Within minutes of hearing the announcement that NBC canceled the cult sitcom “Community,” fans panicked and mourned online. “Community” may have never attracted huge ratings across its five seasons, but fans loved the show for its gleefully weird and strangely vulnerable stories of seven students navigating community college. Fans launched an impassioned campaign begging Netflix’s customer service representatives to revive “Community,” which predictably failed.
But hope springs eternal: Hulu is reportedly in official talks to pick up the series where it left off. As the streaming video service looks to expand into original content and boost its profile, acquiring the show seems like a no-brainer. Hulu and “Community” are a match made in heaven.
Sony Pictures Television (NYSE: SNE) co-presidents Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg confirmed to the Hollywood Reporter Wednesday that Sony had been fielding offers about a future home for “Community.”
Referencing the hashtag #sixseasonsandamovie, which has become a rallying cry on Twitter for continuing the show, Erlich told the Hollywood Reporter, “You can't get to six seasons and a movie without six seasons.
“If there's any show that should have a future or could have a future, it really feels like ‘Community’ is the one,” he said.
From Sony’s end, a deal with Hulu makes sense. While Sony could take “Community” to a cable channel like IFC or Comedy Central -- which already airs the series in syndication -- the show has never been a ratings juggernaut, and there is no guarantee that the majority of the show's relatively small audience would follow it from a large broadcast network to a niche cable channel.
Series creator Dan Harmon has acknowledged that much of the show’s impassioned fan community doesn’t keep up with “Community” through channel surfing or NBC promos, but through online avenues like Hulu.
"We are big with a very young, upscale demographic that watches their TV on their wristwatches, their laptops and their shoelaces,” Harmon told Digital Spy during one of the show’s fights with cancelation in 2011.
“They don't get counted in the Nielsen [ratings], but they're getting counted as downloads. So if there's enough money to be made in those markets, we could actually continue to be around for a while, having abysmal Nielsen ratings, making people scratch their heads,” he said.
So, is there enough money to be made in the streaming market? Vulture estimates that “Community” would be the most expensive of Hulu’s exclusive shows. The streaming network has mostly focused on lower-budget comedies like “Deadbeat.” Still, last month, former Warner Bros. executive Craig Erwich joined Hulu as head of content, widely seen as a move to push for more original and exclusive series. The Hollywood Reporter claims that Erwich is willing to spend as much as $3 million per episode of quality television, only slightly behind Netflix’s average budget.
Hulu wouldn’t be taking a huge risk backing “Community” for a Season 6. In 2011, Hulu signed an exclusive agreement to become the only streaming service to offer “Community,” locking Netflix out. Since then, that deal has paid off well for Hulu. While ratings tracking services like Nielsen don’t count Hulu in their services, the U.K.-based analytics firm SimilarWeb found that “Community” is consistently one of the most-watched shows on Hulu, and was the top-viewed show across the site when Season 5 premiered in January.
Given that Netflix’s revival of “Arrested Development” resulted in months’ worth of coverage and online hype, it’s reasonable to expect that if Hulu did bring “Community” back, there would be a comparable publicity boost.
But the “Arrested Development” revival provides a cautionary tale of fan backlash as well. Reviews were mixed for the new season of “Arrested Development,” with the New York Times observing that the revival effectively killed the show by changing its focus from the Bluth family ensemble to an exploration of individual characters. Netflix’s stock price actually fell after “Arrested Development” premiered in May 2013, which the Associated Press blamed it in part on the show’s lukewarm critical reception. If “Community” does come back on Hulu, it does so at the risk of backlash if the show doesn’t live up to fan expectations.
Still, “Arrested Development” Season 4 premiered on Netflix seven years after Fox canceled the beloved show. In the meantime, series creator Mitchell Hurwitz explains, fans shared the show with their friends aggressively, and the show was eventually held up as a game-changer in situation comedy. When it rose from the ashes, fans expected a grand second coming, not an experimental new take on the characters.
There hasn’t been time to build unrealistic hopes for a “Community” revival, and if Netflix moves quickly, fans won’t have to wait any longer than the normal summer break between seasons. For the most part, fans just seem to want a proper ending to their favorite series.