One Day at a Time, the beleaguered, critically beloved Netflix sitcom that was canceled earlier this year after three seasons, will return after all — but its fourth season will air on the cable network Pop before rerunning a few months later on Pop’s corporate parent, CBS. (Pop is the former TV Guide Channel, and it’s also the American home of first-run episodes of Schitt’s Creek.)
The split between Pop and CBS allows the networks to share the cost of the revival (which is said to be higher than Pop’s typical production budget), while also giving the series multiple chances to gain new viewership. And CBS’s involvement could be particularly beneficial for One Day at a Time going forward: Not only is it America’s most watched TV network, but the show’s multicamera sitcom stylings might fit in perfectly alongside some of CBS’s other series, like Mom and The Neighborhood. (There’s no news yet on whether One Day at a Time will have a new streaming home or whether Netflix might purchase the streaming rights to future seasons at a substantially reduced cost.)
It’s a historic deal. So far as anyone can tell, there has never been a TV series that originated on and was canceled by a streaming service, then resurrected by a traditional TV network, though there are plenty of examples of the reverse. (The closest comparison might be High Maintenance, which started as an independent web series, then found a home on Vimeo and then moved to HBO. But it was never “canceled”; instead, it kept getting promoted.)
When you consider that One Day at a Time is itself a remake of a broadcast network TV series that originally aired on CBS from 1975 to 1984, the whole thing starts to feel like a big TV pretzel, encompassing huge swathes of the medium’s history and offering a weird preview of its uncertain future.
“We’re thrilled to be doing another season One Day at a Time and apparently we’re also making history? Sure it’s ‘content platform switching’ history but still that counts! We look forward to our virtual reality season five,” said co-showrunners Gloria Calderón Kellett and Mike Royce in an email statement to Vox.
Indeed, contained within this one unlikely reboot-to-canceled-series-to-revived-series cycle are three separate storylines about the ways that TV is changing.
1) TV studios that aren’t directly affiliated with a network or streaming service are at a disadvantage — but not down for the count
One Day at a Time has been resurrected for a number of reasons. It boasts a storied cast, including living legend Rita Moreno and should-be-nominated-for-an-Emmy star Justina Machado). Behind the scenes is another living legend, in executive producer Norman Lear. And the show’s writing and direction are among the sharpest on TV.
But when it comes right down to it, One Day at a Time will be back because of the tenacity of Sony Pictures Television, the studio that makes it. Sony TV is in an unfortunate position in this age of increased corporate synergy: It doesn’t own any TV networks, and the only streaming platform under its roof is the incredibly low-budget Sony Crackle, which mostly exists as a home for ad-supported movies and TV shows. Footing the bill for something like One Day at a Time would have been far beyond Crackle’s means.
And yet Sony TV has successfully shepherded several improbable revivals in this era of unexpected TV headlines. It managed to produce a sixth season of Community for the short-lived Yahoo streaming platform after NBC canceled it, and it found a way to revive a different canceled NBC series, Timeless, at NBC itself. (In the case of Timeless, Sony actually convinced NBC to resurrect it twice, though the second time was only for a wrap-up movie.) In the studio’s most recent utterly unprecedented move, it found a way to resurrect the Bad Boys spinoff L.A.’s Finest at Spectrum Cable after NBC commissioned and then passed on the show’s pilot.
Sony TV doesn’t have magic powers. It wasn’t able to revive The Tick after Amazon Prime Video canceled it in May. But its success in saving some of its shows is proof that TV studios without a direct connection to a network or streaming services can still compete. Yes, if your show isn’t already owned by one of TV’s biggest, most prolific studios (think Disney and Netflix; more on the latter in a second), your odds of a post-cancellation save will be low — but you might have a better shot at survival if you’re owned by Sony.
