When NBC’s comedy-centric digital platform Seeso officially announced its forthcoming cancellation in August, Shrink executive producer Chuck Martin offered a concise — albeit completely appropriate — response on Twitter. “First time I’ve done a series and the network was cancelled,” the Bee Movie and Arrested Development writer quipped. Sure enough, the many original titles Seeso produced and distributed since its January 2016 launch — including a wonderful grouping of stand-up comedians, popular podcasts-turned-television shows, and critically acclaimed dramedies — have been forced to look for new homes.
Not everyone who once called Seeso home was immediately kicked to the curb. HarmonQuest, My Brother, My Brother and Me, Hidden America with Jonah Ray and The Cyanide and Happiness Show were picked up by the streaming platform VRV. Yet Bajillion Dollar Propertie$, the HGTV reality show parody created by Kulap Vilaysack and executive produced by Scott Aukerman, was left hanging. So too was Take My Wife, the brainchild of comedians (and married couple) Cameron Esposito and Rhea Butcher. Along with Martin’s Shrink, these three shows — as well as Paul Reiser’s fictionalized The Tonight Show drama, There’s… Johnny!, whose August 24th premiere date has been axed — were seemingly left to their own devices.
Quite literally: Bajillion star Paul F. Tompkins triggered a cavalcade of tweets encouraging fans of Seeso’s now-homeless programs to help them find new ones. “Do you have a TV network? Here’s a couple shows you should buy,” he said of Bajillion and Take My Wife. “Each has a new, unseen season ready to go!” Bajillion‘s showrunner Vilaysack later confirmed Tompkins’ claim, tweeting “there is an orphan, unaired & completed 4th season of BAJILLION. Let’s find it a home.” Esposito did the same for Take My Wife, which she celebrated with a massive list of what the show was “able to pull off” in “two seasons.” In other words, these two series without a network possessed completed new seasons — and nowhere to screen them.
The #Buyjillion campaign continues three weeks on, and as Vilaysack, Aukerman, Esposito and Butcher tell Uproxx, they are confident they will eventually find a distributor. Even so, in the increasingly crowded era of Peak TV, everyone is still trying to process the unique situation of having your network get canceled. “I feel like we could keep going, much like Reno 911! We could keep going with seasons five, six and seven,” says Vilaysack. “We could set this in different cities. I think the possibilities are endless for how we could play with these characters.” Aukerman agrees, noting that Bajillion‘s format “is something where storylines can keep coming in and out, and characters can keep coming in and out.” Because of this, he adds, “it could go on forever.” If it lands somewhere, of course.
“It’s an absolutely a weird situation,” says Esposito. “I will also say that it’s kind of like a catch-22, because peak TV and this new diversity of places is the reason Rhea and I have had the experience of being show runners. Not that we wouldn’t have gotten this experience somewhere else, but neither of us had ever been staffed in a traditional writers’ room before running our own show. That’s not unusual — it’s unprecedented. We operated with an indie film budget, so there was a little bit less risk involved. Plus, with streaming platforms you don’t have to work off of advertising dollars, meaning you don’t have to clear these hurdles set by multi-national corporations selling unrelated products. That, I think, is why the shows on Seeso were so beloved, because there was a one-to-one relationship between the creators and the products that made the shows very honest.”
“A lot of people going into this were talking about Peak TV as a problem, and there is too much TV,” adds Butcher. “At the same time, I was always thinking of the positive upswing of this, which is that there’s so much TV I got to make a television show. For even with there still being so much TV, there are so few creators from under-represented groups. Seeso specifically gave that opportunity to a lot of us, and so I’m grateful for that.”
Shock and surprise at Seeso’s shuttering notwithstanding, Butcher’s praise for the platform it afforded them is near-universal among those who’ve worked for the service. Comics like Fahim Anwar and Sasheer Zamata spoke to us previously about their positive experiences with the digital outlet. And when it came to reflecting on their short time there, Esposito, Vilaysack and Aukerman couldn’t muster anything negative to say either.
