One of the countless memorable entries from the Onion’s satirical news compilation Our Dumb Century was the 1977 headline, “Elvis Dead. Is Elvis Alive?” It’s a quirky little existential paradox, and it neatly sums up the fate of Other Space, which ran for one short season on Yahoo! Screen.
Yahoo! Screen, for the many of us not in the loop, is the tech giant’s little-known and even-less-accessed streaming service in the vein of Netflix and Hulu. And a while back, Yahoo! Screen greenlit Other Space, a sci-fi comedy created and produced by Paul Feig (writer and director of Ghostbusters, Spy, Freaks and Geeks), which follows the adventures of a dysfunctional exploration crew whose starship is lost in an unknown universe. CinemaBlend named Other Space “The Next Great Comedy,” with Rolling Stone declaring it one of the 20 best TV shows of 2015. (Sandwiched between Archer and Last Week Tonight, no less.) Here’s a quick promo:
The above praise is well earned. Other Space succeeds courtesy of inspired storytelling, witty-as-hell dialogue, and a bevy of talented fresh-faced actors. Think of it as The Office in space, where a high-stakes premise is grounded by readily-identifiable yet delightfully immature co-workers. Bonus points for its deference to the genre: This is a sci-fi comedy, not a comedy spoofing the conventions of sci-fi.
Of course, accolades don’t amount to a hill of beans when pretty much nobody has seen your show. Two key reasons for the crushing anonymity. Reason one: Yahoo didn’t promote it in a particularly conventional way. “They had made verbal commitments about levels of advertising they would do, but in the end they basically just advertised within Yahoo,” explains Other Space showrunner Owen Ellickson. “So unless you were playing Fantasy Baseball, you wouldn’t know it existed.”
Reason two: Yahoo! Screen shuttered its doors a few months after Other Space premiered. Just as with Euro-Krustyland in The Simpsons, it blew up. Not literally, but you get the idea: The business model fell apart, and Yahoo! Screen, in all its errantly-punctuated ambition, failed to become the next lucrative streaming service.
This inconvenient truth isn’t being dredged up as a slight to the Yahoo execs, whom Ellickson and Feig say took a risk on bringing Other Space to the small screen, spent several million dollars in the process, and were by all accounts quite charming and amenable the entire time. Yahoo! Screen’s failure is simply on display here to frame another existential question: What the eff happens to a show when it outlives its broadcaster?
Short answer: It’s tricky. As creator of the critically unimpeachable Freaks and Geeks, Feig knows a thing or two about quality shows meeting their maker after one truncated season. (The 1999 coming-of-age dramedy pulled in a mere – cough cough – 6.77 million viewers per week. You know, present-day Game of Thrones numbers.)
When I meet with Feig to discuss Other Space, I’m expecting a postmortem along the lines of “It’s a real shame things didn’t work out, but such is life – on to the next thing.” I’m very wrong about this.
“It’s colossally sad for me. The fact nobody saw it, that’s what makes me crazy – it’s just never had its day in court,” Feig laments. “This is probably one of the biggest labors of love I’ve ever been involved with. It’s something I’m hugely proud of, and something we’re all dying to do more of.”
With the Other Space rights now reverted back to Feig (another cool thing Yahoo did), he’s free to find it a new home, a task that should seem like a cinch for one of Hollywood’s hottest writer/director/producers. Funny enough, it’s not. Despite his stature, Feig is still constrained by the realities of the industry. “There are two hurdles to deal with,” he explains. “One is getting Owen and the cast back.” A valid concern, although one easily allayed by the enthusiasm of those involved in season one. “I would drop everything I was doing,” Ellickson confirms. “If he gives the call, I’ll be ‘Yes!’” adds Karan Soni (Deadpool, Blunt Talk, those AT&T commercials), who plays Other Space’s eminently loveable Captain Stewart Lipinski. “I’m sure we’d all be there.”
Feig’s second hurdle? “Finding a broadcaster that wants to get involved,” he says. “One that’s willing to take the chance.” This is admittedly more challenging. A network television pickup would be a serious Hail Mary, and streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon have so far steered clear of even airing Other Space’s reruns, much less taking on a second season. There’s always the cable option, a la Comedy Central, Syfy, Adult Swim, or IFC. But once again, no guarantees.
Why such resistance? The complete lack of visibility has much to do with it. “Because we were geoblocked on Yahoo, no one outside the U.S. has ever seen the show,” Feig says. (The Other Space video posted above? It’s a fan edit – Yahoo assembled a behind-the-scenes reel but no actual promo.) And despite critical praise, Other Space has flown too far under the radar to snag even a modicum of cult status cachet. “Last I checked, we were at 91% on Rotten Tomatoes, but we didn’t have enough reviews to be certified,” Ellickson muses. “It was like, ‘Millions were spent on this show and we can’t get to 14 reviews?’”
Without hard metrics – a.k.a. actual episode views – and some organized social media clamoring, there’s no quantifiable data enticing broadcasters to take a risk on season two. Which means just like the premise on which it’s based, Other Space is currently lost in space with dwindling rations. “The bummer isn’t that we’re out of work,” says cast member Milana Vayntrub (Ghostbusters, This Is Us, those other AT&T commercials), “it’s that the world is missing out on a really great show.” Soni seconds the motion: “It really was the most fun. And there are so many untapped storylines.”
So what’s the plan? Feig and Yahoo have just removed those dastardly geoblocks, meaning season one can now be viewed for free by anyone, anywhere across the globe. His humble request: Watch the episodes and share the link on social media with a #ShareOtherSpace hashtag. Think of it as a present-day spin on “Keep circulating the tapes,” the mantra that helped spread awareness of Mystery Science Theater 3000 back in its fledgling early days. It’s an apt comparison given MST3K legends Joel Hodgson and Trace Beaulieu round out the Other Space cast as – naturally – the ship’s jumpsuited engineer and his robot companion. “I’d love there to be more – I’m really proud of it,” Hodgson says of the show. “I was really knocked out with the talent and how great everybody was.”
Bottom line, Feig is bypassing the costly (to fans) “resurrect this show via Kickstarter” route, asking instead that folks simply check out the episodes and spread the word. This in turn will build up the metrics, making Other Space more desirable to potential broadcasters. “The show just needs to grow a base,” he says. “Fans that express their desire to see more of it. Just getting it into the public consciousness is really the main thing.”