Tomorrow I plan to discuss what I considered the best TV series of 2005, but anybody reading this blog for any length of time will already know that my undisputed number one is Arrested Development. Hands-down, it's the most interesting, creative, well-written show in a long time. Oh yeah ... and it's also funny as hell.
Tonight at 8 PM Fox will air what is the first of the last three or four (I believe) original episodes to be produced of the series. At least for airing on Fox. While they haven't "officially" cancelled it yet, it's basically common knowledge that the Emmy Award winning comedy's days on the Fox network have been numbered since its full-season order was chopped back in November. Speculation about how to save the show or the series continuing on another network has been feverish -- Showtime and ABC have both been rumored to be considering picking-up the series -- particularly from the Arrested's hardcore and devoted fans. The audience may be small, but those who love it still watch it religiously.
Tonight's episode is one we've been hearing about for some time in which George Sr. (the great Jeffrey Tambor) forces the family to host a fundraiser to raise awareness about their family's money problems within the community. Of course, the show couldn't get more meta than airing an episode like this, and you can be sure that the producers will have plenty of not-veiled jokes at the expense of Fox.
As wrote back in November, I don't think Fox can be criticized too harshly for cancelling the show, although there's plenty of blame to still lay at their feet. The network renewed the series twice even though it has consistently received numbers that would have forced cancellation on other series within weeks of their premiere. On the other hand, the Fox programming execs have always been too eager to find that magic time slot which would suddenly double the ratings, and it has eluded them. Thinking that Monday night would have been the holy grail was a huge (and easily forseeable) mistake. When this network has other series like The War at Home (one of the worst series in recent memory, other than the other Fox embarrassment, Life on a Stick, which thankfully has already been cancelled) living on Sundays in one slot longer than Arrested was ever allowed, it still shocks me that Fox couldn't be more patient and put the show in its natural space of Sundays at 8:30 right between The Simpsons and Family Guy, and really give it time to grow. I know they had it at 8:30 Sundays last year and determined it didn't work, but it also didn't air with Family Guy as its lead-out, I don't believe. In fact, I think they moved it to 9:30 later in the season so that it led-out of Family Guy while also competing with HBO shows. Pure genius ... dumbasses!
Meanwhile, looking forward, as I also wrote in that November post, some other network should pick-up Arrested, but it shouldn't be ABC. In her "Surfergirl" column on Slate a few weeks ago, Dana Stevens wrote that maybe it was time to let Arrested go and that way we'll never risk it losing its greatness. I understand the thought, but considering that the show just keeps getting better -- I think this season has been brilliant -- I have confidence that this creative team has plenty more up its sleeves.
ABC is under the same pressures as Fox; in fact, greater ones. Even as the network has had a resurgence in the last year so as to no longer be considered the joke of broadcast television -- NBC has decided to grab that mantle for a bit -- they still need large numbers, larger ones even than Fox which, although not at the smaller level of UPN or The WB, still only broadcasts 16 hoursof primetime per week as opposed to the 23 of ABC, NBC and CBS. Fox also still finds itself lower on the dial and in slightly fewer markets than the big three and can withstand slightly smaller audience numbers. A move to ABC isn't going to dramatically increase Arrested's numbers, so unless they want it just for the prestige, I don't really see them having the long-term patience.
Meanwhile, as I wrote before, Showtime is the network that should want Arrested the most. Its continuous inferiority complex to HBO won't be solved with shows like Dead Like Me, Huff or even Weeds. Showtime's subscriber base still lags far behind HBO's, and while all three of those shows definitely raised the quality of what the pay web has been airing, none of them would rank higher than The Sopranos, Deadwood, Six Feet Under, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Sex and the City or even this second season of Entourage. Yet there might be a chink in HBO's armor. Rome was good, but not spectacular, and this season of Curb proved mostly disappointing to me, with the exception of a few episodes. Six Feet Under is gone, and although The Sopranos returns in March (finally), who knows how much more steam it carries.
Meanwhile, both Huff and Weeds progressively got better as their seasons went along. A pick-up of Arrested Development would give Showtime the best series on television -- better than anything on HBO. They definitely should want it, and as a home of last resort, I would take it and even subscribe to the pay web to make sure I could see it. But for the health of the show, Showtime wouldn't be the best home. Why? Because no matter how dedicated Arrested's fan base is, it's likely not going to shell out the monthly fee for the pay channel just for 13 half-hours a year. Why should they when within six months they can buy the DVD of the entire season for probably less than two months subscription cost. A move to Showtime also wouldn't help get new viewers in any way as people wouldn't be able to just find the show. And finally, the series doesn't need the greater leniancy of pay cable to succeed. In fact, Arrested (kind of like South Park) is a series that becomes funnier because of the bleeps and blurs blocking out adult material.
I'm going to repeat myself one last time, and I really wish somebody would listen: the network that should pick-up Arrested Development is one which already has an indirect ownership stake in it. FX! It's just so damn obvious. FX has been the most successful non-premium cable channel in terms of original programming. With Nip/Tuck, The Shield and Rescue Me, it is the current standard bearer to which all the other basic cable networks aspire. It is the HBO of basic cable. Yet their attempts so far at comedy have stunk. Starved was interesting briefly before getting repetitive, tedious and occasionally downright offensive and stupid. And It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia simply wanted to be Friends but edgy with an indie film feel so bad that it was just a messy smorgasbord of boring.
Nip/Tuck's recent third season finale attracted 5.7 million viewers -- the most watched episode of an FX original series in the net's history. 5.7 million viewers. And that was for the finale. Most FX series average in the 3-4 million range, I believe. Meanwhile, the average viewership of Arrested Development this season in its crap Monday timeslot has been just over 5 million per episode. So basically, if FX put on Arrested and its devoted viewership followed to a cable network which the vast majority already receive without having to pay any extra, chances are it would instantly become one of the net's most watched shows. Plus, it would give the net a cornerstone on which to create the rest of its comedy lineup and attract an even larger audience to its other programming.
The show is already a co-production of Imagine Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Television. Why don't the benefits of this seem obvious to the people already in the middle of it? Hey FX President John Landgraf -- what the hell is wrong with you? Give me a call and I'll prove further why the only bonehead move is for you to not go after this show.
(And just to add to the lovely sibling rivalry: Gail Berman -- new President of Production of Paramount Studios -- is responsible for keeping Arrested Development alive at Fox. She was replaced as Fox head by Peter Liguori, who bears most of the praise in overseeing FX's emerging dominance as he used to be Pres/CEO of the cable net. He also now is the person responsible for renewing Arrested, giving it its last (and possibly worst) time slot, and eventually cancelling it. So it would just make sense for Landgraf to show-up Liguori just a little bit by giving Arrested a new life, and a successful one at that. Just my 73 cents.)