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In The Mix
May 29, 2015

The Portlandia Parlay

IFC's president charts a course for more comedies with a twist.

Jason Lynch

Losing one's identity can be terrifying, but it's the best thing to ever happen to IFC.

Under president and general manager Jennifer Caserta, the network shed its original moniker, Independent Film Channel, early last year. The new name capped IFC's 2010 transition — overseen by Caserta — from its indie-film roots to a mecca for smart, groundbreaking comedy series.

"It was a psychological flip of the switch that no longer gave people, or us, permission to revert to the past," she says, "Moving on was one of the biggest statements we could have made."

IFC, which launched as a Bravo spinoff in 1994, is now known for such comedic series as Portlandia (the Portland, Oregon-based satire from Fred Armisen, Carrie Brownstein and Jonathan Krisel) Maron (based on the life of comedian and podcaster Marc Maron) and Comedy Bang! Bang! (a spoof of late-night talk shows hosted by Scott Aukerman),

Caserta, who had previously worked for IFC as vice-president of marketing in 2004, returned in 2007 as executive vice-president of marketing, communications, scheduling and alternative programming (she also worked at Fuse and Court TV).

She was the chief architect of the channel's 2010 rebranding and its still-popular "Always On, Slightly Off" tag line, which highlighted IFC's new sensibility, one that Caserta calls "comedy with a twist."

One year later, Portlandia debuted and quickly became the channel's signature show.

"Early on," Caserta admits, "I wondered, how far can we take this? Will we run out of things to lovingly poke fun at? But Fred, Carrie and Jon continue to find things that remain incredibly relevant and funny in this world of organic farmers, meat curers and coffee shops."

She recently gave the show a two-season renewal: "As long as they want to keep going, we're in."

When she was promoted to president in 2012, "the biggest priority was, how are we able to parlay what we've done in this comedy space? So more original programming was key,” says the exec, who expanded the network's early success with sketch shows into "more scripted, narrative comedy" like Maron.

In what has become "an incredibly crowded space" — thanks to a comedy surge from competitors like Comedy Central, FX and FXX — Caserta is proud of IFC's "interconnection. When you look at the schedule, the tone doesn't vary much. It's a very particular comedic point of view."

The success of Portlandia "opened doors for us," she says. "It really did affect the pitches that came in and the talent who said, 'I like what you do. We'd like to work with you.'"

Now, IFC is in business with comedy titans like Will Ferrell (who executive-produced and starred in last year's miniseries The Spoils of Babylon), Denis Leary (executive-producing Benders, an upcoming comedy about amateur hockey players), Ben Stiller (executive-producing Start Making Sense, a comedy in development) and Saturday Night Live vets Seth Meyers and Bill Hader (who teamed with Armisen on a biographical series about fictitious subjects, tentatively called American Documentary),

Another key to attracting top talent to IFC: Caserta's own background as a dancer with New York City Ballet and at the High School of Performing Arts in New York City.

"I was never a stand-up comedian or an actress, but there's a real camaraderie between artists," she says. "I think that's why I'm able to establish relationships."

As she prepares for a busy summer of premieres — Maron returns for a third season May 14, followed by launches of American Documentary and The Spoils Before Dying, the follow-up to The Spoils of Babylon — Caserta is also planning IFC's next comedic evolution.

"What does a panel show, prank show, talk show or a green-screen show look like on IFC?" she muses. "We're really excited about exploring those avenues."

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