Moment that mattered: The new series of ‘Arrested Development’ is released on Netflix
The release of ‘Arrested Development’ on a subscription streaming service instead of a traditional TV network demonstrates that the way we fund, produce and consume our media is rapidly changing. When I started in comedy in 1989, the only way to get a radio or TV show was to get commissioned by a radio or TV network. Now this relatively cheap technology is widely available and anybody can start their own show.
I started making podcasts six years ago because they allowed me so much more creative freedom. Similarly, the creators of ‘Arrested Development’ have more freedom on Netflix than Fox because they don’t have to bend to the network censors. In my experience, working for the BBC was sometimes stifling. After ‘Sachsgate’ [when comedians Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross broadcast offensive messages they had left on the answer machine of actor Andrew Sachs] the BBC were very cautious about everything. I did a Radio 2 show called ‘That Was Then, This Is Now’ and they wouldn’t let me say the words ‘whore’ or ‘syphilis’ even though I was quoting Schopenhauer. I had a realisation that if I did my own radio show in front of an audience and charged people to come and see it, I’d make about as much money as I would from a BBC radio show and I would be able to do and say anything I wanted. The autonomy was a big draw but the immediacy also appealed to me. You can easily spend six months jumping through hoops trying to get a TV or radio project off the ground. With a podcast you can just do it.
‘Arrested Development’ was dropped by Fox because it wasn’t making money, but it should have stuck with the programme – it was a word-of-mouth sensation and it helped get Netflix many new subscribers. Broadcasters need to have more patience. I was giving a lot of my output away for free with the podcasts, but within a year or two audiences at my gigs had doubled and I was getting more interest from TV producers. ‘Arrested Development’ may not have made big money straight away, but Fox would have benefited in the long-term by having such a critically acclaimed show associated with its network.
Netflix is changing the way TV is distributed and consumed. Advertising is no longer a factor; quality becomes more important. But the next step is for artists and performers to bypass the middleman, whether it’s Netflix or a TV network, and sell directly to their audience. At the moment as long as I’m doing what I want and I can afford to live and eat then money is not a priority, but ultimately if the podcasts are successful I can invest the cash back into my work and make a TV-quality sitcom or sketch show.
Crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter will also change the way we fund and produce shows. The viewers become the commissioning editors, it’s people power. They can decide whether you make the series in the first place and whether there’s a second series. It’s a very democratic model. Next time a network like Fox cancels a show like ‘Arrested Development’ that has large numbers of devoted fans, there will be no need to move to another network. They could raise the money through their fanbase and produce and distribute it themselves.
Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast is available to download from gofasterstripe.com and he is on a UK tour with brand new show ‘We’re All Going To Die!’ in October. For information on dates and tickets see richardherring.com.
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