7 Tips For Making A Hit TV Show, According To The Creators Of Broad City
Advice from Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson on going from YouTube to Comedy Central.
Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson are often described as YouTube sensations, having finessed the cult following for their Broad City web series into a hit show on Comedy Central. The pair talk a lot about the role their friendship played in the genesis of the show—”We’re always together,” they both say—but just as central to their success has been their use of the social web. During a fireside chat on the opening day of Internet Week New York, Glazer and Jacobson sat down with Marie Claire editor-in-chief Anne Fulenwider to discuss the humble origins of Broad City and how they harnessed the internet to their advantage. In their own words, here are seven tips and insights to help you manifest your own web-to-TV trajectory.
1. Find inspiration everywhere
ABBI JACOBSON: We go back and forth when we're trying to come up with material, whether we're basing it on us or it's back to New York. It's either what has happened to us or we think about New York stuff.
ILANA GLAZER: New York is in-sane. It's so funny. I was having a long argument, like a long, walking-across-the-island thing, and it was interrupted by just people walking across the street. And this guy's eating an ice cream cone and he says, "I like ANYTHING!" Anything? It's just like, "That's awesome. Thank you sir.”
2. Stand out in a saturated market
IG: I don't wanna sound like a dick, but I do feel like the market is saturated. But also good content stands out, no matter what. There's a lot of cats walking on two feet, but when somebody writes something really good and really funny, people share it and it's heard. You can't just be a cat on two feet, you have to be a cat on two feet whoh as a job, has a family, is multitasking!
AJ: It's also kinda like TV right now, it's so set. Like there's a channel for everything. And I think that's sort how the Internet has more specific content, and there's still room for more. You just have to find that specific voice, and then there's room for you.
3. Take social media seriously
AJ: I think we [benefited from] Facebook more than YouTube. I mean, it was on YouTube but Facebook was where people shared it. We come out of the UCB, the Upright Citizens Brigade. So we had this little community of people on Facebook that were sharing it. We had these early people that not only watched it but shared it. And that's what made the difference.
IG: We also tracked on Facebook and beyond. Like, my mom likes it, and then my mom's friend likes it. And we tracked it branching out. That was interesting.
4. Use your contacts
IG: When we were making the finale, we knew we were gonna go to L.A. and try to pitch the show. And so we were like, “Let's get someone to be in it.” We're from the UCB, as we said, so we thought: Amy Poehler. And we asked her.
AJ: We did some digging on the internet and found out she was in New York, and she crazily enough agreed to be in this web episode of ours. Which was, to this day, still the craziest thing ever. She shot with us—this was around 2011. And we sent her the episode, it was called "I <3 NY." It was a love letter to New York. We asked her if she'd ever consider being an executive producer. She said yes, and so that was crazy, so we went to L.A. that summer and pitched it. FX bought a script from it.
5. All your skills are valuable
AJ: I was doing a lot of blog outreach for different products for this little company [at my old job]. And so when we started the web series we thought, "Let's use these tools that we learned at these jobs." We created a spreadsheet for blog outreach. So each one of these web episodes—what did each one have that we could then tag and reach out with?
We were very used to being our own PR. We threw parties and all this stuff for the web series. Now in the TV realm, I think we still sort of have that mentality. I still have so many contacts on my phone that I got from a friend of mine from the Food Network. We have all these contacts that if we called them up they'd be like, "Who...?"
6. Sweat the small stuff
AJ: We all wear the same clothes over and over. But on a lot of shows, you never see them do that. So like, Ilana will wear Abbi's shirt or repurpose it, and it just makes sense. It makes [viewers] feel like [Ilana and Abbi] are real characters that would actually wear the same clothes.
IG: Our process is we write as detailed an outline as possible, and then go to script. We write a seven page outline and get notes on that, we go to script and get notes on that, there's a lot of passes with notes and emails and phone calls.
7. But the bigger picture's important, too
IG: We're sleeping, eating Broad City. But also I think this being the third season is that three makes a pattern. So we have this show, three seasons, and three parts: the writing, the shooting and the editing. But there's also coming to be this trajectory here. We're thinking about Broad City and we're also realizing now rather than just being like "Ah, thank God I'm here!" you also have to get past that and start planning more. Broad City is on my mind all the time. But we are just trying to plan more from this opportunity that we have.
AJ: Even in this Broad City world, I think this is the first season that we're really thinking a lot about the rest of the seasons. You know, it was so fun last season to plant seeds [in episodes] that are amazing callbacks and stuff. You can only do that if you plan seasons like that. And just to get [the plot] to be more meaty. We have plans to plant the seeds now so like, say we're in season five, people will be all "Oh my god, they did that."