In the very first scene of the very first episode of the new Comedy Central series, Broad City, creator/star Ilana Glazer is having some sex. The man she’s having it with, played by comedian Hannibal Burress, soon requests a State of the Union address on where things are headed. “This is purely a physical relationship,” Glazer responds, thus subverting the typical gender dynamic between female leads on TV shows and the men who pursue them. The way that the show managed to get on the air in the first place, however, signals a similar uprooting of traditional processes.
Glazer and Abbi Jacobson met studying comedy at New York’s Upright Citizens Brigade theater in the fall of 2006. After performing together in improv teams for a few years, the two figured it was in their best interests to create something all their own. They decided on a web series because, if nothing else, it would offer tangible proof to their parents that all the time they were investing in comedy was part of a trajectory. The quirky web series they came up with was a succinct encapsulation of their unique friendship, with a crackling energy and a lexicon all its own. Broad City soon became a place lots of people wanted to visit.
Like everybody else who starts a web series, Glazer and Jacobson had hopes to be able to turn theirs into a TV show. Unlike virtually every other web series–at least those not created by established entertainers–these two successfully made the transition. Furthermore, the stars maintained creative control all the way through, under the stewardship of executive producer Amy Poehler. It may be longer, and it may have commercial breaks, but the voice and tone of the web series are not only still present, but intensified.
As the show begins connecting with a broader audience, Co.Create caught up with its leads to find out how they positioned a web show to triumph on TV, and how things have changed since this plan came to fruition.
Ilana Glazer: During the webseries we were never viral. It was always just the quality of viewers. We just started to get a response from our community–the comedy community in New York–and that was enough to make us feel like it was something good and relatable and that we should keep making them.
Ilana: At the beginning of the second season, we just had a new attitude. We treated it like a TV show for the web, and gave ourselves a production schedule. We made it weekly instead of every other week, and supplemented the episodes with an additional video chat series clip in between. We also hooked up with a manager who gave us the confidence that this could be on TV, wrote a pilot, started a production company, and just developed this bigger scope for the project.
Abbi Jacobson: We were doing PR, writing blogs constantly, doing a photo shoot promoting each episode. Even, like, if we were catching a cab, we would keep the receipts if it was during a shoot. For what? I don’t even know what to tell you.
Ilana: We also started to pay our directors and editors in the second season. We started buying food for the shoot, and make it as professional as we could at the time. We made our own version of what would be a craft service area, just like chewy granola bars and stuff.
Abbi: We love to start from a real place, whether it’s us or our friends, or working on a story from a writers friend.
Ilana: I always write down in my phone when something happens, if I think it would be a good idea for an episode. I was recently looking through old Broad City ideas, and I found one that was just, “The girls are running around the city, looking for a cookie,” and it was based on when I worked at City Bakery and people would come in and get mad if there weren’t any half-price cookies at the end of the day.
Ilana: Amy Poehler apparently had known of the show when we asked her [through friend Will Hines] to film a guest role, which was really astounding to us. After we finished her episode, we were really proud of it, and it was the last one of the web series. So we just sort of went out on a limb and told her that we were planning to pitch the show for TV, and would she ever consider being an executive producer on the project, and she said yes.
Abbi: At the time, we had the web series done, and a short film, and we just thought it was time. If we’d thought we needed a third season, we would have waited to ask her, but it was fortunately the right time.
Abbi: We couldn’t pitch the show without having created one, at least one 20 to 25 minute version of Broad City. We wouldn’t know how to describe it.
Ilana: We already had a pilot script written, but when we went into the pitch process–when we sold it at FX–we ended up writing a brand new script. I’m really happy we did wrote that first one, though, because we needed to get it out of our system.
Abbi: I don’t think the characters were as well-rounded as they are now. in the first episode. Even the side characters. Now that we have more of the world defined, we know how to show a slice of the character that gives you a peek into their whole lives. But at the time, not having the 20-minute version of the world established, we were only showing obvious things about these characters, it wasn’t slick at all.
Ilana: There are way more characters and plotlines now, where there used to just be a little vignette of a story. Now there’s so much more detail.
Abbi: Deciding on the level of absurdity to take it is a challenge. We had a fantastical dream sequence in a webisode that ended with waking up in a rush, and then it turns out to be another dream, and it’s wake-up after wake-up after wake up, sort of playing on that cliché. We couldn’t do that for 21 minutes—we couldn’t even do that for a whole act.
Ilana: In the dream scene, we shot it with one camera. If we hadn’t shot the right amount of footage, it wouldn’t be a big deal. On the web, you make do, and the twists and turns aren’t as grand. Now, every scene is connected to the next scene and the next scene. It feels like it’s a big puzzle. If there’s one piece of footage that isn’t the way we thought it would be, it matters so much more.
Ilana: We had a room full of writers, and these people are our closest friends. They write for places like SNL, Funny or Die, and The Michael J. Fox Show. It’s really exciting to have a larger reservoir of experience to draw from for the show. It’s an intricate balance of policing your own brand, saying yes to some things, saying no to other things, making decisions quickly so that people don’t go down a path of building on an idea and then ten minutes later hand you a fully formed bit if it’s not right. You have to consider people’s feelings but then you also have to not do that at some point, when it comes to the voice of the show. It was an interesting social exercise and I learned as much as I learned in college
Abbi: Yeah, in about the same amount of time too.