Emmys post-mortem: What went wrong for ‘Arrested Development’?

Most predictors expected the returning “Arrested Development” to do well in this year’s Emmy nominations, including bids for Best Comedy and several of its actors. So it came as a surprise when the series, which had been nominated for the top prize all three years of its original FOX run, was snubbed in all but three categories: Comedy Actor (Jason Bateman), Picture Editing, and Music Composition.

What went wrong? Were voters hesitant to honor a show delivered exclusively on the internet? That couldn’t have been the case: “House of Cards,” another Netflix series, was nominated for Best Drama. So what could account for the shortfall? Some possible explanations:

Expectations were too high.Arrested Development” was beloved by its few fans on network television, and its reputation had only grown in the years following its cancellation, when its episodes developed a second life on DVD and, yes, online; its first three seasons were available to stream on Netflix long before it premiered its new episodes there.

But where the original series was somewhat experimental, the new episodes were even more so. In part to accommodate the actors’ schedules, each episode was written specifically around one character, with various other storylines and subplots intricately woven throughout; structurally, season four of “Arrested” more closely resembled a season of “Lost.”

Perhaps that was too great a difference for fans within the TV Academy, who were possibly hoping to honor a program that more closely resembled the original series, and when that wasn’t delivered decided to look elsewhere. Or perhaps fans, after seven years of waiting, were expecting something the show simply couldn’t deliver.

The TV landscape has changed. When “Arrested Development” originally aired, its fast-paced, self-referential style seemed downright avant-garde, but that was before similarly absurdist shows like “30 Rock” took up its mantle. Other adventurous programs, like “Girls” and “Louie,” have further expanded the boundaries of TV comedy. The genre has come a long way in seven years, so perhaps “Arrested Development” no longer stood out to voters the way it once did.

They decided not to watch the whole thing. Earlier episodes of the new season weren’t among its highlights, with later installments following Tobias (“A New Start“), Gob (“Colony Collapse“), Lucille (“Queen B”), and Buster (“Off the Hook“) receiving some of the greatest acclaim. Impatient voters, initially underwhelmed, may have given up too soon.

They didn’t have time to watch the whole thing. Hoping to make a strong last impression on voters, Netflix premiered all 15 episodes of the fourth season on May 26. The voting period for Emmy nominations began June 10 and ended June 28. It was a given that many expectant fans would binge-watch the series in a short period of time, but were Emmy voters equally likely to watch 15 episodes in one month, or less if they submitted ballots early? They may have been especially disinclined to do so if, as speculated above, they were disappointed by early episodes.

In contrast, “House of Cards” premiered its episodes back on February 1. The success of that show may indicate it’s a wiser strategy for online programming to get out early rather than to depend on voters to watch a season’s worth of episodes in quick succession.

If that’s the case, it may be no coincidence that “Arrested’s” sole acting nominee, Bateman, was the one most prominently featured towards the beginning of its season. Were those the only episodes many voters had a chance — or bothered — to see? Would the series have done better if Netflix had given it more time to catch on? Or had the show’s glory days simply come and gone?

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