Pop Culture

So what if your favourite TV show is cancelled? It will likely come back on the Internet

Online streaming sites provide alternate platforms for cancelled network shows and this is good news for fans who value good writing over shows that appeal to ratings

The Mindy Project, which stars (from left) Ed Weeks, Mindy Kaling and Chris Messina, was picked up by streaming site Hulu a week after it was cancelled by Fox.
The Mindy Project, which stars (from left) Ed Weeks, Mindy Kaling and Chris Messina, was picked up by streaming site Hulu a week after it was cancelled by Fox. PHOTO: DIVA UNIVERSAL
Fans of Arrested Development (above) were only too happy to watch it on streaming sites.
Fans of Arrested Development (above) were only too happy to watch it on streaming sites. PHOTO: FOX

There used to be a time when it actually meant something if a beloved TV show in the United States was cancelled.

The C-word was something that TV fans dreaded every spring, when the major broadcast networks decided which shows would get the boot.

It signalled a true end to beloved programmes, with emotional fans bidding goodbye to their favourite characters via specially planned parties during which they would watch the finale together.

When iconic sitcom Friends (1994 - 2004) ended its 10-year run, I caught the last episode at a mass screening with hundreds of other fans, laughing and crying together over the final few minutes of the Ross and Rachel saga. These were characters I had grown up watching, and although the show had gone downhill over the years, there was still a great sense of nostalgia over the end of something that my classmates and I had dissected weekly .

These days, however, I barely shrug when a TV show I like gets axed - not just because I have become more jaded and unfeeling, but also because there is now always that shining possibility that it would get revived somehow.

Thanks to the proliferation of online streaming sites - and their intent to not only stream, but also create original programming - many cancelled network shows have found themselves alternate platforms to carry on.

When Fox killed The Mindy Project after three seasons in May, the show was picked up for a fourth by streaming site Hulu just a week later and was even given an extended 26-episode season, up from the typical 21 episodes.

Dan Harmon's comedy series Community was cancelled last year after five seasons, then picked up for a sixth by Yahoo! Stream, much to the delight of its small but hardcore fan following.

The critically acclaimed comedy series Arrested Development was brought back to life for a fourth season in 2013 by Netflix, after Fox took it off the air seven years earlier.

Then, there is the new Tina Fey-produced comedy Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which was moved from NBC to Netflix before it even aired. Reportedly, the controversial sitcom, about a woman (Ellie Kemper) who attempts a new life after being rescued from the clutches of a doomsday cult after 15 years, did not fit in with the network's "drama- heavy mid-season schedule".

Companies the likes of Netflix and Hulu do this in order to stay competitive and draw more subscribers - which is more crucial than ever during this so-called Golden Age of Television, a term that has been thrown around a lot in the past couple of years to describe the high number of quality programming flooding the TV scene.

With so many top-notch options readily available, it is not nearly enough for the streaming sites to, well, do only that. They need to have a hand in creating content exclusive to their own channels so that viewers have a reason to subscribe to them.

Apart from creating bold original content such as Netflix's House Of Cards (2013-present) and Amazon's Transparent (2014), it makes sense for these sites to revive cancelled series as well, as these shows already come with a dedicated fan following. It is the same reason why, in cinema, the same superhero keeps getting a reboot in new movies, with new directors and an entirely new cast (see how Spider-Man has been played by both Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield in recent years).

TV shows such as Community and Arrested Development were often considered too offbeat to last on broadcast networks, which had little impetus to renew these shows due to their low ratings. The mass audience simply could not understand their very meta and quirky sense of humour, so much more were they used to the broad gags featured in sitcoms such as Two And A Half Men (2003-2015).

But Community and Arrested Development were unanimously considered by critics to be among the best comedies in the history of TV, amassing cult fan followings who were only too happy to fork out the money to watch them again on streaming sites.

Some TV writers (such as James Poniewozik of Time magazine) have argued that the Golden Age Of Television has a downside because viewers cannot possibly follow every show worth following.

But for those small pockets of TV fans of more unorthodox shows such as Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, it can be only good news that streaming sites have a strong incentive to revive them, without any concerns about traditional TV ratings.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2015, with the headline 'Axed TV shows get new lease of life'. Print Edition | Subscribe