Bob Loblaw's Law Blog

Everybody loves Arrested Development.  Lately, I've had a number of conversations about A.D. - how funny it is, how many careers it launched, and what an unbelievable bummer it is that it was canceled after only three seasons.  So I decided to do a little research.

How did A.D. get canceled in the first place?  Because parent network Fox is apparently run by tasteless idiots.  Fox execs sabotaged A.D. with scheduling.  First, they cut down the second season by four episodes. Why?  To promote their RENEWAL of Family Guy, which Fox had ALSO CANCELLED earlier that year.  (Always self-aware, A.D. writers parodied this cutback in the episode "Sword of Destiny.")

Fox's behavior was met by a grassroots backlash from protesting fans who feared the cutback meant permanent cancellation.  Fox swore it didn't, but -- much to fans' dismay -- were secretly crossing their fingers behind their back the whole time because they continued to shuffle, subvert, and otherwise undermine A.D.'s chances at gaining a core audience.  According to (the always reliable) Wikipedia:
"For the third season, Fox positioned the show at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT and 7:00 p.m. CT/MT, directly opposite Monday Night Football in the Mountain and Pacific time zones. . . . Ratings were even worse than previous seasons. On November 9, 2005, Fox announced that the show would not be airing in November sweeps, and that they had cut the episode order for the third season from 22 to 13.  Fox ended up showing the last four episodes in a two-hour timeslot—directly opposite the opening ceremonies of the 2006 Winter Olympics. As a result, the finale received only 3.3 million viewers."
Of course, Arrested Development remained critically acclaimed and each season took home a slew of Emmys (Emmies?) and underdog praise.  Despite Fox's egregious mishandling of the show, A.D. has garnered a huge, weird, culty, lovably dysfunctional DVD audience.  If you've never seen the show, or it's been a while, the entire series is alternately available on Hulu one season at a time (Season 1 is up now). 

But, the brilliance of A.D. is how much it rewards repeat viewing: the humor is so layered and subtle that you can miss its best jokes the first time.  A.D. also builds on its own momentum, so it rewards marathon-viewing.  What I'm saying is, take advantage of the bum economy and use your unemployment wisely: boozing on your couch and binging on free A.D. episodes.  Your mom will totally understand. 

While the death of A.D. is truly meant to be mourned,  I secretly (well, not that secretly...) fear the show might have eventually run aground on its own.  (A hard, planned ending is always better than a fizzle out, right Lost?)  By the third season, the show was so complicated, so riddled with inside jokes and self-references, it was almost impossible to start watching as a new viewer.  While A.D. serves as a testament to how insensitive networks can undermine clever, quirky, intelligent shows, it may indeed have been "born to be a martyr."  I tend to agree with Matthew Gilbert of the Boston Globe, who memorialized the show like this:

"There's no point in getting righteously ticked off about the end of ''Arrested Development.' The show was born to be a martyr.  It was built for TV fanatics and Hollywood insiders, and its three-year run has been an unexpected gift. . . . 'Arrested Development' was too densely witty and too elliptically naughty to ever become a Next Big Thing.  From the start, this series had 'legendary ratings flop' written all over it.  Indeed, we're lucky to have gotten 53 rich episodes."
So what's the opposite of A.D.? The show that's predictable, cliched, laugh-tracked, vapid, comfortably bland and, thus, destined to be renewed season after season?  I'll let Seth McFarlane explain:

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Write comments
August 9, 2010 at 5:35 PM delete

Though Fox does seem to be the place where cult classics go to die, you do have to remember that it's also the place where they are born. It's not like producers have their pick of networks to put their show on: in fact, it's exactly the opposite.

Fox, more than any other channel, puts on strange, quirky, funny, and undefinable fare that would NEVER even get picked up at the big 3 of ABC, NBC, and CBS. I mean, can you imagine anything like Firefly, The X-Files, Sarah Connor Chronicles, Family Guy, Futurama, or indeed Arrested Development getting on another network station? Granted, this is off the top of my head, and my lack of memory may just be me trying to prove my point, but in the last 10 years, the only other time I can remember a network besides Fox picking up a show as strange or out there as those previous few I mentioned is probably LOST.

In fact, that's a big reason why Fox created the F/X cable channel, so they could put the shows they thought were artistically great but were a little too "mature" or non-commercial for network television. On cable, because it's getting paid for by the customers, there's freedom for these shows to grow. On network, shows have to prove themselves to be immediate commercial as well as artistic successes.

In fact, you could say that Fox only puts the shows it thinks are guaranteed ratings winners on its main network, and the network can't be blamed when its faith isn't rewarded anymore than the actual producers of these shows can.


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