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March 19 2011

Another Netflix content idea: saving cancelled cult hits. TechCrunch suggests how Netflix's plan to provide original content could succeed... by resurrecting shows like Firefly.

Amusingly describes Firefly repeatedly as a "cult hit" and posits a new twist on the legend of Serenity's production: "The cult status got so big, so quickly that Universal decided to make a feature film..."

I think it's funny they list BSG as something that failed on television. Yes, total failure. Which is why Syfy keeps trying to replicate it.
BSG ran for 4 seasons and got them a session at the UN.

Also, here's what really happened with Serenity: it was actually going to be a star vehicle for Morgan Freeman as The Operative. Also, I totally made that up.
Netflix is trying to be HBO on the Internet. This article isn't wrong about the possibility of something like Firefly working out very well for them. It won't be Firefly but, the idea is sound. Something like Friday Night Lights would have worked great on Netflix. Now that DirecTV says they are out of the showing saving business, Netflix might be the player to step up and fill that role.
They should finance more DrH.
Serenity was originally supposed to be a movie about how River is made of chocolate, but once Penny Arcade spoiled that they had to completely rewrite the script.

I agree w/gossi re: Dr. H.
Hooray for Netflix' willing to take the ball on this and run. Who knows? Maybe sometime they'll expand their business model to include production?
I think saving Firefly is unlikely, given that it's been almost ten years. Newer canceled shows might work, but the right-purchasing market isn't good. Most networks would rather price out the canceled shows rather than see them on another network. You do occasionally see shows switch networks, but it's still fairly rare. I think original programming is a better bet. Not that I wouldn't like to see some shows come back, but reviving canceled shows seems like too much risk.

It still flabergasts me that Firefly got canceled with 4.5 million viewers each week. Nowadays that's solid. Crazy.
I'm extremely intrigued by this latest Netflix news. This seems like a really big deal. I'm so curious to see where it goes.
This was the first thing I thought of after I heard about "House of Cards". Love the idea of Netflix getting into original content - definitely think it's the future of television.

The completely irrational part of my brain also immediately thought "MAYBE THEY CAN SAVE FRINGE!" but I know that will never happen. Just another show that will probably be added to the long list of "Things Fox Took Away From Me Too Soon".

@ern - I was reading back when reruns started on Science Channel about Firefly's ratings when it was cancelled and I was shocked. The standards were SO much higher back then.
I don't think this idea will go anywhere, just talk.

They should finance more DrH
Yes, that would rock my world!

sarahb, also have "fringe" on the brain. Hoping FOX will give it a slider, wonderful show!

Also note, like BtVS, BSG ended. Not cancelled. Really draws sand in my gord when that little distinction isn't addressed.
I don't think this idea will go anywhere, just talk.

For the moment, anyway. Imo what with the steady decline of traditional tv business models it's only a matter of time before this kind of speculation starts to become a reality (and at this point I'm thinking years rather than decades.)
If a model like this succeeds, a show like Fringe is absolutely where its at. They should also fund the Terminator:SCC movies while they're at it.
Would it not be cheaper for Netflix to come up with original shows rather than resurrect cancelled shows?
Simon, most likely. New shows that don't have crazy expensive pilots will always be cheaper than shows that have been around for a year or two. Firefly is absolutely NOT a possibility. Other future bubble shows might be maybe.

Mostly this is just a great opportunity for more shows that appeal to a niche audience.

[ edited by IrrationaliTV on 2011-03-20 10:00 ]
That would be a half million people paying at least $8 a month. Thatís $4 million a month in revenue.

Hmm. That sounds like big numbers but isn't that pretty much the cost of the show (at a conservative estimate, based on 10 year old TV budgets i.e. likely to be higher nowadays) ? Even $48 million would only cover the likely cost (of 24 eps) at today's rates. So they make it for no money ?

Imo what with the steady decline of traditional tv business models it's only a matter of time before this kind of speculation starts to become a reality (and at this point I'm thinking years rather than decades.)

Seems pretty clear that long-gone shows aren't gonna be resurrected (in 'Firefly's case for all the reasons that've been gone over ad nauseum in recent weeks). It might happen going forwards though but then doesn't that just mean that Netflix is effectively another cable channel ? They'd be producers/"broadcasters" of TV that charge a subscription. Kinda like HBO ?

