

Now, with the P3 acquisition, the company takes over that pipeline of content, such as “MLB Fan Cave,” a series that features skits and performances from Major League Baseball players and other celebrities. It airs on MLB Network and MLB digital sites.

One idea is to integrate New Wave’s comedic talent into such sports-themed productions.

“We can look at this roster of comedians and start seeing what we can do,” said Todd Pellegrino, a co-head of production in New York and co-founder of P3. “We see who’s a fan of what team. The comic wants to meet the player and we get a good piece of content.”

New Wave had been looking to expand into New York for years but abandoned a previous attempt during the financial meltdown a few years ago. The company revisited the strategy last year and Volk-Weiss said he evaluated 11 potential acquisitions before picking P3.

Talent transition

New Wave was founded in 1993 and known initially for its movie marketing department. The company diversified in 2003 with its purchase of talent management firm Barry Katz Entertainment. The deal brought talent managers Katz and Volk-Weiss to New Wave, along with their roster of big-name comedians including Jay Mohr and Dane Cook.

But the talent management side took a hit when Katz left New Wave in late 2011 and took clients including Mohr, Cheri Oteri and Paul Rodriguez. New Wave still manages some comedians as well as writers, showrunners and actors.

Most of New Wave’s comedy specials feature comics managed by other firms. Volk-Weiss said he has to reassure other managers that New Wave will not poach their comedy clients and has gone so far as to avoid signing comedians who have recently severed ties with their management.

In producing the specials, he said he uses lessons from his days as a manager on how to keep the talent happy. The strategy also includes a willingness to take risks by producing specials for up-and-coming talent, such as comedian Moshe Kasher, whose 2012 special released to Netflix was produced by New Wave.

“We went in when nobody else would go in,” he said. “Moshe’s is one of the highest tracking specials. That’s what we’re proud of.”

Volk-Weiss said New Wave has a number of TV shows in development, some of which take a sports focus, and that he can now shop them to more outlets than previously. For example, he’s shopping a pitch video for an unscripted health and wellness series about a young yoga guru who lives in Vermont.

Michael Mandt, a partner at Hollywood production company Mandt Bros. Productions, who has worked on such sports-themed shows as “Jim Rome Is Burning,” said the P3 deal was smart.

“It’s a great acquisition,” he said. “Sports programming is valuable and indispensable in many aspects to a network.”

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