Formats Unpacked: Kroll Show
How a comedy sketch format built fans around spinoffs of its own spinoffs
I think there are three things people get from Formats Unpacked:
Insight - about formats and why audiences fall in love with them
Nostalgia - a reminder of a format you have forgotten you fell in love with
Recommendation - a format you haven’t heard of that other people have fallen in love with
For me, today’s unpacking definitely falls into the last category as a format I’d never heard of until it was recommended as one worthy of unpacking. How have I never heard of this before? It’s very funny and officially my next binge-watch.
The expert doing the unpacking is Grace Dobush. Grace is a freelance writer and editor. You can find her on Twitter or see her brilliant work as editor of the ReThink Quarterly, a publication we make for ADP. Grace previously unpacked The Classifieds.
Over to Grace…
What's it called?
Kroll Show was a sketch comedy show that aired on Comedy Central for three seasons, from January 2013 to March 2015.
What’s the format?
This is a real format’s format. Starring comedian Nick Kroll, Kroll Show was a satirical sketch show that parodied pop culture and reality TV, with segments blipping by as fast as you might switch channels.
What’s the magic that makes it special?
The attention to detail. The jokes come in so fast that the series only gets funnier with every rewatch as you catch more nested references. You’ll catch a character humming a jingle from an unrelated segment or wearing merch promoting another show. The opening title sequence itself is made up of dozens of notable trademarks remade as Kroll Show logos. An individual episode might have six or seven segments, many of them taking previous episodes’ segments further and further, creating spinoffs of spinoffs.
Ads for Kroll Show were designed to promote the fake shows nested inside of it. (Though that also might be why I didn’t discover the show until after it ended.)
For example, in the first episode of the series, we meet the deadpan Dr. Armond, California’s premier canine plastic surgeon, who is brought in to beautify an ugly pup. He gets his own show called “Armond of the House,” showing his life with his wife and son. After his divorce, his show pivots to be "Armond About Town,” and his son gets his own show called “Roman’s Empire,” and his dirtbag friend C-Czar gets his own spinoff and storyline, too. Later on, Armond is accused of murdering his new wife, and we get “Armond of the House Arrest.”
My favorite recurring segment is PubLIZity, which features Kroll and Jenny Slate as frenemy PR girls with a reality show. In the first episode of the second season, Pretty Liz forgets to pick up her niece Denise (masterfully played by Jenny Slate) from the airport, and Big Liz takes her out for some shopping. Niece Denise gets “discovered” by a photographer, and it goes off the rails.
It’s soooo good. I love it when Formats Unpacked becomes a discovery platform. Do you have a lesser-known format you think deserves more attention? I’d love to hear about it.
Thanks to Rise and Shine, On24 and Heartbeat, three really interesting organisations who were curious enough about Format Thinking to invite me to talk recently. If you’d be interested in hearing me evangelise about the power of formats do get in touch.
Finally - Last year Storythings launched First Draft - a pro-bono consultancy offer to small organisations that work with underrepresented communities. We mentored three different groups to help them develop formats that create change.
This year we're offering the opportunity to four more. If you fit the description then apply now, or if you know someone that you think would be right please share this with them.
That’s it for this week. See you next time.