Netcaster, 20th TV and Imagine seal deal to revive comedy

Netflix is licensing new episodes of the TV series “Arrested Development” from 20th Century Fox Television and Imagine Television.

The sides struck a deal with the streaming service that will launch new episodes of the Emmy-winning comedy in early 2013, the studio confirmed.

The prospect of “Development” returning in both TV and film forms was raised last month when the show’s creator, Mitch Hurwitz, announced in an appearance at the New Yorker Festival that he was intent on reuniting the series’ original actors, including Jason Bateman and Will Arnett, for another go-round.

“Arrested” had a critically acclaimed run on Fox from 2003-2006, but the network canceled the series given its ratings were always modest at best.

All of the series regulars have expressed interest in returning and are expected back, though no deals have been done. How that will work will be interesting given many of them are maintaing busy careers. “Arrested” player Arnett is currently on the NBC series “Up All Night” and another alum, Portia de Rossi, is attached to a high-profile project in development at the Peacock.

Where this leaves the proposed “Arrested” feature film isn’t clear. While one source familiar with the project said it is currently in development at Fox Searchlight, another source at the studio denied it was an active project. Hurwitz’s vision of the film was to schedule it after the series run in order to drive interest at the box office, but at the very least it seems that the film and TV aren’t attached to each other.

Hurwitz was executive producer of “Arrested” with Imagine principals Ron Howard and Brian Grazer. The producing pair issued a statement: “Bringing a series back from cancellation almost never happens, but then, ‘Arrested’ always was about as unconventional as they get, so it seems totally appropriate that this show that broke the mold is smashing it to pieces once again.”

That Netflix has emerged the winner of a bidding war that reportedly included pay-TV player Showtime will be seen as a real coup for the service, which already gave Hollywood notice in March that it was in the original programming business in a big way when it ordered a 22-episode adaptation of the BBC drama “House of Cards” set to premiere next year. Analysts estimated “Cards,” which comes with Kevin Spacey attached to star and David Fincher to executive produce, cost Netflix $100 million to get the rights from Media Rights Capital.

Financial terms of the “Arrested” deal are not known but could be substantial given the caliber of talent involved.

While Netflix’s market capitalization was sent reeling in recent months after ill-advised decisions regarding its pricing, the need for original programming is all the greater as content companies have held the line at giving the service TV shows that are in-season.

Since Netflix started licensing original series, the service has been seen as a potential savior for ill-fated productions that get shuttered over the objections of a cult following too narrow to sustain them. But rescuing a show that comes with a built-in audience–albeit one too small to survive on TV–may be a safer strategy than creating a new property out of whole cloth.

The hedge on “Cards” is that its narrative has already gotten a test run in the U.K. but with different talent on both sides of the camera.

Ted Sarandos, chief content officer at Netflix said of the deal, “‘Arrested Development is one of the finest American comedies in TV history and its return through Netflix is a perfect example of how we are working closely with studios and networks to provide consumers with entertainment they love,'” said Ted Sarandos, Netflix Chief Content Officer.

The return of “Development” would be a stunner given it is rare that a series comes back after a protracted absence, though 20th and Fox have seen precedent here: Animated series “Family Guy” was canceled in 2001 only to be revived three years later after the series fared well on DVD and in syndication.

Related: Netflix gets back in the game

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