Talking The Future Of TV With Dan Harmon, Jonah Ray And Kulap Vilaysack

Seeso, NBC's new digital comedy channel, highlights both classic specials and original comedies.

Get ready for some comedic deep cuts.

Seeso is a new digital comedy channel from NBC, spearheaded by the network's executive vice president of digital content, Evan Shapiro. Seeso aims to be an oasis for comedy nerds, touting their library of classic comedy specials alongside NBCU's current lineup and innovative new shows, all with a Pandora-inspired user experience. The service, accessible with a monthly fee, is a blessing to comedians looking to make their dream show for a relatively accessible platform with a hands-off mentality.

The Huffington Post got to talk to comedians Dan Harmon, Jonah Ray and Kulap Vilaysack about their new shows on Seeso and what the platform hopes to achieve.

Dan Harmon, best known for creating and producing "Community," now has "Harmonquest," an animated version of his podcast, where he plays Dungeons & Dragons with his celebrity friends. Jonah Ray's "Hidden America with Jonah Ray" is an Anthony Bourdain-inspired travel show touring real cities with fake foodies. Kulap Vilaysack's "Bajillion Dollar Propertie$premieres March 17 as a half-hour, semi-scripted comedy following seven real estate agents in the cut-throat arena of luxury Los Angeles real estate. 


Did you write these shows for Seeso? Or we’re you them shopping around?

DAN HARMON: For me, I was trying to get something off the ground at Universal Cable Productions and Seeso was launching at the same time. It seemed like a fit to them, so they had me meet with Evan Shapiro, who was spearheading Seeso. He was just ready to go with it as opposed to basic cable, who wasn’t ready to do anything. So I liked the cut of his frosted jib. I liked what he had done at IFC. His reputation preceded him as a guy known for his taste.

I said, “Look, I have no idea if what you’re doing is going to be the next thing that fails like everything else, so what can you promise me that would make me not regret making this thing for you?" He said, “We’ll make it better than you could by yourself on the Internet.” In other words, we’ll put more money into it. And that was a very simple answer that made sense. 

JONAH RAY: My show was originally for TruTV. And then they asked, “What if you talked to real people?” And we said, “No. It’s a fake travel show.” They go, “Yeah, but we were thinking 'a funny travel show.” And then they offered us a lot of money to do another version. And that’s a typical thing that happens. You wanna make something and they go, “What about this?” So we walked away from that and we sent the pilot to Seeso. And they were like, “We like it! Let’s make some!” And it’s been the best. Working with them doesn’t seem like working with a network. It seems like working with a partner who you actually value their opinion.

KULAP VILAYSACK: For "Bajillion Dollar Propertie$" they were the sixth pitch meeting. My show is executive produced by myself, Scott Aukerman, Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant. And Seeso were the first ones to be like, "Kulap, we’re a fan of yours! We know about 'Who Charted?'" They also wanted it in the room. Other places that wanted it wanted a pilot and Seeso said, without a pilot, they wanted 16 episodes.

Kulap, your show is a take on Bravo real estate shows. Was there a specific show?

KV: "Million Dollar Listing: Los Angeles." And working with Thomas and Ben was great because they made "Reno 911!," which is spoof cops. But it was also a world to do sketches. Basically, that’s the model for our show. It follows seven realtors. One is the owner of the brokerage, played by Paul F. Tompkins, who is named Dean Rosedragon.

DH: I saw the art for that. He looks like a warlock.

Jonah, is your show going to be hosted by you or Jonah Ray trying to be Anthony Bourdain?

JR: It’s hosted by the shittiest version of myself I can think of. The idea that anybody has a travel show ... I always think of the amount of narcissism you would need to think, “You know what? People are gonna wanna watch me eat food!” I love Bourdain and those shows so much but I also love the overt pretension of just, “I’m gonna pontificate this dumb bullshit while getting to travel the world with my friends.”

Was there a specific episode that inspired you?

JR: Yeah, where he goes to Provincetown where he grew up.

DH: Wasn’t that about heroin?

JR: Yeah, the second half was a heroin documentary. Also, we tried to shoot it very well to look like a Bourdain show. But a lot like Kulap's show; it’s a secret sketch show. So I go to a certain place and it becomes a bit. The show is what happens when this guy tries to have a very self-important travel show and everybody keeps fucking it up for him. The producers, cameramen, everybody.

Where have you gone so far?

JR: First season will be: New Orleans, Boston, Chicago, Austin, Atlanta, San Francisco, Seattle and LA. Some stuff was very run and gun. One time we got kicked out of a cemetery in Chicago. There was a miscommunication about what we were allowed to do in terms of walking over tombstones. Other times we would be shooting in a restaurant and the owner would be like, “Oh, I didn’t know it was going to be like this. You guys gotta go!”

The thing I love about Bourdain’s is he makes it seem like he has a tight friend in every city.

JR: We call them “Bourdain Buddies.”

Do they wrangle that for his show? That can’t be real.

JR: I think they are his friends, but “friend” is a loose term.

And "Harmonquest" is an animated "Harmontown"?

DH: It’s a bit riskier than that. I feel so weird ,'cause these other shows sound like hits. That’s what else I like about Seeso, that they’re not trying to reinvent the wheel just because they’re new. They didn’t try to tap a bunch of experimental people and try to make what you can’t see on TV. Maybe it’s just really funny!

What makes me laugh so hard, just tears down my face, was Ricky Gervais’ show where he takes audio from his podcast with Karl Pilkington and animates to it. There is just something that pushes my buttons about animation to impromptu, real audio. The relationship between someone just babbling, just trying to make some point clear, and then an animator taking cues as if a genie is making what they say true. That and my love of role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons. The funny thing about those games is that we play them to seem heroic, but when you zoom into those games, it’s just a bunch of people arguing over how to get through a door. Everything is so confusing and nothing happens correctly.

We were playing RPGs on "Harmontown," and kids were animating it for free on YouTube. It verified the suspicion that this would be very funny while we were pitching the show. It’s celebrity guests in a multi-cam scenario sitting at a table in front of a studio audience. We start playing the game and you can always hear the audience reacting. But 75 percent of the time we’re cutting to an animated version of the characters doing their thing. Complicated enough?

No! It sounds great!

I believe in Seeso and would lie if I didn’t because I want it to be successful so I can keep doing this show. I think we’re seeing these baby Netflixes pop up because the old studios are just sitting on archives of stuff. If that turns out to be a thing, people like Seeso are going to win because they have curating and taste.

Evan is very clear about what he wants. He’s like this Steve Jobs. He’s doing a lot of things we’ve gleaned from Internet culture over the past 15 years. Like, when you go to the site it’s going to be already playing something. There’s a little bit of Pandora and Spotify because there’s a comedy genome formula they’re coming up with where they have people recommending things based on what you’ve watched. 

KV: You really get from Seeso this idea of curating. It’s a record shop, not Best Buy.

JR: Yeah when they had me in I would ask them what they had and the conversation ended up being me saying “well you gotta get THIS too!”

DH: I still haven’t seen a full-resolution version of "Garth Marenghi's Darkplace," which they have at Seeso. That’s what sold it for me. I said, “OK, but did you get 'Dark Place'?”

JR: AND the one that came after that, "Man to Man with Dean Learner."



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