In early 2013, Netflix took its first major step into original programming by greenlighting House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, and a reboot of the delightfully arch comedy, Arrested Development. Cards and Orange became cultural phenomenons and awards magnets, but in many ways, Arrested proved to be the prototype for the content strategy that would define Netflix for years. It was an obsessively beloved but low-rated sitcom that offered more retention value and brand appeal on a nascent streamer than on Fox, where it had been canceled after three seasons. It was, as Ted Sarandos spoke about in a 2019 interview with the Television Academy Foundation, the perfect show for the then-nouveau binge release model, and it’s credited as a key title in convincing Netflix to pursue original TV programming instead of just hoarding library content.
The show also demonstrated Netflix’s ability to unlock the value of an asset that wasn’t a good fit for linear TV. Creator Mitch Hurwitz’s multi-layered jokes went over the heads of traditional broadcast audiences, but the data pointed to an opportunity with fans who were binging the series or watching it on DVD. Sarandos quickly ordered a new season.
Now, almost 10 years later, Netflix is saying goodbye to Arrested Development. All three 20th Television-owned seasons, as well as Netflix’s two additional co-produced seasons, will disappear from the service on March 16. On one level, this speaks to the diminished value of the series; if Arrested was still delivering audience acquisition or retention, Netflix likely would have extended its licensing deal. Disney, now 20th TV’s parent, has yet to announce any interest in putting the Netflix seasons on Hulu, either. In an era where “capital efficiency” reigns, cutbacks are everywhere, and content valuation is the most precious metric, those decisions speak volumes.