PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- If your favorite show has a fan base obsessive enough to not only fight for its existence, but to shell out to companies or sponsors to keep it around, it no longer needs to be cancelled.
Viewers began understanding that new order last year, when Netflix (NFLX) revived the cult comedy Arrested Development and brought back Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, Portia de Rossi, Jessica Walter and much of the show's core cast seven years after Fox (FOXA) cancelled it. The Netflix version bore only a superficial resemblance to the original material, thanks largely to cost constraints, but showrunner Michael Hurwitz proved it could be done.
Next month, Netflix gets another crack at saving a series as it picks up six episodes of The Killing, the haunting crime drama that AMC dropped in September before developer Veena Sud could wrap up her story arc. The show, based on a Danish crime drama of the same name, gets six episodes to finish its story and brings back both its leads -- Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman -- to wrap up detectives Linden and Holder's plotlines.
But this is what viewers have come to expect from Netflix. The streaming service has not only thrown a whole lot of cash behind original content including Arrested Development, Eli Roth's Hemlock Grove and its highly touted political drama House Of Cards, but it's earned Emmy nominations for each -- with House Of Cards winning three last year. It's creating its own binge-watchable programming like Orange Is The New Black, but is also the medium of choice when, say, LucasFlim wants to wrap up Star Wars:The Clone Wars somewhere other than Time Warner's (TWX) Cartoon Network.
But that was about the extent of TV viewers' fallback plan. The accepted wisdom was that if Netflix or the folks behind Fox, NBC and ABC-driven Hulu didn't want to save a show, no one else would. Maybe Amazon would take a flier on a fallen series, but it's still testing the waters for original content including X-Files creator Chris Carter's The After and the John Goodman-led comedy Alpha House. In the meantime, it seems content to spend on known commodities including Downton Abbey episodes and the HBO back catalog. Viewing Amazon (AMZN), Hulu and Netflix as the only streaming options for a cancelled series vastly underestimates the number of companies fighting for a piece of the expanding video streaming audience and just how much they're willing to shell out to get your traffic.
When Yahoo! (YHOO) announced earlier this week that it was picking up the critically beloved and intellectually adored -- if lightly watched -- NBC comedy Community, it exposed a whole lot more than the power of show creator Dan Harmon or the influence of the show's fans. It put Yahoo! into the conversation about streaming when it previously couldn't get a word in edgewise. Before Marissa Mayer took over as chief executive, Yahoo! began inserting comedy clips among the news offerings on its front page. That didn't go over so well, which led Mayer and company to invest in the Tom Hanks interactive sci-fi series Electric City and the Ken Marino Bachelor spoof Burning Love for its Yahoo! Screen division.
Yahoo! has been throwing just about everything into the ether: Hiring Katie Couric for Yahoo! News,, feeding celebrities for its Sunday Dinner reality show and streaming Saturday Night Live sketches, Comedy Central clips and even National Football League games. None of it generated nearly as much interest as Season 6 of Community, and fans of Jeff Winger and his study group and Greendale Community College won't be the only ones tuning in to see how this little experiment turns out.
Content isn't cheap, and Yahoo! competitors like Amazon, Hulu and Netflix have to charge membership fees just to afford it. Amazon is taking huge risks on projects like the Gael Garcia Bernal comedy Mozart In The Jungle and the Jeffrey Tambor family "dramedy" Transparent and won't see much return until at least 2015. Netflix, meanwhile, is leaning heavily on partnerships with DreamWorks Animation and Disney (DIS) for original content including Puss In Boots, TurboFAST, DreamWorks Dragons and Marvel's Daredevil, but is also investing in known commodities like a series based on the David Wain cult summer comedy Wet Hot American Summer and a talk show with former E! host Chelsea Handler.
While ground-up originals help companies like Netflix, Amazon and Yahoo! break creative ground and make names for themselves, the proven content is what builds a steady foundation for those unknown quantities. Unless you're Will Farrell and can just summon content and personalities to Funny Or Die at will, it pays to scoop up broadcast leftovers. AOL (AOL) for instance, is trying to dip a toe into streaming through its AOL On service and has recruited E!, TMZ, Entertainment Tonight, HGTV, ESPN, The Food Network, The Travel Channel, WWE and more to lay a base of content to reel in viewers. Once they're hooked, AOL is trying to get them to stay with original programming including the Nicole Richie comedy Candidly Nicole, the Steve Buscemi talk show Park Bench, the comedy documentary series In Short and Gwyneth Paltrow's reality series The Restart Project.
That's a whole lot of celebrity and investment with no anchor shows to prop them up. If Fox for some reason failed to give its Andy Samberg-led comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine the same vote of confidence it gave Mindy Kaling's The Mindy Project or Zooey Deschanel's The New Girl, would anybody blame AOL for being the first company to offer a bid?
There will always be cancellations, but the broadening of the media marketplace only makes it less likely that a show would even get to that point. Former A.V. Club critic and current Vox editor Todd VanDerWerff noted back in May that not only are DVR recording and streaming both making networks more inclined to keep less popular shows, but streaming old episodes amounts to instant syndication that's giving networks more cash for new shows than they've ever received. A deal with Netflix, for instance, is basically subsidizing The New Girl's existence, while Amazon streaming rights are propping up CBS' Under The Dome.
"The rise of Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime in the world of TV has proven to be comparable to the rise of DVD in the world of film," VanDerWerff noted. "It's pumping ridiculous amounts of money, even for catalog items, into the fragile network economy."
Add to that list Yahoo!, AOL and any other company with an eye on streaming content and you're not only giving slumping series a place to land, but you're giving networks enough cash to make sure they never fall in the first place.
-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.
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