Earlier this week, Community creator Dan Harmon spoke at the PaleyFest about the show’s fifth season along with the cast and a few producers. When asked about the prospects of a sixth season in case NBC decided not to renew the cult sitcom (though chances are likely that Community will return next year due to the network’s lack of established comedies), Harmon replied that Community would search for another home, which could include streaming sites such as Netflix or Hulu. “No one is better than Sony when it comes to recognizing property,” Harmon said. “If they have something that’s worth anything, that has an opportunity to recoup and profit, it’s Sony.”
Hearing the news is a relief for any Community fan but also indicates the recent rise of Internet TV. A few years ago, most people would have shrugged off the idea but now it seems that Internet TV is here to stay. In 2013, Netflix released the long-rumored fourth season of Arrested Development (which like Community has a small but devoted fanbase), the David Fincher-Kevin Spacey project House of Cards, and prison dramedy Orange is the New Black from Weeds creator Jenji Kohan. Hulu has obtained the rights to play many international series (such as Moone Boy) online as well as created original shows like A Day in the Life and Quick Draw. Even Amazon Prime has gotten into the competition, hiring Garry Trudeau of Doonesbury to create Alpha House, which stars John Goodman. The 65th Emmys cemented the status of Internet television as House of Cards received nine nominations, including Best Drama next to contenders like Breaking Bad and Mad Men. This year it looks as House of Cards will be nominated again and Orange is the New Black will almost certainly receive some nods from the Emmys.
It’s rather surprising how quick this shift took. The Internet has definitely had an impact on television, from spreading fandom to online streaming, but with the exception of webisodes has never been a home for original series. Moreover, many of these shows feel suitable to play on television (House of Cards in particular could fit on HBO).
For critics and viewers, it’s a whole new way to absorb the medium. From its inception, television has always been about scheduling to the extent that watching a program live is somewhat of an event or ritual, so that the next day people could talk about the latest episode of _________. But Internet Television works differently. Sites like Netflix release all the episodes of a season at once, resulting in fans binge-watching Orange is the New Black or House of Cards (I ended up seeing all fifteen new Arrested Development episodes in less than a week). It’s a pro and a con for viewers; giving people complete access to a series but also hindering audience speculation or tension that comes from scheduling a series over the course of a few months.
Moreover, the quality of many of these shows has a large range. Some are among the finest series currently on (Orange is the New Black ranked highly on my top ten TV Shows of 2013 and while fan response to the fourth season of Arrested Development was mixed, I thought the episodes were as funny as the show ever produced) to being of good if not great (House of Cards is entertaining but lacks gravitas or originality) while some are just outright bad (Quick Draw).
Yet as a format, Internet Television is only increasing and improving and certainly is an exciting development. Maybe in about five to ten years, it could eclipse television as a medium itself.