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Netflix Snaps Up TV Shows Rejected By Networks

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Netflix is releasing another new show today. It's called "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt." It stars Ellie Kemper from "The Office" as a woman rescued from a cult in Indiana who tries to make it in New York City. Here she's revealing to her new roommate her strange history of being trapped in a bunker for years before being rescued.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT")

ELLIE KEMPER: (As Kimmy Schmidt) I am one of the Indiana mole women.

TITUSS BURGESS: (As Titus Andromedon) From the news. Why didn't you tell me?

KEMPER: (As Kimmy Schmidt) Because I just want to be a normal person, and I can't. I don't know anything. I can't tell phones from cameras, even policemen have tattoos.

MONTAGNE: That show was co-created by Tina Fey - her first writing effort since "30 Rock." "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" was actually made for NBC, but the network ultimately declined to put it on its schedule. In stepped Netflix, which bought all 13 episodes. Here to talk about the trend from network to Netflix is NPR tv critic Eric Deggans. Good morning.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hi.

MONTAGNE: Why wasn't this show ready for prime time at NBC?

DEGGANS: From talking to execs at NBC, I think it's because the network is trying to develop comedies that have a really large, broad audience, like CBS's "Big Bang Theory" or "Modern Family" on ABC. And what they've found is that shows like "30 Rock" or "Parks And Recreation" - which just went off the air - they're smart. They're beloved by critics and people who know television, but they just don't draw that kind of broad audience that the networks need. So rather than air another critically acclaimed, low-rated comedy, they let Fey and her producing partner Robert Carlock take the show to Netflix.

MONTAGNE: And why would this show work on Netflix if not on NBC?

DEGGANS: Well, success on Netflix may not be the same as success on NBC. Netflix doesn't need to draw that huge audience with "Kimmy Schmidt," and the value for Netflix comes from the possibility that "30 Rock" or Tina Fey fans might come and sign up for a subscription just to see the show. And given that Netflix is competing with Amazon and Hulu and all these other platforms for new shows, it also shows people in the industry that Netflix can work well with some of the biggest names in TV. The thing is, it's going to be hard to know whether "Kimmy Schmidt" is a success or not 'cause Netflix doesn't tell us how many people watch its shows. And so far, they've never officially canceled a show for poor performance.

MONTAGNE: And, Eric, Netflix is not the only streaming service giving new life to network TV shows. Later this month, Yahoo! will unveil new episodes of "Community." That's a comedy about a community college that NBC canceled then brought back then canceled again. Here's a bit from a trailer.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "COMMUNITY")

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: New revelations.

KEITH DAVID: (As Elroy Patashnik) He writes to astronauts.

JOEL MCHALE: (As Jeff Winger) They're national heroes.

DAVID: (As Elroy Patashnik) Yes, they are. Leave them alone.

PAGET BREWSTER: (As Francesca Dart) Did we give a degree to a dog?

ALISON BRIE: (As Annie Edison) How are these hard questions?

MONTAGNE: Eric, what's going on here?

DEGGANS: Well, you know, NBC has always struggled with "Community." It draws a small but loyal audience, and, as you can tell, it's pretty funny. But there's been behind-the-scenes drama the show's creator, Dan Harmon. And when NBC canceled the show for good last year, Harmon thought he'd move the show to Hulu. But, ultimately, Yahoo! picked it up for 13 episodes. So for Yahoo!, it's a quick way to draw loyal fans of the show to this streaming platform that really doesn't get as much press as Netflix or Amazon. But for a cult show to move to a platform that a lot of people don't know about, or most people aren't watching, that doesn't really seem like a recipe for success.

MONTAGNE: All right, well, we've talked about a couple of efforts here, but how do these fit into the larger picture of streaming services, online platforms and network TV?

DEGGANS: Well, you know, we've seen Netflix try to rescue other shows that have been on network and cable. They've had "Arrested Development," which was on Fox. They've had "The Killing," which was on AMC. But we don't know if these online platforms can really continue a show from a network beyond a single season. I mean, for all the publicity that Netflix got for "Arrested Development," it hasn't scheduled another season of it. And its version of "The Killing" was always supposed to be just for a single season to wrap up the series. So "Kimmy Schmidt" and "Community" might be the first chances for these streaming services to finally prove they can take a show from a conventional TV outlet and turn it into a hit on their own terms.

MONTAGNE: NPR TV critic Eric Deggans, thanks very much.

DEGGANS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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