There are a lot of reasons I’ve been closely following the reboot of Arrested Development scheduled for 2013. One of the big ones is seeing what will happen when Netflix picks up a show cancelled by a network and distributes new episodes (which they will also be doing with the short-lived Terra Nova).
In keeping with the Dan Harmon theme of yesterweek, I’m very curious about the Power of Fandom in the internet age of television, and what it has achieved in this case. It’s not news that ratings are the dinosaur of television trend-telling, since people no longer rush home from their insurance-selling jobs to have a scotch and watch Happy Days (clearly what everyone did from 1950-1999).
The majority of viewers watch television whenever, wherever, and however they like. They may not even know when a show actually airs in real time. So, the new million dollar question on the table is how to tell what’s resonating with them and what isn’t, and once we know that, what we do about it.
Arrested Development is an interesting case, because we can actually track its considerable influence on the vocabulary of television comedy since its cancellation. Shows like 30 Rock, Community and The Office all draw elements from it, whether it’s humor taken to logical extremes, jokes dependent on awkward silences, or even the prevalence of single-camera in the half-hour format (remember when it was just Friends and Seinfeld?).
We can also track the rabid fan community that’s grown up around the show in its absence (believe it or not, there’s an Arrested Development Wiki) that, given the accessibility of the first three seasons, continues to grow nine years after the network cancellation.
That’s right, it continues to grow – because people relate more and more to television as an on-demand phenomenon. Over time, television shows are controlled less and less by the networks. This Arrested Development move made by Netflix could mean that the ultimate network control – the television death sentence of cancellation or relegation to the time slot equivalent of Siberia – is slowly losing power.
This isn’t even taking into consideration the high-profile programs, like the Fincher-produced House of Cards, that are bypassing networks altogether and going straight to on-demand content providers.
As creators at this moment, it’s all good news, because we are in an in-between moment where all kinds of content are being thrown against the wall, simply because no one is quite sure what will work and what won’t. One need look no farther than the shows Hulu distributes to see the wide gamut of content made available.
However, I think it’s also a time to start figuring out where the market is going next, and get ahead of the curve when it coms to building a career. In my humble opinion, the true power is in the fan communities online, who not only watch shows but are influenced by them, which means long-term revenue in the form of show merchandise and episode sales – continuing long after the show is created and distributed.