EXCLUSIVE: Comedy Central has ordered Jon Benjamin Has a Van to series with a 10-episode order. The pickup caps a great week for Benjamin who landed his first Emmy nomination on Thursday for his voice work as the title character on the FX animated comedy Archer. And with the pickup at Comedy Central, Benjamin now plays the title character on 3 series, Jon Benjamin Has a Van, Archer and another animated comedy, Fox’s midseason entry Bob’s Burgers, in which he voices the central character Bob Belcher.
Jon Benjamin Has a Van is a newsmagazine-style sketch show starring Benjamin as an investigative reporter hitting the streets in his custom van to do human interest stories. Absolutely Prods. is producing the series, with Benjamin, Andrew Steele and Funny or Die executive producing. “The show is largely scripted with a touch of improv, said Kent Alterman, head of original programming and production for Comedy Central. “It has its own identity and comes out of Jon finding different ways to tell stories.” Alterman first developed a project with Benjamin during his first stint at Comedy Central as head of the New York development office a decade ago.
Jon Benjamin Has a Van was inspired by videos Benjamin did for Midnight Pajama Jam, his live comedy show with Jon Glaser. Through his relationship with Comedy Central via The Important Things with Demetri Martin, on which Benjamin has served as a writer/producer/performer, he showed the videos to the network’s executives who ordered a pilot based on the concept. It was one of 9 pilot/presentations Comedy Central announced as part of its 2010-11 development slate in May. “Part of the show is playing the character, a more morose verson of me, but mostly it is me driving around in a van and finding stories along the way,” Benjamin said. While the show is less about Benjamin and much more about the people he encounters, either in man-on-the-street quick hitters or more extended scripted interviews, there is a slight parallel to Borat. “It’s Borat without the funny accent, I don’t’ have that in my range,” Benjamin said. “But we’ll try to do a lightly European accent.” The series will be blending “real and concocted” segments leaving people guessing which parts are scripted and which are not, Benjamin added. “Hopefully it will develop into a drinking game.” For Benjamin, who has built a solid voice-over career with stints on Dr. Katz, Family Guy and Archer, among others, this marks the first on-screen starring vehicle. “It will be a grave disappointment (for fans),” he said. “I’m cute but not the best thing to look at.”
Jon Benjamin also marks the third new series order for Kent Alterman since he took the programming reins of Comedy Central at the beginning of the year. It joins upcoming series Workaholics and The Onion Sports Show, slated for debuts in 1Q 2011. Jon Benjamin is expected to start production in New York (guerilla-style segments) and Los Angeles (scripted sketches) in the fall for a summer 2011 premiere. Summer has proven a strong launching pad for Comedy Central this year with the return of Futurama and the summer season of Tosh.0 doing great in the ratings. Benjamin is with CAA which reps all parties involved.