The Final Countdown: Social Media and the Return of Arrested Development
It was a dark day in 2006 when Fox canceled the beloved but low-rated comedy Arrested Development. Fans were lost, confused, filled with questions: Would George Michael ever win the heart of his cousin Maebe? Would Tobias ever remove those cut-off shorts? And what would Lucille and Buster wear to next year's MotherBoy?
For six years it looked like those burning questions would go unanswered. Rabid fans worked tirelessly to resuscitate the show – they signed online petitions, wrote emails, even sent baskets of bananas to Fox executives. They made endless fansites in homage – things like Bob Loblaw’s Law Blog, I’mStillOscar.com, TonyWonder.com featuring the magical feats of Ben Stiller, FreeAnnyong.com, concerning the plight of the Bluths' adopted son from Korea, and Nevernude.com, a site about the tragic condition that plagued Tobias Fünke (and at least a dozen others).
I admit I wouldn’t have thought these tactics would work. Low ratings are low ratings after all. But Arrested Development was a special case. Stuff.tv asked Ted Sarandos, head of content at Netflix, if he’d now be interested in reviving other cult-following shows like Twin Peaks, Jericho, Firefly, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer for Netflix. He said, “Let me give you one broad statement about these recovery shows. In almost every case the cult around the show gets more intense and smaller as time goes by. Arrested Development was the rarest of birds in that the audience of the show grew larger than the original broadcast audience because people came to discover it years after it was cancelled. Any of the other shows we could bring back would be a fraction of the original audience.”
So it seems that all those emails, petitions, fansites, and even banana baskets played a role in bringing back the show by helping Netflix quantify the size of the fandom. Six years after the series was canceled, filming for a revived fourth season began August 7, 2012. Netflix will debut the entire fourth season at 12:01am Pacific on the 26th of May.
In the meantime, Netflix has wowed with its marketing campaign, a flurry of tricks (sorry, Gob: illusions) that blur the line between reality and the show. A Bluth’s Original Frozen Banana Stand has been popping up around the country. An email from Tobias Fünke showed up in inboxes with an acting demo reel. Posters went up in New York and LA with inside jokes – hook hands and cutoff shorts – only recognizable to the initiated.
Don’t worry if you can't make it to one of the frozen banana stands. Seamless.com has paired with Netflix to offer frozen banana delivery, along with other menu items like the sinister Cornball or some Hot Ham Water (yum!). The delivery cost is steep – $250,000 – clearly an attempt to recoup the money lost during Arrested Development season one, episode two where George Michael and his father burn down the banana stand, only to later learn that the walls were lined with $250,000 dollars.
And don’t miss the sly marketing efforts on the Netflix site itself. If you search the word “blue,” the results page is covered in tiny blue handprints. Click on one of these, and it takes you to Arrested Development season two, episode one, where Tobias has left blue prints all over the model home in his quest to join The Blue Man Group.
Netflix now also features several summaries for fake movies and TV shows introduced on Arrested Development. These include Les Cousins Dangereaux, Girls With Low-Self Esteem: Newport Beach, Boyfights, Scandalmakers, and Wrench.
According to Forbes.com, it appears to all be working. At New York’s Banana Stand analyst Richard Greenfield spoke to 427 patient fans over two days to get their thoughts on Netflix. He found that 86% of the people in line were already Netflix subscribers and the majority were under the age of 35. Most of those who weren’t already subscribers said they would likely sign up in order to watch Arrested Development.
Forbes went on to say that this “could be [Netflix's] smartest move yet.”
Arrested Development fans certainly agree. Somewhere, they are doing chicken dances of joy and shouting “Coo-coo-ca-cha!” Somewhere Tobias Fünke is only blue on the outside. Somewhere, a one-armed man is standing tall, teaching Fox a lesson, saying, “And that’s why you don’t cancel Arrested Development.”
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