Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The Future of Arrested Development

The cable list and special awards are going to have to wait, as I just got in late last night from Vegas (It was great, thanks for asking).

If'n you like Lost's soundtrack, this is a lot of fun. Michael Giacchino's music from season one is nearly peerless in the history of television (even if he's gone a bit too far over-the-top in season two).

But. . .there's important Arrested Development news afoot.

I think it's clear that this show is not for everybody and never will be, but I had hoped for it to get to the 85 episodes or so necessary to enter syndication. However, that's just not going to happen on Fox.

First, we get word that the show is going to air its final four episodes against the Winter Olympics opening ceremony (of all things). The opening ceremony is guaranteed to be one of the three top-rated broadcasts of the year (the Super Bowl and the Oscars being the other two. . .unless CSI does another Tarantino episode or Sasha Cohen randomly sends a trained bear after Michelle Kwan and thereby turns the figure skating finals into Kerrigan/Harding 2: This Time with Less White Trash). So when Fox says it's giving the show one last chance to see what it can do, what they're really saying is that they're looking for further justification of their cancellation decision.

And I swear I'm not bitter at them for canceling it. Really! They tried to find an audience for it for three years and couldn't. I think they just didn't know how to sell the show, but I'm not going to berate them for not knowing how. It's a TOUGH show to sell (just wait until ABC tries to sell Sons and Daughters -- possibly the best comedy since Arrested and equally complicated -- later this spring).

But anyway. . .

Fox's president Peter Liguori has said that the chances of Arrested coming back on Fox are very slim. So there you have it.

But he hasn't officially canceled it. And there's the rub for those of you wondering why the rumors of another network picking it up haven't come to fruition yet (I'm going to stop linking here because I'm drawing on a number of sources. If you question me on any point, feel free to use the comments section to say so and I'll do what I can to answer your questions with linkage in a later post).

As most fans of the show know by now, ABC and Showtime have both expressed interest in paying for a fourth season. For Showtime, the reasoning is easy. They need something to pair with Weeds, and they need to boost their subscription base. With HBO's general malaise and laurel resting, they probably also feel that the quick shot in the arm the rabid Arrested fanbase would give their network would help them at the Emmys and Golden Globes (HBO and Showtime don't base success on ratings; they base it on how many subscribers join to watch their programming -- it's easy to forget that The Sopranos was just the straw that broke the camel's back in vaulting HBO to its current colossal position; the network had several other hot shows, and Sopranos just cemented its reputation). They've got Huff performing at the Emmys (for some reason), and Weeds sure to do well as well (at least for Mary Louise Parker). But to truly convince the cognoscenti that refuse to watch television beyond HBO (which, I'll remind you, is not TV), they need to get that extra push. And Arrested would be a feather in the cap.

I don't know why ABC is interested. I have theories, but none of them make total sense, so I won't speculate.

But neither network can do anything until Liguori officially cancels the show. And he has until Fox announces its schedule in May to do so. I'm guessing he'll stall as long as he possibly can, hoping to kill the interest from other networks. As terrified as network heads are of failure, they're even more terrified of another network head picking up their castoff and turning it into a hit. And if there's one network that knows how to turn a show into a hit nowadays, it's ABC (R.I.P. Emily's Reasons Why Not).

So let's look at the situation as it currently stands. As far as I can see, there were five possible outcomes, one of which is probably dead. Let's look at them individually.

1.) The show is gone for good. After the inevitable low ratings on Olympic night, Liguori continues to say the network has to look at its development slate for fall 2006. He manages to stall long enough to make ABC lose interest and force Showtime to come up with another companion for Weeds. The show ends after three seasons, and Comedy Central picks up the cable rerun rights.

2.) NBC picks up the show. Last year, there was a prevalent rumor (that, admittedly, never seemed to move beyond Internet message boards and gossip sites) that NBC would pick the show up for a third season (this was when it was assumed the show was done for). It doesn't appear that this will happen. It's a pity, too, as it would be a natural fit in an evening with Scrubs, Earl and The Office.

3.) Fox picks up the show. I know. That second news article I posted makes this seem highly unlikely. But Fox IS in trouble, comedy-wise. Malcolm and 70s Show are ending this year. Bernie Mac seems likely to end. King of the Hill is done. Stacked looks to be on its way out too. That leaves the Sunday lineup, with The War at Home not making Fox terribly proud in any way, shape or form. There's NO WAY they'll fill all of these slots with new comedies, even if they bring back Futurama (which shouldn't happen until 2008 anyway). Maybe Fox will decide that if they order two more 13-episode seasons to put on after football (in a time slot that's frequently pre-empted anyway), they can get this to a syndication-friendly number and finally recoup their extensive investment.

4.) ABC picks up the show. I'm starting to think this is less and less likely. If Showtime picks this up and makes it a hit, everyone can say what was said from the start: It should have been on cable. If ABC does though, heads will roll at Fox. Liguori will wait ABC out, even though the rumor is that ABC has guaranteed a 13-episode season and has talked with creator Mitch Hurwitz about potential storylines (and, honestly, this show, Crumbs and Sons and Daughters could make for three-fourths of a dysfunctional family comedy night). Still, I don't think this will happen. ABC has pretty terrible comedy development still, but it won't want to play too many games.

5.) Showtime picks up the show. I'm tentatively leaning toward this happening for the reasons explained above. Purportedly, Showtime has promised TWO seasons. Tack on a third season (which would be the show's sixth), and you've got 92 episodes, just enough for syndication. Maybe Liguori can wait them out, though. And the show IS going to be a bit too expensive for Showtime, though a half-million more subscribers would make that up in a hurry.

Sorry to go so inside baseball, but I know many of you really, really care about this show. Again, if you have questions, don't hesitate to ask.

Tomorrow, something more reader friendly.

No comments: