You’ve probably already heard this weekend’s big news that, in addition to the long-gestating Arrested Development movie, Mitch Hurwitz and company intend to create a 10-episode fourth season of the cult favorite show. Several obstacles stand in the way of these forthcoming projects (the cast’s busy schedules, writing the scripts to the new season and the movie, filming what’ll amount to six or seven hours worth of new content, etc.), but none of the tasks at hand are more crucial than selecting the right TV network to carry the 10-episode mini-season. While it’s hard to imagine any of the Big Four networks are chomping at the bit to resurrect what was initially a little-watched show for a limited 10 week run, plenty of cable networks and streaming services would kill to have a show with such a huge cult following under their banners - even if it’s just temporary. It’s still up in the air as to which network will be airing Arrested Development’s fourth season when and if it comes to air, but 2013, the earliest possible date it would make it to airwaves, is still a long way away.
20th Century Fox, the studio that produced Arrested Development, still owns part of the rights to the show and Fox Searchlight is backing the film, but Arrested Development will probably air outside of its old home at the Fox network – if and when it returns. It’ll be tricky to get Fox to work together with another network to negotiate the simultaneous production of the fourth season and the movie, but it’s not an insurmountable task. At this stage in the game, Arrested Development’s forthcoming season could end up anywhere on the TV dial (Showtime and IFC are the leading contenders) or on a newer media platform like Netflix.
The Fox network
Arrested Development’s original home, the network that give it life and took it away, doesn’t seem like too likely of a place for the new season to wind up. The ratings the Bluth family pulled in weren’t large enough to please Fox, who trimmed the show’s episode order during its second and third seasons due to unsatisfactory Nielsen levels. With the renewed interest in the show that occurred post-cancellation with Arrested Development becoming a smash hit on DVD and Hulu, as well as the rising careers of stars like Jason Bateman and Michael Cera, the show should pull in a wider audience than it did when it last aired in 2006. Just because the show’s viewership has grown, however, doesn’t mean that it can pique the interest of the same network that airs American Idol, TV’s number one show.
A more logical way to keep Arrested Development under the Fox umbrella (and to eliminate potentially-messy negotiations between Fox and a third party) is placing the show on Fox’s basic cable network FX. Over the past six years, FX has developed a slate of critically-acclaimed comedies that would compliment Arrested Development nicely. These shows, such as It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Louie, and Archer (which has featured the voices of multiple Arrested alums), each air seasons that are shorter than those on the big broadcast networks and could match up with Arrested Development’s limited 10-episode run nicely. I know I’ll probably make a few comedy nerds’ heads explode by pontificating about an Arrested Development-Louie block, but it’s worth it.
When Arrested Development was cancelled way back in 2006, Showtime was the top contender to pick the show up, if Mitch Hurwitz had elected to continue. Hurwitz passed on the opportunity, but Showtime has re-emerged as the most feasible option for carrying the new season. Adding to the probability of Showtime picking up the series is the fact that the network’s new president is David Nevins, who was a producer on Arrested Development during its initial run. Showtime and Netflix are the only entertainment providers that 20th Century Fox has reportedly had discussions with about the fourth season, so far.
Along with Showtime, Netflix seems to have emerged as one of the strongest candidates in this race. Netflix has only recently begun to branch out into original programming this year, when the network outbid HBO and AMC for the rights to the upcoming Kevin Spacey-David Fincher political drama series, House of Cards. Picking up the new season of Arrested Development could be a way for Netflix to curb all of the bad press that’s come its way in recent months and to lure back in any ex-subscribers who are fans of the series. Because of its frequent call-backs and in-jokes, Arrested Development was (is?) a show that is best enjoyed when watching episodes in quick succession – which accounts for its overwhelming popularity on DVD – and Netflix would be able to provide viewers with a more satisfying way to see the show than the networks can.
While IFC hasn’t had any formal talks with 20th Century Fox over picking up the new season, the network has held the cable rights to Arrested Development since 2009 and is said to be interested in producing the new season. After snapping the rights to Arrested Development, IFC also purchased reruns of just about every other cancelled-but-great TV comedy ever, creating a kind of comedy nerd Mecca in the process. New episodes of Arrested Development would be a fitting addition to the cable channel’s comedy lineup (which also includes The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, which features Arrested stars David Cross and Will Arnett) and it would be nice to be able to watch the entire series on one channel; but IFC doesn’t exactly have the money or the viewership it would take to lock the show down.
Along with Showtime, ABC was the other network that considered picking up Arrested Development in 2006, before Mitch Hurwitz opted not to continue the series right away. At the time, ABC was struggling to find a strong comedy hit, but the Alphabet Network is in a completely different place now. ABC currently has a popular Wednesday night comedy block, anchored by Modern Family, one of the highest-rated comedies on TV and one that sometimes feels like a watered-down riff on Arrested Development. ABC underwent a major regime change last year, installing a new president, meaning the network brass who were eyeing Arrested Development five years ago have moved on. While Arrested Development would be a nice addition to ABC’s Wednesday night lineup, it’d be risky for a broadcast network that’s doing pretty well with comedy already to buy an expensive show for such a short commitment. By avoiding a big network like ABC or Fox, and instead opting for cable, Mitch Hurwitz and company have a better chance of pleasing the fans (and themselves) by creating the new series in a smaller arena that would bring limited interference from studio execs.
Arrested Development’s new season is going to be a high-profile affair, but that doesn’t mean that every network is interested. Comedy Central was responsible for resurrecting another Fox refugee, Futurama, but the network already knew its audience had an appetite for the show because they’d been airing high-rated reruns for years. On the other hand, most new Comedy Central shows don’t last beyond 10 episodes anyways, so putting together a show that’s actually intended to have such a short run would be a nice move by the network. Adult Swim has recently developed a full slate of offbeat live action shows, but they’re mostly 15-minute affairs that are produced on shoestring budgets. Plus, the Cartoon Network’s after-hours operation couldn’t afford an expensive show like Arrested Development. Starz created its own quickly-cancelled critical darling with Party Down but has strayed away from comedy ever since and doesn’t appear to be looking for another sitcom.
HBO and AMC are the two most-revered homes for critically-acclaimed, high-quality programming like Arrested Development, and AMC just announced plans for its first comedy in years yesterday; however, these two networks tend to create their own shows in-house and wouldn’t be interested in taking another channel’s leftovers. NBC and CBS, the other broadcast networks, seem like unlikely suitors, too. While Arrested would fit in nicely with NBC’s current batch of single-camera, laughtrack-free sitcoms, I can’t imagine the show sandwiched in between Two and a Half Men and Mike and Molly on CBS. TBS branded itself an all-comedy network a few years back with the grating catchphrase “Very Funny,” but the network hasn’t been getting the high ratings it intended from bringing Conan O’Brien over from broadcast TV – and bringing another beloved comedy property to the network doesn’t seem like a likely move.
The bottom line
All in all, Showtime and Netflix seem to be the primary competitors for Arrested Development’s new season, with IFC having emerged as a dark horse. Fox will have the opportunity to hold onto the show – either for itself or fellow News Corp. subsidiary FX – before handing it over, but, given that the network is already in talks with Showtime and Netflix, they don’t seem too interested.
Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles, who would be happy to have the Arrested Development cast perform the new season in his living room, if all else fails.