The long-awaited return of “Arrested Development” courtesy of Netflix is no doubt making a lot of people happy. But you don’t have to be a fan of the former Fox comedy to take pleasure in the comeback.
Just imagine the hope “Arrested” is giving to the creators and watchers of other TV shows that just got canceled despite the fact they attracted loyal albeit small fan bases. If “Arrested” can find its way to new episodes, who knows what options will be available to the next prematurely unplugged series. Perhaps a recently departed series like ABC’s “Happy Endings” will be the next to be rescued from the dustbin of TV history by a streaming service like Netflix (if another TV network doesn’t get to it first).
But regardless of whether that happens or not, count on the rise of zombie intellectual property; “Arrested Development” won’t be the last TV series left for dead only to be resurrected for online consumption.
We have a TV ecosystem that can’t sustain series capable of attracting rabid cult followings, and an alternate TV universe now capable of sustaining sizable audiences. Voila, zombie IP.
Of course, you could apply the same logic to cable, which has rescued its share of fallen broadcast fare, from “Futurama” (Comedy Central via Fox) to “Cougar Town” (TBS via ABC). But the opportunities there were limited by having to thread the needle of being able to fit cable channels’ brands. Moreover, cable is doing well enough to crank out originals, which will do more to distinguish those brands than taking another network’s sloppy seconds.
But the digital content companies aren’t precious about their brand positioning (not yet anyway) nor do they spend as much on original content as dual-revenue-stream cable networks — with the exception of Netflix, which some say is way over its skis.
Whether you’re Netflix, Hulu or Amazon, you want original programming for one reason: Exclusive content is key to differentiating yourself from a pack awash in library fare. But original programming is such a sexy strategy it’s easy to forget how risky it is to try to build a brand identity based on content the consumer isn’t familiar with.
Which is why zombie IP like “Arrested” is a safer play for SVOD services as they try to balance content costs with marketing needs: A pre-sold property can bring a fan base to a service rather than trying to start a fan base from scratch.
Resurrecting existing TV IP is also an organic extension of SVOD’s area of expertise: providing access to deep libraries of TV content. What better way to convey a commitment to that core-value proposition than to continue a series when its host network’s desire for it is exhausted before that of the audience?
Playing savior to abandoned shows doesn’t just have to be a smart hedge; an SVOD service would be smart to build its entire identity around the notion. And who better than Hulu, a service that derives much of its value from current primetime programming, to take that on. When the broadcasters leave dozens of carcasses for the taking going into upfront season, just swoop in like a vulture for the best zombie IP. Make it an annual ritual for fans to rally around.
Of course, it’s not as easy as it sounds; zombie IP comes with all sorts of rights and costs issues, not to mention the availability of associated talent. Then there’s the fact that sometimes fans don’t want their beloved content to continue. Just look what happened earlier this month to “Zombieland,” a TV version of the Sony movie that Amazon was considering greenlighting, only to have negative reaction from the franchise’s fans nix the idea. “You guys successfully hated it out of existence,” tweeted co-creator Rhett Reese.
Some zombies just aren’t that easy to resuscitate.