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Drunk History: How the Online Show Hit the Basic Cable Big Time

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The only other change Waters and Konner added was making the videos bigger and more impressive, as Konner puts it. With the deep pockets of basic cable behind them, there was money for costumes, a skilled union production team, and locations that aren’t friends’ houses. But they didn’t go overboard with the money.

“It’s nice to be able to go, ‘Hey, let’s actually go out to a little old Wild West town and shoot Billy the Kid in the Wild West town. Why not?’” Konner says. “We did always want it to feel a little low budget. We never wanted to go 100 percent with things. I think that was always part of the joke, and we didn’t lose that.”

More attention brings more critics, however, and Waters and Konner have occasionally been accused of glorifying alcohol.

“People have definitely brought up the question, ‘Is this okay to be showing this?’” Konner says. “I think my response is always, ‘Do we really make it seem that much fun?’ Is this really glorification? It looks more like a cautionary tale to me. ‘Oh, kids, if you drink this much you’re going to vomit a lot and pass out and look like a f---ing terrible mess on television.’ I don’t see a lot of glorification. Plus, they’re in their homes and they’re talking about history. Compared to any episode of Real Housewives, everybody’s drinking 20 times more than [our] people are drinking. I think this is one of the tamer things on television, actually.”

As of this writing, Drunk History’s first season on Comedy Central is almost over, and Waters and Konner don’t know if there will be a second. They’re hopeful, and Konner says the ratings have been solid. Certainly the fans are hopeful too. There’s something about Drunk History that viewers connect with instantly, Konner has found. It’s not just that viewers love the idea; they also see a little of themselves in the show.

Guest stars on the first Comedy Central season of Drunk History read like a who’s who of contemporary comedy, including Luke and Owen Wilson, Bill Hader, and Aubrey Plaza (left), who starred in the “Sacajawea” segment. 

“People have come forward so much saying that they want to do them,” Konner says. “I think Drunk History has tapped into a feeling like it’s just you -- this could be you. You could be a guy in your living room telling a story and then we’ll re-enact this insane thing with big actors and production design to your drunken rambling. I think it taps into this thing where people really feel like, ‘Oh, maybe I could do this. Let me tell a story, guys, I have such a good story.’

“Everybody has a part of history that they’re passionate about. I really do believe that. You talk to people and you go, ‘What’s your favorite story?’ and everybody says, ‘Oh, I have no idea. I don’t know anything.’ And then as you start to talk to them more and more you realize everybody’s got a little something.”

This article appears in the October/November 2013 issue of Streaming Media magazine as "Drunk History: A Popular Online Show Hits the Basic Cable Big Time."

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