2) “Buzz” still matters more than you might expect in the streaming era
How many people were watching One Day at a Time on Netflix? It’s impossible to say because Netflix famously doesn’t release any meaningful viewership data. But the fact that the show was canceled suggests “not enough for Netflix to feel it could safely turn a profit going forward.” Add in the detail that One Day at a Time has struggled to earn major awards nominations — its most notable honor was probably a Television Critics Association nomination for Achievement in Comedy in 2018 — and Netflix’s cancellation decision seems tough but essentially fair.
But the way that Netflix canceled the series rankled plenty of people, not least because the process involved a lengthy tweet thread about the company’s commitment to diverse storytelling and underrepresented perspectives that many fans felt was too little, too late.
One Day at a Time might be a very traditional sitcom, but it’s one of TV’s few portrayals of a Latino family, and it features a handful of recurring nonbinary characters, too. That’s to say nothing of the many other perspectives and social issues the show has tackled. It’s warmhearted TV with progressive bona fides — so right from the jump, its cancellation dealt a significant blow to the idea of representation and inclusion on television.
Then, as fans called for another network to save it, Netflix single-handedly stopped One Day at a Time from landing on another streaming service (namely CBS All Access), according to reporting by Vulture’s Joe Adalian. And all of that together subtly shifted the buzz around One Day at a Time’s cancellation from “What Netflix did is what any TV network might have done” to “What Netflix did was unjust.”
One Day at a Time’s reputation, combined with that shift in buzz, probably also helped save the series, at least a little bit. Pop prides itself on Schitt’s Creek, a similarly warm and diverse series that has earned a similar level of critical respect. And with Schitt’s Creek ending its run with its sixth season in 2020, the network was presumably on the hunt for a show that could stand as its heir apparent. One Day at a Time is a really good bet to step into that slot and run for years to come. (Its first three seasons will also air on Pop, which now has cable rerun rights to the show.)
As a bonus, we’ll now have a fairly fascinating case study that might offer hints as to the viewership for One Day at a Time’s first three seasons — the viewership that apparently wasn’t big enough for Netflix to continue airing the show — and whether Netflix’s model really is better for young shows to garner attention from audiences.
One Day at a Time season four will almost certainly be paired with the final season of Schitt’s Creek, which averages just under 500,000 live viewers per episode and just over 3 million viewers per episode when all viewers are accounted for. If One Day at a Time can hang on to most of the Schitt’s Creek audience, it will stand as an example of how very old-fashioned ideas — like giving a TV show the right lead-in instead of just stranding it in the middle of nowhere on a streaming platform — can still be very important when handling low-rated, little-watched shows.
If it flops, however, Netflix’s decision will look ever more tough but fair.
3) Netflix is looking more and more like the very networks it aimed to disrupt
Just a few short years ago, streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon looked like the next frontier for the idea that a beloved TV show need never be canceled. Netflix picked up the long-awaited fourth season of Arrested Development as well as the canceled cable cop drama Longmire. Hulu revived The Mindy Project. Amazon rescued the sci-fi drama The Expanse just last year.
But as Netflix evolves into a titan, it’s behaving more and more like a traditional TV network. While it seems likely that One Day at a Time’s viewership on Netflix was unsustainable, it also didn’t help the comedy that Netflix didn’t outright own the show. If Netflix had been the owner of One Day at a Time, it would have seen more of an upside to keeping the show running and would have been more likely to renew it for a fourth season and beyond. (How much more likely, of course, we cannot know.)
For as much as Netflix is shrouded in mystery — how many people watched One Day at a Time? How many of those viewers were directed toward the show by Netflix’s all-powerful algorithm? Etc., etc., etc. — most of its moves make sense if you think of it as a massive TV network that can take a few swings here and there but still needs to protect its investments. (That approach will be incredibly familiar to fans of any given network TV show that was canceled after a season or two of low ratings.)
Netflix at one time seemed like the future of TV. And in the way it’s warped the rest of the industry to match its on-demand image, it still might be. But in many other ways, it feels as if Netflix is becoming ever more like the TV industry it aimed to shake up.