HRTS Member Profile: Scott Landsman
Scott Landsman is Vice President of Comedy Development at Sony Pictures Television. I recently had a chance to sit down with Scott to discuss Amazon, Mel Brooks and ZOMBIELAND.
Q: Can you tell us about your background and what made you want to work in TV?
-it started at a very early age. Growing up outside Chicago, it was always comedy for me. I was drawn to listening to my dad’s Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner 2000 YEAR OLD MAN albums, and I would buy all the Steve Martin albums. I watched pretty much every sitcom on TV, and SNL, Carson, etc, as well as all of the great feature comedies. Basically, I watched way too much TV.
I think the big “ah ha” moment was when I was watching a SOAP marathon on Comedy Central with my good friend who was going through a tough time and I saw how it actually helped him break out of a funk, which was pretty powerful. That’s when I decided I wanted to work in TV, specifically in comedy. I was training at Second City and ImprovOlympic at the time, which was an invaluable experience, but I really wanted to get into comedy development. My first job in the business was at Comedy Central in New York as a P.A. in On-Air Promos. I ended up back at the network in LA ten years later in development, with other development jobs in between. I’ve been at Sony Pictures Television now for almost two years.
Q: What do you look for when developing a new show?
-it all comes down to the creator’s specific voice and point-of-view. That’s what separates great shows from the rest, as with MODERN FAMILY and SEINFELD and the greatest comedies of our time. Not to over-simplify, it just has to be really funny with great characters and stories that we’re going to get invested in.
Q: When developing new material at what point do you sense that you might have a hit?
-it’s such a moving target, there are too many factors at play and you never really know - the stars have to align. You hope that you’re starting from a genuinely funny place, and with the level of writers, talent and producers that we work with, you try to create these “undeniable packages”. But even then there’s really no telling what’s going to resonate. There are no guarantees, I wish there were – would make things a lot easier.
Q: You are working with Amazon to develop their first original scripted offering, a show based on ZOMBIELAND. What is the process like in working with them versus a traditional network?
-it’s a new frontier and it’s really exciting to be a part of it. The beauty of it is that it’s completely uncensored, so it’s more like developing for cable. And, unlike a traditional network, Amazon doesn’t have a development cycle that they’re adhering to. It just so happened that we were developing ZOMBIELAND on the same cycle as the broadcast networks. That’s just how it all kind of played out timing-wise.
The ZOMBIELAND pilot, along with a bunch of other pilots Amazon Studios is doing now, will be distributed as a free offering on Amazon Prime around mid-April. They’ll test them online versus a traditional focus group and Amazon will make their decisions based on those test results mid-May.
Q: With a proliferation of new professional buyers, from Amazon to Netflix to Hulu, how does this change the game?
-it makes the buying landscape more competitive and just gives you more opportunities to set up projects that might not fit a particular broadcast or cable network’s needs. With Sony being an independent studio, we can sell anywhere. We view that as a real asset.
Q: Where do you want to be in five years?
-there are 50 joke answers here but the straight one is I’d like to be involved with the development of the best comedies on television.
Q: Anything you’d like to add?
-I feel lucky that from an early age I gravitated to comedy and every day I get to wake up and do that for a living. Yes, you’re putting out “comedy fires” every day but that goes with the territory. I’m just thankful I get to do what I love.