Vulture has learned that two years after Reno 911! was canceled by Comedy Central, Netflix is in discussions with the show's producers about possibly getting Lieutenant Dangle back into his short shorts for more episodes.
It’s still a long shot, but there’s a ray of hope. Producers Michael Shamberg and Stacey Sher have been in active discussions with Netflix about reviving the comedy, though they caution that a deal isn't yet sealed with co-creators and stars Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garant, and Kerri Kenney-Silver. There are other hurdles, too. John Landgraf, the show’s former executive producer and now general manager at FX, notes that Comedy Central owns the copyright; they would need to agree to let the new episodes appear exclusively on Netflix, at least initially. And, of course, there’s the matter of making a deal with its trio of creators. Their manager, Peter Principato, says that talks with his clients are only just beginning, and cautions it’s too early to say whether they have any interest in returning to Reno 911!, let alone whether a deal will be made. “The show is exceptionally cheap to produce,” says Landgraf. "So the financial structure of a deal, which is usually the hardest thing, ironically, may actually be the easiest.” (As of its sixth season on Comedy Central, an episode cost only $600,000, whereas many shows today run into the low millions of dollars.)
The Reno 911! talks actually predate Netflix's efforts to land new episodes of the similarly cancelled Fox series Arrested Development. In June, Shamberg and Sher (Contagion, Pulp Fiction, World Trade Center, Erin Brockovich) e-mailed Netflix’s chief creative officer, Ted Sarandos, to compliment him on his recently made deal with David Fincher and Kevin Spacey to remake the BBC hit House of Cards for Netflix. And the producers were interested in doing something with his service, too.
Soon all three were seated at Sarandos's offices on Maple Drive in Beverly Hills, talking about what might work for Netflix, and it didn't take long for him to zero in on Reno. “Online merchants know everything about you,” Shamberg tells Vulture, “Do you like red socks, or do you buy green socks? They know the type of T-shirts I buy. The metrics on the Internet are so precise, and people like Netflix can tell you what’s popular.” A few keystrokes on Sarandos’s laptop showed that Reno 911! had always been a popular Netflix title. “When he said, ‘You could do more Reno,’ we became very interested,” recounts Shamberg. “We never quite had enough [episodes] for a complete syndication package.” The show ended after six seasons with just 88 episodes — enough to get it into syndication, though fewer than its producers and syndicating TV stations would have liked.
“The real next step is finding out if Tom and Ben even want to do it,” explains Shamberg. “But it’s definitely a realistic possibility.” Garant and Lennon are very busy, having carved out fairly robust careers as feature screenwriters: They wrote both Night at the Museum films for Ben Stiller, and their script The Machine is currently in pre-production at MGM, with Vin Diesel attached to star. However, it should be noted that upon the show's cancellation in 2009, Garant said, "If they hadn't fired us, we honestly never woulda quit. I love doing Reno. It was fun. it was good. People loved it. I woulda kept doing it for years."
One thing is clear, though: Services like Netflix and Hulu are sure to continue to perform CPR on canceled cult TV series as more and more of their business depends on content not available elsewhere. Already, 60 percent of the content streamed on Netflix is TV shows. Despite their mutual rooting for a new season of Reno 911! on the service, Landgraf and Shamberg differ markedly on whether streaming will become the superhighway of television or merely a side street. “Media commentators and young hipsters aside, I believe the vast majority of people don’t want to curate their experience when it comes to television,” insists Landgraf (with a surety you might expect from a network chief). He adds, “I would literally bet my house on that.”
Shamberg is a bit more bullish on Netflix: “A show like Reno: 911! has a specialized audience, and there’s no reason to think that a specialized audience wouldn’t matriculate to other platforms,” says Shamberg, adding, “‘Product’ and ‘process’ are not the same thing. If you were Polaroid and thought your product was ‘film,’ well, then you go out of business. But if you think your business is ‘images,’ well, then you get into digital photography. I don’t know that [Netflix] is reinventing the entertainment industry, but the old models are breaking down, and money’s tight, so everyone’s trying everything.”