A lot can happen in a year. NBC, the commercial network that aired “30 Rock” for seven seasons, is hinting that it is taking a break from comedy. [Insert “Too late!” joke here.] Well, if not comedy altogether (NBC will presumably continue to air “The Tonight Show” and Dateline can be pretty funny), then it will at least refrain from backing any new, arguably edgier shows that lack assurances of a payoff.
That appears to be the rationale behind Tina Fey and Robert Carlock moving their upcoming new show, “Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt,” from NBC to Netflix. Recently scheduled to run on NBC early next year as a mid-season replacement, the comedy has been picked up for two full seasons by the streaming online service, with its initial 13-episode run set to start in March.
Robert Greenblatt, chairman of NBC entertainment, described the decision as one that was mutually agreeable for all parties involved. “When the opportunity arose for Tina Fey and Robert Carlock to premiere their new show on Netflix with a two-season commitment, we decided this was the best possible scenario to launch this captivating new series,” Greenblatt explained. Anyone skeptical of a network executive’s expressions of well-wishing and an interest in the well-being of others might simply read this as NBC, still stinging from its failure to come up with a comedy capable of competing with the stuff Chuck Lorre churns out for CBS, seeking an acceptable reason to keep Fey and Carlock’s new show from taking up a timeslot.
Not that NBC felt the show was terrible. But if “Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt” proves to be anything like “30 Rock,” it will be another critical darling with mediocre ratings. Trying to package a show about a former doomsday cultist making her way in the Big Apple for audiences that have consistently shown that they think Johnny Galecki and Jon Cryer are hilarious sounds like a thankless task (and maybe justifies NBC being more excited about their show bearing the idiotic title “#Winning”). Add to that Fey’s professional loyalty to NBC over the years, despite her thinly veiled digs at the network in many of her scripted bits, and the network had a PR problem of potentially Conan O’Brien proportions in their hands.
So when Netflix, a content purveyor more interested in subscribers than ratings, swooped in and said, “We’d be happy to air this!” Greenblatt was only too happy to give the show up. Fey and Carlock get their project aired. And Netflix gets another jewel in their increasingly bedazzled crown to go with “House of Cards,” “Orange is the New Black” and the fourth season of “Arrested Development.”
Starring Ellie Kemper, likely best known for her roles on U.S. version of “The Office” and in the movie “Bridesmaids,” and probably less known for her contributions to The Onion and McSweeney’s, it is difficult to think that the show won’t live up to its hype. Too early to tell if it’ll be doughnut-in-the-microwave good, but the talent involved merits suspending doubt for at least the first episode.