“We felt like Seeso had a pretty good future in store for Bajillion, based on the people who worked there,” says Aukerman. “We also based this on the fact that it was funded by NBC Universal’s money, and that they had supposedly promised to keep it open for a while — even if it lost money.” Vilaysack agrees, adding that Seeso’s executives, “by and large, had the same taste in comedy. We were already starting that relationship with a similar language, and then it just became a conversation about how to make what we were working on that much funnier. We were talking absolutely theory and practice.”
Esposito is especially excited by the prospect of what Seeso’s open model meant — and still means — for show creators. “What we’re seeing right now, which is really exciting, is that under-represented viewpoints tend to have a corresponding audience that wants to spend their money seeing shows and movies they feel connected to,” she explains. “So if we look at what movies have been breakout hits this past year, like Get Out and Girls Trip, it’s no coincidence they have people of color and other under-represented groups starring in them and working behind the camera. That’s actually how you get people to leave their house, or start a Twitter campaign you didn’t even ask for.”
Yes, the modern television landscape is jam-packed with new, continuing and revived series whose names and platforms don’t always reach a general audience. As Alan Sepinwall argued in July, this hugely overpopulated field has resulted in a time crunch that doesn’t always let promising shows “get good” — something many classic programs had ample time to do on broadcast and cable television. To make matters worse, Seeso’s looming departure suggests new streaming avenues may soon suffer the same fate as some of the very shows they’re trying to boost. Thankfully, Bajillion and Take My Wife possess an advantage that may prove as powerful as the fans trying to save them on social media.
As Tompkins and others tweeted, both have completed new seasons already in the can. All they need is a new place to park so that the eager eyeballs waiting to see them can do just that. “We had been talking with the network about when season five would start,” Aukerman says of finding out about Seeso’s demise. “We were narrowing down the air date for season four.” Vilaysack, who manages just about every aspect of the show, recalls her disappointment at the news stemmed from how soon it arrived after they finished editing season four in June. “I was really proud and excited about season four, and I wanted to do more seasons,” she says. “It’s absolutely ready. It’s mastered, finished, and everything else is completely ready to go. We have amazing guest stars like Ben Schwartz, who plays another realtor.”
“It’s done,” Esposito says of Take My Wife‘s second season. “It’s completely finished. I mean, there’s probably a little bit of color correction and audio mixing that needs to be handled, but that shouldn’t take more than a week. It’s a finished product. It’s ready to go.” For obvious reasons, the showrunners are unable to discuss details regarding the behind-the-scenes process of trying to find a new home for either series. Yet for all the possible advantages afforded by the shared status of each’s next season, no one can deny the power of the #Buyjillion and #TakeMyWife social media campaigns that have pummeled Twitter and Facebook with daily pleas by audiences that someone save their favorite Seeso programs.
“It makes me feel great,” says Vilaysack. “I poured a lot of myself into this show and I can’t tell you how proud I am of it. What an amazing thing, to work with Paul F. Tompkins and the rest of this cast and crew, to put it out there and have people embrace it and want to keep it alive. It’s incredibly exciting and gratifying. I can’t say I’m grateful enough, really, and I sincerely hope we can find a new home for it. I mean, season four is so good. I think it’s the best one we’ve done yet, and I just want to get it out there.”
“People have shared what it meant to them. There was someone on Twitter who said watching the show and seeing me, my character, helped them realize that they wanted to have a more masculine identity and style. So they cut their hair and started dressing a little bit differently,” Butcher tells us. “It seems small, but it’s a really big thing in a person’s life to see themselves reflected back on television, film or elsewhere in the media. It’s a big deal. It helps people feel less alone. As queer people, more often than not, we don’t have queer parents, so our families don’t always reflect back who we are. We’re in these very straight spaces and straight communities trying to find ourselves, so finding that little bit of reflection, and feeling less alone for it, is really helpful. I know find those reflections was very helpful in my own life.”
“We’re making content for our 15-year-old selves,” adds Esposito. “The content we didn’t get to see.”