LOS ANGELES—Responding to the explosive growth of the U.S. prison population, WB executives announced Monday that the network will soon launch a new sitcom targeting the nation's approximately 1.8 million incarcerated TV viewers.
"America is fast becoming the most jailed nation on Earth, with prisons packed to capacity and a swamped, inefficient judicial system that is ill-equipped to keep pace with the ever-growing crime rate. Clearly, something had to be done," said WB vice-president of programming Grant Bachman. "And what better way to address this serious crisis than with the outrageous new comedy In Da Yard!, debuting this week as part of the WB's 'Lock-Down Thursdays'?"
"U.S. prisoners," Bachman added, "represent a powerful demographic that this nation's entertainment industry can no longer afford to ignore."
Described in WB promotional literature as "a hysterical look at the nutty goings-on in a typical American maximum-security federal correctional facility," In Da Yard! will give the nation's nearly two million convicts the chance to "follow the weekly adventures of a zany bunch of hardened killers, drug offenders, B&E men and wacky, psychotic rapos" just like themselves.
"It's basically a show about living and learning in the '90s in prison," Bachman said.
Advance advertising figures for the show are said to be "very promising," with several high-profile accounts already secured and airtime pre-sold for most of the show's initial six-week run.
"U.S. inmates spend more than $5 billion in cigarettes each year, using them to buy everything from toilet paper and de-lousing shampoo to playing cards and dice," said Bryce Kelso of Advertising Age. "They're a prime, untapped consumer market that any smart advertiser would want to reach. The fact is, every day this vast market continues to go untargeted is millions more dollars in lost revenue. That's a harsh economic reality, and we cannot turn a blind eye to it. It must be faced."
Added Kelso: "Do you realize that the average rapist is out on the street and in stores in just five years?"
The first six episodes of In Da Yard!, WB officials said, have been extensively focus-grouped on a wide variety of felons at some 70 maximum-security facilities across the U.S. The show has reportedly scored high among all major prison demographics, from armed robbers to child molesters.
Particularly popular among focus groups was the debut episode, in which main character Detroit Ray, sentenced to life without parole for the murder of his wise-cracking landlord, finds himself desperately trying to fend off impending group anal-rape in the prison shower.
"It's great, over-the-top physical comedy," WB president Dan Vittolo said. "And it really seemed to hit test audiences where they live."
Future plotlines include a side-splitting mix-up when Ray's buddy Jorge pretends to be his "bitch" to impress a visiting cellmate; Ray slashing the wrong guard "just because he's too proud to admit he can't see without glasses"; and a full-blown prison riot "gone totally haywire."
"I thought there was going to be a riot right there in the screening room after that one," Vittolo joked.
"We feel confident that we can provide the swollen, overcrowded ranks of the U.S. prison system with characters and situations they can truly relate to," said Miles Forrest, recent Harvard graduate and In Da Yard! head writer. "The difficulty of sneaking a spoon out of the cafeteria to sharpen on a concrete floor; the silly shenanigans that ensue when someone smuggles in heroin inside their rectum; the overworked, underpaid guards and their nutty, sadistic foibles; and the goofy rivalries between warring, tattooed prison gangs—whatever's funny."
What's more, In Da Yard! executive producer Ira Clausner said, the audience for such prison-themed fare will only grow in the coming years.
"The U.S. prison population has doubled in the past 12 years and will probably do so again over the next 12," he said. "With that kind of grim reality working in our favor, we can't lose. Numbers don't lie, and these alarming figures, the result of years of social neglect and public apathy, paint a very bright picture for the future of the WB."
Vittolo agreed. "The number of U.S. inmates now stands at an all-time high," he said. "We'd be fools to just stand around and watch things get worse without lifting a finger to capitalize on the situation."