Netflix has stepped in to pick up cancelled series before — The Killing, Arrested Development and most recently Longmire. Now the streaming service is taking over a series that has not yet premiered, midseason NBC comedy Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, from Tina Fey and Robert Carlock.
Netflix has doubled the 13-episode order the series starring Ellie Kemper had at NBC. The 13-episode first season will debut on Netflix in March, around the same time it should’ve premiered on NBC. Universal TV remains as the studio in its first foray at Netflix.
“The very construct of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt — its offbeat premise, hilarious and rich characters and serialized storytelling — make it a perfect Netflix comedy series,” said Cindy Holland, VP Original Content at Netflix. “Tina and Robert’s unique comic voice and sensibility come through in this series.”
NBC Chairman Bob Greenblatt, who also oversees Universal TV, addressed the rationale behind the decision to move the series.”When the opportunity arose for Tina Fey and Robert Carlock to premiere their new show on Netflix with a two-season commitment, we decided this was the best possible scenario to launch this captivating new series,” he said. “While it was originally developed for NBC, we have a very drama-heavy midseason schedule, so we’re thrilled about this Netflix opportunity. It’s an instant win-win for everyone, including Tina, Robert, and Universal Television.”
Comedy continues to be a challenge for NBC, which recently cancelled new half-hour series Bad Judge and A to Z. It shrunk its signature Must See TV two-hour Thursday comedy block to an hour this fall, from 9-10 PM, and that hour is slated to be taken over by drama The Blacklist in February. (The network already had scaled back on comedy for midseason, scrapping picked-up series Mission Control, which leaves it with two upcoming half-hour shows, One Big Happy and Mr. Robinson.) NBC doesn’t have any strong comedies to launch half-hour series out of, making it it harder for new shows, especially if they are not noisy and broad but offbeat and quirky like Kimmy Schmidt.
As Fox’s New Girl proved, such comedies are most valuable to streaming services; New Girl’s off-network syndication sales paled in comparison to its Netflix deal. Such shows also might be too narrow for broadcast TV, as is the case with two Universal TV-produced comedies, Fox’s The Mindy Project and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, but are well suited for digital distribution. Arrested Development proved it with its strong showing for Netflix after getting cancelled by Fox over low ratings.
Kimmy Schmidt got on the air at NBC in large part because of the caliber of auspices behind it. (It has a straight-to-series order.) That also was a reason for the show’s move to Netflix — the network didn’t have a good time slot for the series but Fey and Carlock were important to the network, and the show was important to Uni TV. Meanwhile, Netflix had been looking to get in business with Fey and Carlock, and the streaming service stepped up with an offer for a two-season order.
Kimmy Schmidt‘s jump to Netflix might be a sign of things to come, with that brand of comedy possibly permanently leaving the broadcast airwaves as it caters to viewers who have migrated away from linear viewing to digital platforms. If Fey’s acclaimed 30 Rock came out today, who knows if it would’ve lasted as long on a broadcast network as it did.
Greenblatt underscored the company’s commitment to the series. “We’re already talking to (Fey and Carlock) about new development for NBC, but meanwhile, everyone here from Universal Television will do everything possible to see that Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt becomes a long-running hit on Netflix.”
Fey and Carlock, in turn, stressed their ongoing commitment to the NBC family (both under overall deals at Uni TV). “Happily, we will still collaborate with our longtime partners at Universal Television to fulfill Netflix’s two-season order,” they said. “We grew up at NBC and will continue to develop broadcast projects with them as well. We found the inspiration for this series in Ellie Kemper’s shining all-American face, and we know that she and Kimmy Schmidt have found their best possible home at Netflix.”
After living in a cult for 15 years, Kimmy decides to reclaim her life and start over in New York City. Armed with just a backpack, light-up sneakers and a couple of way-past-due library books, she’s ready to take on a world she didn’t even think existed anymore. Wide-eyed but resilient, nothing is going to stand in her way. She quickly finds a new job (working for 30 Rock‘s Jane Krakowski), a new roommate (Tituss Burgess) and a new beginning. The cast also includes Lauren Adams, Sara Chase, Sol Miranda and Carol Kane.
The series was created by 30 Rock creator/co-showrunner Fey and co-showrunner Carlock , who serve as executive producers with 30 Rock‘s Jeff Richmond, Jack Burditt and David Miner. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a production of Universal Television, Little Stranger Inc., 3 Arts Entertainment and Bevel Gears for Netflix.
After starting off with dramas including House Of Cards and Hemlock Grove, Netflix has been making a push in comedy recently, with a two-season order to Judd Apatow’s Love and series pickups of Marta Kauffman’s Grace And Frankie and Bill Burr’s animated comedy F Is For Family.