It still flabergasts me that Firefly got canceled with 4.5 million viewers each week. Nowadays that's solid. Crazy.

Not sure 4.5 million is all that solid, even these days but yep, X-Files for instance was "in trouble" with 8 million. The TV landscape changed, people bought X-boxes (and about a bajillion other channels).
I'm not sure that's true, IrrationaliTV, at least in this case. Networks are often very protective of the rights to their shows, and if Netflix is looking like a rival to their dominance, I don't see networks willing to give up on their properties without making the rights very expensive. The money they make from the sale of the rights won't overcome the opposition to fueling the popularity of a rival.

Netflix would almost certainly find it cheaper to create their own programming than to try to buy products off of their competitors, simply because Netflix is an outside threat. If it were just another network, you'd probably be right. But the networks are frightened (as they should be) about digitial distribution, and that changes the equation.
In before "Help Netflix Buy Firefly".
Yeah, seems like a lot of Hollywood studios have been trying to figure out how to "put Netflix in its place" so to speak, so the likelihood of Netflix being able to buy any property from them at a realistic price is already low. One positive in regards to a theoretical Firefly property purchase by Netflix is that it would already come with a huge installed base of people wanting more!
So a studio shopping around a project would rather let it die than come to Netflix? I'm sure the reason is clear, but why do Netflix need to own the rights to something - can't they just show it (or fund it!), like most nets?
If they own the rights, then they can get revenue from overseas sales and DVDs etc. I think there was informed opinion at the time of Angel's cancellation which stated that if The WB had produced the show then it would have got a sixth season.
Can the rights be divided then? For example, do Universal own all of FNL or do they own the first two seasons while DirecTV own the rest? I have a feeling that Universal own it all and that makes me think that the idea of picking up pre-existing shows will be an expensive and ultimately pointless endeavour for a company like Netflix.

Unless of course they can work out some sort of 50/50 deal. Hrm.
Here's an example - Firefly. Fox would never have sold the rights entirely to Universal, and the fact they sold them a limited term new movie deal is still highly, highly unusual. Don't expect Universal to make a Fringe movie, for example (unless JJ threw his weight behind it, heh).

I suspect two factors played into that: they didn't want to get into the way of joss, and they knew that with a major motion picture in theatres for the same property that if they released a DVD it would boost the sales.

Fox got big things from that deal: they put out Firefly on DVD and it did exceptional numbers for them, so they made a loooot of money. Joss also returned with Dollhouse. Also, something I didn't know until very recently - Universal's licensing for 'Serenity' motion pictures has expired. So if Fox wanted to make a Firefly movie, they could, without paying a licensing fee, which would mean making another movie would be cheaper for them.

[ edited by gossi on 2011-03-20 13:24 ]
This is a funny coincidence. I had been thinking of this
approach recently in a slightly different context: what could
Hulu do to entice me to sign up for premium service? Rescued and
new niche, content was what made sense to me.

The model I had in mind was not the one I think most of you are
considering. I was thinking more HBO than network. In that model
the original content is very much promotional in nature and is
not expected to make as much money directly.
ern, networks don't own tv shows. Studios own tv shows. They can sell them to whatever distribution method they want. Only in rare cases does the network have a say. Netflix bid on this new show directly in competition with HBO. They are setting themselves up as a direct competitor to the networks.

Reading through this thread, people are conflating studio and network again. Not the same thing. They operate totally separately even if they are under the same corporate banner. Fox has to outbid ABC for a 20th show and sometimes they lose. FX has to outbid USA for a 20th show and sometimes they lose. I can definitely see a time in the future when Netflix is bidding for a show right alongside ABC/CBS/Fox/TNT/USA/FX/Showtime.
I think this article belongs on Beat a Dead Horse Boulevard
I have fallen in love with Netflix once I learned that it can stream live through my Wii to my tv. I'm watching all sorts of stuff I wouldn't have otherwise (and it's easy to, say, try out a couple episodes of an anime series to see if you might enjoy watching more). If they were able to resurrect shows like Firefly, or maybe Pushing Daisies (despite a wonderful series ending, I would like more)...

Realistically, that's about as likely as Nathan winning the lotto and buying the rights to Firefly. But it's fun to think about!

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