Overlooked Comedies Are the Secret Winners of the Streaming Wars

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Overlooked Comedies Are the Secret Winners of the Streaming Wars

Netflix has finally gotten some real competition amongst the ever-growing community of cord-cutters. Like Netflix, the old guard of streaming—Hulu and Amazon Prime—have also taken home some Emmy wins and nominations in recent years, and now Apple, HBO Max, Disney+, Paramount Plus, and Peacock (well, well the jury might still be out on those last two) are finding their footing with their own signature original series. There’s no longer a clear streaming king in this period of intense bidding wars when popular show’s contracts come up for negotiation. Streaming services have often swooped in to save shows in the wake of their sudden cancellation from their broadcast TV counterparts but a second outlet for salvation comes from picking up long-gone shows that were doomed from the start and giving them the chance to finally be discovered.

The news of these diamonds in the rough popping up on the major streamers have been getting as much buzz as new series premieres, like when the two-season run of Detroiters escaped Comedy Central’s eternally glitchy video player for Paramount Plus this year, or when the the blink-and-you-missed it The Dress Up Gang hit Hulu. There are pros and cons to every part of the current TV ecosystem, whether it’s the traditional broadcast networks, streaming, or cable. While cable typically offers more leeway with standards and practices than the broadcast networks, they don’t always have the marketing muscle to promote all their shows equally—or even the desire to do so. How many great comedies came and went over the last decade while getting a fraction of the promotion of a reality show or would-be prestige drama on the same network? Like how film distributors torpedo a project by releasing it in January, you’ll often hear these cable series creators gripe that their distributor barely promotes their show nor airs reruns in favor of their poster boys. MTV is 24/7 Ridiculousness, TBS has had a hard time getting attention for its original programming after prioritizing syndicated icons and movies for decades, and Comedy Central has basically given up on non-animated original programming altogether. Then there are the so-small-you-probably-didn’t-know-you-had-this-in-your-cable-package networks that don’t have the marketing budget or brand recognition to rise above the noise, like Turner’s comedy shingle TruTV, or Viacom’s TV guide network Pop, whose biggest original, Schitt’s Creek, is believed to be a Netflix original by most people. They’re the Sun Belt channels and it takes the NFL combine for anyone to realize the next Randy Moss has been quietly kicking ass in Idaho for the last four years.

While the idea of a revival is a nonstarter for many of these shows, there is ample opportunity for a renaissance of sorts now that they have the potential to reach a new and wider audience than they accessed when they were on the air. Lucas Bros. Moving Co. has the potential to move off the benches Fox stuck it on and get more attention on Hulu. HBO Max, arguably the best streamer at the moment, is steadily fleshing out a comedy lineup of Adult Swim hits, TruTV curiosities like At Home with Amy Sedaris, Talk Show the Game Show, and Those Who Can’t, and TBS shows like Final Space and Miracle Workers; the streamer also acquired the neglected former Comedy Central shows South Side and The Other Two. Paramount Plus has made much of Comedy Central’s catalogue easily streamable for the first time, so new viewers can now discover Detroiters, Review, or Another Period. And Peacock has bolstered a lineup of popular hit network sitcoms with originals like Rutherford Falls and The Amber Ruffin Show, and the NBC reclamation project A.P. Bio.

A cut of the marketing budget is still probably out of reach for these older shows that are no longer in production, but there’s a significant silver lining in not having them disappear into obscurity. You could argue that a big platform putting in zero promo effort can be just as effective at attracting viewers as a smaller platform putting in some effort—or at least we hope so. With some word of mouth, aimless scrolling, and some algorithm updates, I hope these criminally overlooked shows can get some more eyeballs on them. We can’t go back in time and force their original homes to give them the attention and care they deserved, but maybe we can show them what they missed out on if their original distributors had tried harder. At the very least, the few of us in the know can enjoy these hotshots again with no ads.

Olivia Cathcart is a comedian and writer.

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