How to Save a Show: From ‘Community’ and ‘One Day at a Time’ to ’Timeless’ and Beyond

Sony Pictures Television president Jeff Frost gave IndieWire insight into how the studio became infamous for finding crafty ways to save many of its fan favorite bubble shows.
"Community," "One Day at a Time," "Timeless"
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TV Shows Saved: How Community, Timeless & One Day at a Time Came Back
TV Shows Saved: How Community, Timeless & One Day at a Time Came Back
"The Rundown with Robin Thede" episode 111. (Photo: BET)
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Social Media Mobilization

One Day at a Time’s” producers Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce first got the ball rolling on Twitter, urging fans to recommend the show to their friends and family to watch.

“Most producers we found are self-motivated to do that,” said Frost. “Part of the issue was they needed to go back into production to hit the schedule and they were asking us about what was going on. So we let them know what the situation was, and I think that was a great incentive for them to go out and make sure that their fans were aware of what was going on. It was something that they felt compelled to do when they heard it was on the bubble. They made a passion plea to their fans.”

Fortunately, the fans heard and were just as vocal.

“Social media is a big issue, and I think that was a big factor in ‘One Day at a Time’s’ [renewal],” said Frost. “When producers started talking to the fans, I think it did mobilize the fans to speak out and say how important the show was. And I think that’s important to Netflix to hear that it’s not just potentially passive viewers, but you have these passionate group of fans who will mobilize when they hear their show may not be coming back.”

Another case in which social media played a major part of a show’s renewal was with the resurrection of NBC’s “Timeless.” The network had just canceled it, but after fan outcry, including a tweet by actress, comedian, and social media junkie Leslie Jones, NBC reversed its decision and renewed the series for a shortened 10-episode second season.

Critical acclaim can also play a part, and several TV critics came out in force, such as Mo Ryan, who detailed why Netflix would be wise to renew “One Day at a Time” on IndieWire sister site Variety, and on Twitter, such as IndieWire’s TV Editor Liz Shannon Miller in the post below:

Negotiating the Terms of Renewal

In the face of such alternative metrics, a network may then reconsider bringing a show back, and that’s when negotiations happen. Sometimes, extra incentives, such as fewer episodes ordered or lowering the show’s license fee, are needed to make a renewal even more attractive. Fortunately, once convinced of “One Day at a Time’s” value, Netflix bypassed the negotiation process and just picked the show back up according to its contract. That’s not always the case though.

“Sometimes you actually have to do creative dealmaking,” said Frost. “We’ve done a number of creative business deals to incentivize the networks to pick it up. And yes, it is different on streaming or broadcast. On a broadcast network the nice thing is, a show like ‘Unforgettable’ was doing so well in the international marketplace, they allowed us to reduce the license fee for the broadcast network significantly, which incentivized them to pick it up. Because based on the ratings they were getting, they could absolutely monetize it at the lower license fee, which they wouldn’t do at a higher license fee. But the international was so strong, that it was extremely helpful [for Sony] in that regard.

“We look at a number of different things from the audience, to the creative, to the marketplace, and try to figure out what’s the best deal that we can devise that will be attractive to that network,” he continued. “And on streaming platforms sometimes it is fewer episodes. Contractually some streaming platforms are required to produce 13 episodes, but they’ve often found that it actually resonates more with their audience for fewer episodes. We have that option sometimes. It just depends upon the show, and in the cases I just referenced, it’s a creative decision to do fewer episodes because they feel it’s going to be stronger if it has fewer episodes.”

The Next Potential Save on the Horizon

Sony Pictures Television isn’t resting after getting “One Day at a Time” its reprieve. Although Frost thought all of Sony TV’s shows – even top-performing shows like “The Good Doctor” – could use more viewers, he did champion one project that he felt needed attention.

“It goes along the lines of ‘Sneaky Pete.’ We produced a pilot last year for ABC, which was [a 90s-themed] spinoff of ‘The Goldbergs,’” he said, referring to a project developed last season starring Tim Meadows and Bryan Callen. “ABC passed on it last year. And we had numerous discussions over the course of this season with ‘The Goldbergs’ for them to air the pilot as an episode of ‘The Goldbergs,’ which they did [on Jan. 24]. It had significant social reaction out there, and as a result of that, we’re now having discussions with ABC about potentially picking up the spinoff as a series, in light of what the reaction was by the audience to this episode that aired as part of ‘The Goldbergs.’”

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