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In Move From Web To TV, 'Childrens Hospital' Could Set An Example


Tonight one of TVs most eccentric comedies returns for its sixth season - Adult Swim's "Childrens Hospital." The show was co-created by former "Daily Show" correspondent Rob Corddry. It's about a troop of egotistical actors making a terrible drama about the world's craziest hospital. NPR TV critic Eric Deggans visited the set and says broadcast networks could learn a few lessons from this Emmy-winning comedy.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Let's try that action one more time, guys.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Filming moves fast on the set of "Childrens Hospital" mostly because the show, which is shot on a shoestring budget, has little room for messing around. But on this balmy afternoon, production's slowing down. That's because co-stars Rob Huebel and Megan Mullally, playing doctors fighting over an upcoming operation, can't stop cracking each other up.


ROB HUEBEL: (As Dr. Maestro) Not interested.

MULLALLY: (As Chief doctor) Yeah, but surgery's in two hours. If you don't take a dive, (groaning).


DEGGANS: Huebel blamed Mullally for their giggle fit.

HUEBEL: She does that to mess with you. Like, she knows like, once you laugh one time, it's the fun part of the job. Like, she'll start doing like, little stuff different every time just to like, mess with you, yeah. But it's really fun.

DEGGANS: That playful spirit is a trademark of "Childrens Hospital," a series original created for the Web by a bunch of performers and writers who were friends, led by comic actor Rob Corddry. Corddry hesitates to say the show's remarkable move from Web to TV started any trends in television comedy, but...

ROB CORDDRY: There is an evolution towards a different process, a different way of doing things, this being one of them. And you know, Netflix being another. And with each sort of step away from the normal thing, there's a level of freedom that creators get.

DEGGANS: Like casting The Fonz - better known as Henry Winkler - as a hospital administrator who welcomes back a doctor returning from jail with a curious pep talk.


HENRY WINKLER: (As Sy Mittleman) There he is. Welcome back. I'm so sorry, we had to re-zone your office as a public thought room, but you've always got a place here at Children's. Unless of course, your performance drops four percent, in which time you're out on your [expletive].

DEGGANS: Or "Modern Family's" Julie Bowen, playing the first lady stumbling on a secret hospital built in the White House basement to treat the president's illegitimate child.


JULIE BOWEN: (As First Lady) Is this a children's hospital? Are you a doctor?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) I don't - I wouldn't.

BOWEN: (As First Lady) Please do not waste my time trying to stumble into some dimwitted excuse.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) We're ghosts from the future.

BOWEN: (As First Lady) Oh. Well, why didn't you say so? Hey.

DEGGANS: Producer Jonathan Stern said this collection of stars riffing off each other feels a little like a satire of acting itself.

JONATHAN STERN: People are giving legitimately solid, meaningful, dramatic performances, but the fact that they're giving it about nonsense, I think, exposes a little bit of the artifice of acting.

DEGGANS: Corddry puts it more simply.

CORDDRY: I've always known that acting is easy and I've always - and the big lie that actors will tell you is that it's hard. Nobody wants to say that they're just kind of skating through and making all this money.

DEGGANS: But Corddry's modesty aside, "Childrens Hospital" turns expert actors loose in ludicrous parts that transform them into living cartoons. It's a perfect fit for Cartoon Network's Adult Swim programming block. David Wain, a producer and occasional actor on the show, said broadcast networks could learn from their example.

DAVID WAIN: There's an audience that just responds to something that is personal in a weird way, like, we make this stuff because we find it funny. You know, we're tireless in all the details of making this show as funny and as true to itself as it can possibly be.

DEGGANS: As the TV landscape gets more crowded with material from more places, the personal touch of shows like "Childrens Hospital" just might point the way to TV's future. I'm Eric Deggans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.