Arrested Development is coming back to television.  Learn what business insights you can get from the rerun of this sitcom which, despite garnering much critical acclaim, gained a not-so-promising viewership, all from this Forbes article.


Arrested Development, that short-lived but beloved comic portrait of the Bluth family, returns from the beyond this weekend. On May 26, 15 newly produced episodes of the show (which began its three-season run on Fox in 2003) become available in bulk on Netflix. The binge-launch follows the company’s new original-content model that began in February with House of Cards.

The show’s comeback has electrified its cultish-yet-sizable fanbase, but inside the TV business it has elicited more angst than celebration. Network executives evince great admiration for the show, its creators and its talent, all of whom have commercial bona fides. But they reflexively say, “We could never do that with our business model.”

Netflix is well aware of that fact, so earlier this month it poked the networks by setting up Bluth’s Frozen Banana stands outside many of the networks’ annual New York upfront presentations to advertisers. Inside, seemingly undeterred, networks touted their 2013-14 shows, which feature plenty of TV comebacks of their own — Michael J. Fox, Robin Williams and, in new episodes of 24, Keifer Sutherland. Unlike Arrested, those shows will largely follow the traditional path of advertising-supported shows, rolling out gradually with heavy promotion driving appointment viewing in certain timeslots. Les Moonves, head of front-running CBS, famously dismissed rivals’ talk of streaming apps and time-shifting last week by saying, “Anyone who spends 20 minutes of their upfront talking about multiplatform doesn’t have much else to sell.”

Networks and Netflix are clearly in different businesses, of course. Netflix, like fellow digital players Amazon and Hulu, is solely focused on driving subscriptions and can therefore spend lavishly on content (either original or licensed) without fretting about ratings. Nevertheless, the unlikely return of Arrested Development offers several valuable lessons for the broader TV business. Here are five:

1. Listen to fans.

As with Family Guy, Futurama and a lucky handful of other shows brought back after cancellation, old-fashioned word of mouth worked in the case of Arrested Development. But it shouldn’t have to require a petition drive and a Miracle on 34th Street-style mail dump to change networks’ minds. Social media is a powerful force and through partnerships with GetGlue, Twitter and others, TV networks undoubtedly recognize that. But it’s more than just having drones sweep the desert – real intelligence-gathering means listening to the conversation in pop culture and making smart decisions based on that. Some of the most satisfying TV of the last decade has involved not only a high degree of risk – ABC’s Lost, AMC’s Mad Men, the list goes on – but a gut sense that viewers would come along for the ride.

2. Consider new salary structures.

Newly revealed numbers show that Netflix paid talent based on how much they appeared on the show. Citing sources, the Hollywood Reporter says the entire cast, which includes Will Arnett, Jason Bateman, Michael Cera and Portia de Rossi, gets paid according to the same sliding scale. Based on screen time, compensation ranges from $1,000 (for a clip of the actor in a previous episode) up to $125,000 for a starring role in an episode. That setup allowed the ensemble cast to integrate shooting into their schedules, which are far busier now than they were 10 years ago.

Talent agencies, networks, and traditional show-runners may again offer reflexive “we could never get away with that” responses, but the fact is that new pay models need to be considered. They allow content producers to be more nimble and resourceful and, in the case of Arrested, the packages were actually more talent-friendly than traditional deals. With the days of Friends or Everybody Loves Raymond sitcom talent deals increasingly outmoded (due to the transformed syndication and home entertainment sectors), new alternatives have never looked more attractive.

3. Embrace on-demand models.

Ted Sarandos, head of content for Netflix, says Arrested is “built to be watched over and over again” in bulk. “It’s way too dense.” That makes it perfectly tailored to Netflix. But networks and distributors of all kinds have started dabbling in binge offerings, as well they should. Fox, during its upfront presentation, touted the success of its new show The Following by noting that in some weeks up to 80% of its viewing occurred outside of its linear timeslot. There is value in having content so sought after. The demand that resuscitated the Bluths can work in countless other shows’ favor.

4. Empower and mobilize talent.

Along with the approach to salary, Netflix has been crafty about deploying talent and putting them front and center in the revival of the show. It started with a cast appearance at the New Yorker Festival in 2011 where they announced the return and continued through a global series of premieres where they hawked frozen bananas and amused the press. Creator Mitchell Hurwitz has also gotten his due, and by all accounts the cast’s loyalty to Hurwitz goes a long way toward explaining the show’s comeback. But there are takeaways for networks trying to leverage talent, which is tweeting and interacting with viewers in a host of new ways. That billboard on Sunset Boulevard and late-night TV booking are no longer enough.

5. Accept mortality.

Comebacks are exhilarating but all good things eventually come to an end. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said earlier this year that while the company is proud of reviving Arrested, this season would likely be its last. But that’s not a tragedy – in fact, in the TV cult-comedy world less is often more, even though most hit shows are forced to outstay their welcomes by sheer force of financial lure. The British Office ran for just two seasons, Da Ali G Show for two. And one of the best was an HBO show that starred Lisa Kudrow as a self-defeating yet unsinkable actress named Valerie Cherish. The series, which left the air after one great season, was called The Comeback.


Mitch Berman is a veteran in the television industry, having spearheaded the wildly popular ZillionTV.  Get business insights about the silver screen by following this Twitter page.