Netflix saves ‘Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’ from pre-cancellation

Senior Television Writer
11.21.14 34 Comments

NBC

When NBC aired trailers for all its new shows at last spring's upfront, no new series had me more intrigued than “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” a comedy from the “30 Rock” team of Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, starring Ellie Kemper from “The Office” as a sheltered woman who escapes from a doomsday cult and tries to start life over in New York City. It wasn't on the fall schedule, nor was it talked about in any early midseason plans, and I had heard from several comedy veterans that NBC had no idea what to do with a show that was so weird and incompatible with whatever it is their comedy brand is now.

Well, NBC finally figured out what to do: they sold “Kimmy Schmidt” off to Netflix, which has made a two-year commitment to the series, with the first season debuting in March of 2015.

Yup, now Netflix is saving canceled shows that haven't even aired yet.

In the press release, NBC entertainment chairman Robert Greenblatt tries to explain the move as follows: “While it was originally developed for NBC, we have a very drama-heavy mid-season schedule so we're thrilled about this Netflix opportunity; it”s an instant win-win for everyone, including Tina, Robert, and Universal Television. We”re already talking to these extraordinary creators about new development for NBC, but meanwhile, everyone here from Universal Television will do everything possible to see that 'Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt' becomes a long-running hit on Netflix.”

Given that NBC's comedy brand is, as Greenblatt tries to put it delicately, non-existent at the moment, and that the trailer suggested “Kimmy Schmidt” might be even more of a niche show than “30 Rock,” Netflix – where everything's a hit and ratings aren't made publicly available – seems a much safer, more viable space for the show. And it is, as Greenblatt says, a win-win: rather than a show they own likely being canceled after a year on the air, NBC gets at minimum a two-year deal with Netflix, with the possibility of more down the road, while Netflix gets in business with Fey and Carlock.

Still, this is pretty nuts, and suggests the show-saving cycle is accelerating at a quantum rate. It's one thing for Netflix to revive a long-running but canceled show like “Longmire,” and another to liberate one that no one in the public has even seen yet. Pretty soon, Netflix and Amazon will be rescuing pilots that didn't get picked up (it's not too late, “Beverly Hills Cop”!), then scripts that never got made into pilots, then ones that died in the pitch stage. How far away are we from Netflix announcing a five-season commitment to an idea some guy mentioned while having breakfast at the table next to a FOX executive at John O'Groats?

UPDATE: A few people have wondered what the difference is between this and when one network picks up another network's busted pilot (say, FOX with “Mulaney”). In this case, NBC ordered and produced an entire season of “Kimmy Schmidt,” then pawned it off on Netflix after production was done. It's very strange.

What does everybody else think?

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