Cable Future for Fox’s ‘Arrested’?

Apr 4, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Fans of the critically acclaimed Fox Network sophomore comedy “Arrested Development” are hoping their prayers will be answered this spring. First, they hope Fox will renew the show. If that doesn’t happen, they are praying that a cable network will pick it up.

However, among the networks often bandied about as potential surrogate homes for the Emmy Award-winning comedy, few would be willing to take it over with the same cost of production. According to an informal survey of network and industry insiders by TelevisionWeek, several outlets would consider the show but only a couple would be likely to make an offer.

“I would love to have it,” said one top cable network executive. “And I think there are a lot of people who would think long and hard about it. But there’s a question about whether it would be a success on cable. Also, it might be cost-prohibitive.”

Speculation that Fox is going to cancel the low-rated comedy has been buzzing since former entertainment President Gail Berman cut the current season order from 22 episodes to 18. Insiders say the recent exit of Ms. Berman, who was a longtime champion of the show, makes its prospects more dire. Ms. Berman’s replacement, former FX head Peter Liguori, has said it’s “completely premature” to weigh in on the subject.

Fox has until its May 19 upfront to decide whether to renew the series.

“There has been a lot of chatter and casual talk from other networks about `Arrested,’ but we so badly believe that the show belongs on Fox,” said “Arrested” executive producer and Imagine Television President David Nevins. Imagine Television and 20th Century Fox Television produce the show. “We’ve had no outside conversations. All of our focus has been on getting it back on Fox.”

But some of that talk has been from “Arrested” creator and showrunner Mitchell Hurwitz, who recently declared he will shop the series to cable if Fox cancels it.

(Another broadcast network home does not appear to be in the cards.) The subject has even been addressed in the show: In the March 27 episode, the Bluth family’s housing development company was placed in jeopardy when an order is unexpectedly reduced from 22 to 18 homes-similar to Fox’s episode order dwindling from 22 to 18. The company survives only by relocating to less-expensive quarters. (Read: “Arrested” might have to move to lower-rent cable real estate.)

For cable executives, however, buying “Arrested” raises two key concerns:

w The cost. With its single-camera production, frequent on-location shooting and ensemble cast, “Arrested” insiders put the show’s cost at about $1.5 million per episode-very expensive for a half-hour comedy on cable. Cable has shown an increasing willingness to pay production costs comparable to broadcast. But even hour-long dramas such as “Nip/Tuck” and “The Dead Zone” tend to cost around $1.3 million per episode, and cable half-hours cost between $300,000 and $1 million. Any cable network interested in “Arrested” would likely push producers to reduce costs or share DVD residuals.

w The audience. “Arrested” draws about 6 million viewers per episode-poor for Fox, but fantastic for any cable network. But how much of the show’s audience would follow “Arrested” to cable? On this point, the consensus is promising. Viewers who enjoy the snarky intelligence of “Arrested Development”-which more closely resembles cable comedies than broadcast-are probable cable subscribers. If only half of Fox’s seemingly loyal “Arrested” fans make the jump, that’s a hit in cable.

“Arrested Development,” which centers on a dysfunctional Orange County, Calif., family, premiered in 2003 and immediately made a critical splash with its literate humor and documentary-style execution. Though ratings have consistently put the show in the red with Fox, nonstop accolades-such as winning a 2004 Emmy for best comedy series-and Ms. Berman’s support have kept it on the air.

Cable channels have successfully picked up network shows before. “The Surreal Life” was canceled by The WB after two seasons, then found a new life on VH1. “The Family Guy” became a hit on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim after being canceled by Fox.

The “Family Guy” example is presumably another reason Fox has been reluctant to pull the life-support plug on “Arrested”-it’s embarrassing when a cable network makes ratings lemonade from your lemons.