Why Netflix is better fit for Tina Fey's new comedy than NBC

NBC dropped Tina Fey's new comedy, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt." And Netflix rescued it. Why that may be a good thing for Tina Fey.

Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP/File
In this Oct. 20, 2014 file photo, Tina Fey arrives at ELLE's 21st annual Women In Hollywood Awards at the Four Season Hotel in Los Angeles. Fey's new comedy series, "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," starring Ellie Kemper and Jane Krakowski, will see its first 13 episodes drop on Netflix on March 6.

Last May, NBC picked up veteran writer Tina Fey’s new comedy show “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” the story of a woman who escapes a doomsday cult and moves to New York City. However, after months of failed sitcom launches this past fall, the network and Ms. Fey agreed that the show would do better on Netflix and the show will be premiering on the streaming service March 6. 

"The show is made by NBC; it's in NBC's best interests for the show to have its best home," Fey said, according to AdWeek. "And rather than trying to stick it on NBC between a multicam and a drama, they agreed that this would be the right place for it."

For Fey, the move is a good thing, particularly after the Golden Globes last night where none of the four major broadcast networks – ABC, CBS, NBC, or Fox – won any honors. The awards are another indication that the more daring, more cutting-edge TV content today is being done by cable companies and even Amazon (Amazon's program "Transparent" won the Golden Globe's Best TV Series – Musical or Comedy award).

Fey's new show will get more attention on Netflix and will not be restricted by any language, content, or time restrictions that traditional networks demand. Netflix also offers a freedom from time slots, which allows for a different type of viewership.

"Everything that's watched on Netflix is watched super-deliberately," Ted Sarandos, chief content officer for Netflix, told AdWeek. "It's not background noise. It's not something you turn on and go off and eat dinner. And [it's] watching the same show until you're done. This is much closer to books, where people say 'I'm going to start “Breaking Bad” tonight.'"

Networks such as CBS, HBO, and DISH Network have recently been adapting Netflix’s model of delivery to achieve this kind of deliberate viewership by offering streaming services for their content which are outside of a traditional cable contract. This move opens network content to those who do not have cable and do not want to be tied down by the fixed timing of network programming.

However, the reverse is also true, as the fate of Fey’s show evidences: Netflix is taking tips from the networks as well.

While Netflix’s early original content such as “Orange Is The New Black” was meant to appeal to a niche audience of underserved viewers, the company is now slowly beginning to produce more original content that will appeal to larger audiences.

"We are trying to program something for everyone, more than 53 million subscribers," Mr. Sarandos said. "So you really are trying to appeal to a lot of taste and age demographics."

Netflix has enough viewers, and therefore revenue, to offer not only acquired content but to create its own content.

"I think we can successfully support about 20 original series a year and still maintain a very high level of quality and still meet a diversity of taste," said Sarandos.

As the landscape of television changes, Netflix and the networks are each taking cues from the other as to how to best deliver their content to viewers.

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