It’s de rigeur now when a show is canceled: Disappointed studio execs and producers promise fans that they’ll shop their orphaned series to other outlets. Of course, most of the time, nothing happens — after all, who wants to pick up a show that no one was watching in the first place? But sometimes, the stars align: In the case of “Cobra Kai,” for example, Netflix was able to nab that show when YouTube got out of the scripted originals business, and turn it into a monster hit.
Netflix has picked up several canceled series over the years (up next: NBC’s “Manifest”). But the case of “Girls5eva” is a bit unique. The Universal TV comedy aired for two seasons on sister Peacock to raves from TV critics — but crickets in the general population. That’s despite the rapid-fire pop-culture infused comedy and music at the heart of the show, which stars Sara Bareilles, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Busy Philipps and Paula Pell star as 40-something former members of a girl group who are now trying to make a comeback.
Peacock wasn’t going to give the show a third season (figuring that money could be better spent on programming that’s working for the nascent streamer, including sports). At that point, the series could have very well faded away. Would a non-NBCU outlet rush to acquire a show it didn’t own?
Instead, last week “Girls5eva” was given a new lease on life: Netflix ordered a third season of the show and has also acquired non-exclusive rights to the show’s first two seasons — which has the potential for exposing the comedy to an entirely new, and much larger, audience.
It’s the kind of deal that usually wouldn’t happen — but did, through the tenacity of reps and the goodwill of execs eager to maintain good talent relations with exec producers Tina Fey, Robert Carlock, Meredith Scardino and Jeff Richmond. Everyone involved in the surprise repreive credits a unique set of relationships for making it happen.
When it appeared unlikely that Peacock would renew “Girls5eva,” WME’s Richard Weitz and 3 Arts’ David Miner (also an EP on the show) — who both rep Fey and series creator Scardino, among others — sprung into action. Fey’s and Carlock’s “Mr. Mayor” had just been canceled by NBC, and they weren’t about to let another one of the producers’ shows bite the dust.
They ultimately made just one call — to Netflix. The streamer had previously saved Fey’s and Carlock’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” after NBC, which had originally ordered that show, cut bait. The Netflix exec ranks there are stocked with former NBCUniversal execs who already have strong relationships with both Fey and Carlock and company, as well as with Universal TV (which has several shows on Netflix, including the new “Blockbuster”).
The reps also knew they had several “Girls5eva” fans at Netflix — including comedy head Tracey Pakosta, who had actually tried to order the music-themed comedy at NBC when she was co-head of scripted at the network. (Peacock had made a series order, which NBC couldn’t match at the time.)
“It’s a show that we loved,” Pakosta says. “We thought we could give it another lease on life.”
Although moving “Girls5eva” to Netflix could fuel a negative narrative for Peacock, NBCU execs from CEO Jeff Shell on down signed off on the deal, realizing that, in success, “Girls5eva” could turn into a valuable asset for the company. And even the NBCU folks who weren’t thrilled with seeing “Girls5eva” go to a competitor knew what it meant toward solidifying their relationships with the producers. “It was a hard call, but they were mensches about it,” says one insider. “It’s value for their own library. If it turns into ‘Schitt’s Creek,’ then great.”
(That, of course, is reference to the “Schitt’s Creek effect” that Netflix has had on countless critically acclaimed, but not widely viewed, shows that became hits after moving to the streamer.)
“Everybody had the same goal, which was we wanted this to continue,” says one insider. “They invested all this time and energy and people loved it. And they’re excited now that so many more people are finally going think it’s brand new and watch it. No one’s making any money on this, everyone’s really doing it for relationships and for the belief that the show is a winner.”
The trickiest part, and why it took several months to finalize, came down to international deals. “Girls5eva” was sold exclusively to various outlets across the globe. Some territories were quickly on board, while others didn’t want to give up their rights so easily. Insiders say there came a point during the summer where work on the deal slowed down as NBCU looked to extract those global arrangements. Ultimately, a pact worked out that will allow the first two seasons to continue to be available elsewhere, including Peacock in the U.S., while Season 3 is exclusive on Netflix.
There are still plenty of unanswered questions as to how the transition will work: For this winter awards season, “Girls5eva” is still Peacock’s FYC responsibility, for example. And Netflix won’t likely premiere its run of Seasons 1 and 2 until closer to the launch of Season 3, in order to excite viewers for the new episodes rather than making them wait a year.
It was complicated, but a learning lesson in how relationships and belief in a show can actually score results. Says one exec: “Good things don’t have to die.”
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