[UPDATE: According to a different Netflix source, the company is planning to produce more episodes after season 4. Click here for details.]
In an era where television shows with supposedly decisive cancellations have seen resurrections due to fan demand, Arrested Development stands apart. After years of talking about making a movie to continue the story, the devoted talent behind the cult series finally received backing from an (at the time) unusual source – DVD rental and Internet streaming giant Netflix.
As recent reports have indicated that the further misadventures of the Bluth family will not be entirely ended after the upcoming fourth season, many have wondered whether Netflix will continue to support and host new seasons (or movies) of Arrested Development. Alas, this does not appear to be the case – as of today, Netflix has announced it will probably not finance any more content related to Arrested Development.
The Verge reports that Netflix is not "anticipating" funding any more episodes of Arrested Development beyond the 14 already in production. At an investor conference held earlier today, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings confirmed that the company is pleased with its collaboration with the Arrested Development crew, but also believes that this success is non-repeatable. Any further movies or serialized episodes of the show will probably need to find a new backer.
A Netflix spokesperson then expounded on that statement to The Wall Street Journal, saying that it would be "extremely difficult to get the cast together" for additional seasons.
This is certainly bitter news for Arrested Development, harkening back to the announcement of the original series' cancellation by Fox in 2006. Before the new episodes of the series have begun streaming, even the possibility of more seems to have been yanked away.
At the same time, Netflix's hesitation to continue backing Arrested Development makes a good deal of sense. When it was airing on network television, the show had only a small (but intensely vocal) audience. Netflix has already gambled by giving financing to new episodes of the series, but no doubt wants to hedge its bet by waiting to see whether subscriptions increase in tandem with the show's premiere. If the streaming version of Arrested Development has as small an audience as it did when it first aired (an audience which has, admittedly, grown quite a bit in the intervening years), then it won't be worth it to continue throwing money at a show that comparably few people will queue up to watch.
Of course, the very reason Netflix outbid Showtime to air season 4 was that Arrested Development reruns were some of the most watched episodes on all of Netflix streaming.
Still, recent comments by Jason Bateman (Identity Thief) indicate that the overall plan for Arrested Development calls not for more episodes, but for the long-rumored movie to finally get off the ground. Given that a feature film is quite a different undertaking than a relatively low-fi comedy series, it would only follow that Netflix would not want to get caught up in its financing.
Nevertheless, the news that season 4 might truly be the last we see of one of fiction's greatest dysfunctional family's is disheartening to say the least. Even if Netflix has demonstrated sound reasoning in its decision, it can't help but feel like a vote of no-confidence in a product that hasn't even been released to the public. Viewed as a part of the long history of Arrested Development, it seems much like par for the course.
Season 4 of Arrested Development will begin streaming on Netflix in May of 2013.