Considering W/ Bob & David makes its Netflix premiere next week, you’d think that now would be a great time for HBO to make Mr. Show available on their streaming platform HBO Go. According to Decider, however, the reason we’re still stuck sifting through Mr. Show clips on YouTube rather than enjoying it in one organized, legal place all comes down to mysterious, behind-the-scenes business reasons that HBO and sources close to Odenkirk and Cross can’t seem to agree on. From Decider:
HBO spokespeople told Decider that the network “doesn’t own the streaming rights to Mr. Show,” and that’s as simple as it gets. But sources involved in the making of W/ Bob & David told us HBO does control the “distribution rights” to Mr. Show, and that they would love nothing more than to see all four seasons of Mr. Show on HBO GO or anywhere where fans can find it legally. The semantics here are important, as well as the timing. You see, Odenkirk and Cross made Mr. Show in the 1990s, back when streaming wasn’t a thing. Certainly not a thing to include in contracts. The 2007 Writers Guild Association strike and subsequent negotiations with SAG-AFTRA have more and more focused on figuring out residuals for writers and performers in a world of online, mobile viewing. Sources close to Odenkirk and Cross note that Mr. Show still falls under the older AFTRA deal that would cost HBO more than perhaps it wants to pay in residuals.
But why is it so financially difficult for HBO to make Mr. Show (and other comedies like The Larry Sanders Show) available to watch legally when, say, NBC’s streaming platform Seeso will have every episode of shows like Kids in the Hall, which was produced before Mr. Show so likely had a similar contract issue? I asked comedy business expert, former agent, and Splitsider’s own “The Business” columnist Priyanka Mattoo what could be behind the HBO/Mr. Show holdup to get more insight:
Oh good question. There are two possibilities: 1) It depends on who paid for it. If it was sold to HBO as an already made show or pilot that someone paid for (production-wise), whoever paid for owns the rights, because then HBO only paid a license fee. 2) HBO doesn’t want to pay the digital residuals involved now in putting Mr. Show online – it could just be a numbers thing. Even if it was created before the WGA rules changed, it still has to adhere to the rules now, as a WGA/DGA/PGA signatory. They used to be able to put anything up and not pay anyone, but now they’d have to. If anyone else owned the streaming rights, you’d best believe it would be available online, because all other services want to lure subscribers with content, and they need it more, and would pay for it. HBO is also weird about releasing viewership numbers, so that could be part of it – everyone would know how many people were watching.
So there you have it: HBO probably doesn’t want to pay Odenkirk and Cross and/or a production company what they consider way too much money to bring back Mr. Show, so we’ll have to stick with YouTube clips and DVDs (the complete collection is on Amazon today for just $19.99!) for now. Maybe one day, HBO will cave and decide that Odenkirk and Cross are worth it.