Don’t Spit the Water plans for TV
A live comedy show preps for the small screen.
It’s tough holding it in sometimes. For the contestants on Don’t Spit the Water, a weekly live game show that enjoyed a smash run at the Playground Theater from 2004–08, trying to contain a mouth full of water while the city’s finest comedians worked their hardest to make them laugh was damn near impossible. Show creator Steve Gadlin is also having trouble maintaining his calm. After a failed development deal with Comedy Central and a handful of options that went nowhere, his experimental game show is about to make its TV debut—maybe.
DSTW was the phenomenon that wasn’t supposed to be. In 2004, Gadlin and a group of friends had arranged to put up a sketch show at the Playground, but failed to write any material just four weeks before opening night. Pressed, Gadlin sat down one afternoon and mapped out an idea for a game show. “We had a dress rehearsal the day before it opened and we still hadn’t tested the concept,” he recalls. “We hadn’t put water in someone’s mouth and tried to make them laugh.” But audiences immediately clicked with the formula, and DSTW ran for four years.
Gadlin has since formed comedy incubator Blewt! Productions (Impress These Apes, Talkin’ Funny) while diligently shopping DSTW to various networks. By day, he’s the Web-development manager for Weigel Broadcasting, Chicago’s only independent television broadcasting company, which counts WCIU (by which I was briefly employed), MeTV, This TV and the U Too among its channels and sub-channels. After the Comedy Central deal and other options with various production companies went south, Gadlin pitched Weigel’s executive vice-president Neal Sabin. “He’s always been kind to give me the time of day about it,” says Gadlin. “But realistically, they don’t have the facility to produce this or the manpower.”
But Sabin made him a deal. If Gadlin produced a pilot on his own with no swearing or nudity, he’d take a look at it. “I asked him up front, ‘If I drop a finished pilot in your lap, will you promise to air it?’ He said sure.”
Since that time Gadlin has been working on a Kickstarter campaign asking fans and comics to participate in raising the estimated $6,000 needed to produce the show. The fund-raiser ends April 15, and if enough bucks are generated, the pilot will be shot at ComedySportz May 30 and aired on a TBD date.
Having the show produced and aired locally is Gadlin’s ideal. “My dream is that I want The Bozo Show for older people, a very accessible show that lets local comedians do cool, experimental stuff and be recognized for it locally,” he says. “Look at Svengoolie. He isn’t the funniest guy on the planet, but he’s Chicago and people can run into him at Dominick’s.”
For Sabin’s part, he warns about the cost of producing a show versus putting up reruns of Seinfeld, but says DSTW could work. “It all depends if there’s advertiser support,” he says. “If you could come up with enough revenue through Web, mobile and print elements, there is an opportunity to make it work because you can look for a little bit of money from a lot of sources. An aggregate could make it financially viable.”
What Gadlin needs first is $6,000, a full house at ComedySportz and a good time slot. “If Weigel were to take this show and move it beyond a pilot, some really cool things would happen,” Gadlin says. “Here’s an opportunity for us to take an idea and put it somewhere in its pure form. That’s what The Gong Show was. This would be something similar.”
The pilot films May 30 at ComedySportz. For donation information, visit dontspitthewater.com.