Local actors’ comedy pilot wins NBC Digital contest

The winning team: Bobby Richards and Avery Lee

Actors, writing partners and friends Bobby Richards and Avery Lee are finally calming down over the deliriously joyful shock of having won the NBC Playground’s digital comedy pilot competition — the only Chicago entry among 2,000 competitors.

NBC Playground was designed to discover fresh new talent by inviting aspiring comedy writers across the country to pitch ideas.  Two winners would get their show on NBC Network and the Audience Award winner – Richards and Lee’s pilot — would become the first full-length web series on NBC Digital.

Their pilot, “Bobby & Iza,” which they produced with Cap Gun Collective, is about Richards essentially playing himself, a struggling Chicago actor trying to make enough money to marry his fiancée, Iza (Amanda Drinkall), as they also deal with meddling parents and navigating their own careers.

When the partners, who both trained and perform at iO Theatre, received the congratulatory call from NBC executives on Sept. 23, they were stunned.  “We didn’t expect to win. There was no way we could have won being up against fantastic comedies,” says Richards. 

But win they did, among five finalists, after a lengthy process that began more than a year ago when the partners learned about the contest.  To enter, they submitted two videos, one a 2-minute concept pitch and the other a 5-minute reel of their work.    

To their surprise months later, in January, they were notified that “Bobby & Iza” was one of eight semi-finalists.  So much time had passed and they’d been so engrossed in their careers, Richards says, “that we had to remember what the notification was for,”

Now that it was time to produce the pilot, Richards reached out to his friend Matt Abramson, Cap Gun’s executive producer, for production help.  “They were amazing,” Richards says of the Cap Gun crew, Abramson, producer P.J. Fishwick, director Alex Fendrich, DP Darryl Miller and The Whitehouse editors Matt Jameson and Dan Zabinski. 

Paskal Rudnicke Casting filled the pilot roles, with many of the actors coming from Gray Talent Group.

“Everyone worked so hard and did such a wonderful job,” says Lee.

Online voting for the five digital finalists Sept. 3.  Three weeks later NBC gave Richards the unbelievably good news. 

The partners expect to hear from NBC in November with production details, such as budget, when and where they will shoot — Chicago, needless to say, being their goal.

Since there’s no format for the new concept, “We will work with NBC to figure it out, so we’ll be pioneers in mobile entertainment,” says Richards, with a trace of awe in his voice as realization of what’s ahead is setting in.

They feel assured of the series’ quality, though, “as NBC has such success with comedic content and what we’ve done is unique to Chicago,” says Richards.

“It’s also nice that Avery and I will bring our own experience to the show.”

You can watch the pilot here