'One Day at a Time': Inside the Comedy's Historic Comeback

CBS-owned cable network Pop, and some savvy deal-making from producers Sony TV, brought Netflix's beloved reboot of the Norman Lear original back from the grave.
Netflix
'One Day at a Time'

Television miracles do not happen easily. Such was the case for One Day at a Time, the reboot of Norman Lear's CBS hit that Netflix canceled four months ago.

On Thursday, Pop TV — the CBS-owned niche cable network home to critical darling Schitt's Creek and such syndicated fare as Dawson's Creek revived the Latinx-themed comedy for a fourth season. The deal followed months of negotiations between multiple outlets and executives at Sony Pictures Television, which produces the series.

The biggest obstacle in finding a new home for ODAAT was Sony's original deal with Netflix. That pact prevented another streaming platform — like CBS All Access, which was among the first to eye a fourth season — from airing the series for a number of years. A lengthy wait would have meant losing the still significant momentum for ODAAT and, as a result, require a greater financial marketing and promotional effort from any new home.

In making the historic deal — One Day at a Time becomes the first original scripted series to move from a streamer to a cable network — Sony TV also acquired linear syndication rights to the comedy. That will allow the independent studio to shop the entire ODAAT reboot library and further monetize the series beyond its original deal with Netflix. The studio's Netflix pact was a "cost-plus" deal, meaning the streamer paid Sony an upfront fee that covered the expenses of mounting the show as well as an additional sum.

With ODAAT's move to Pop, the series will now operate under a deficit finance model. That means Pop will pay a licensing fee — that is less than the cost of the series — to Sony for the right to air the show. Season four of the comedy, set to return in 2020, will see a slight reduction in its budget (though it is not expected to be evident onscreen).

"[Sony] was getting on the phone with networks that I promise you I have never, ever heard of," executive producer Mike Royce told TV's Top 5 podcast in an interview posted Friday morning. "They talked to everyone, big and small, and figured out creative ways to go at this."

With the new deal, Sony now will gain international and syndication rights to sell the show's fourth season (and beyond). That key additional revenue stream helps Sony avoid having to bring in CBS TV Studios as a co-producer on the series. Adjusting a show's ownership structure by bringing in a co-producer — as was the case with Timeless at NBC — has typically been Sony's model for saving a series.

Timeless, which NBC canceled May 10, 2017, was shockingly renewed three days later after Sony — under then TV heads Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht — offered the lion's share of the profits from the time-travel drama to NBC as the show became a co-production with Universal TV. (Ownership increasingly plays a key role in renewal and cancellation decisions, which was why NBC was able to renew Brooklyn Nine-Nine some 48 hours after Fox's cancellation, as the comedy is produced by Universal TV.)

Still, there will be other cross-company sharing when it comes to One Day at a Time. CBS, the network that aired Lear's original comedy, will have a second window to the series after its run on Pop as the prolific producer sees his legendary career come full circle. Pop will also air the first three seasons of the comedy starring Justina Machado and Rita Moreno as Netflix will retain exclusive streaming rights to those 39 episodes.

It's also worth noting that the show's ownership structure (Netflix had to pay a licensing fee to Sony) had nothing to do with the streamer's decision to cancel ODAAT. In an April interview with The Hollywood Reporter, vp originals Cindy Holland noted that the media behemoth looks at the cost of the season vs. viewership and that it didn't make "economic sense" for Netflix to renew the show, either for season two or three. "We supported three seasons of a show that probably wouldn't have made it past season one any other place — if it had been made at all," she said. "But at some point, we do need to look for other stories to tell that can garner bigger audiences."

As for ODAAT, Sony's new leadership — Jeff Frost, Jason Clodfelter and Chris Parnell — should be credited for their ability to effectively reverse-engineer a syndication deal as the studio created a new deal template to help save the beloved family comedy. The Pop deal is a much-needed win for the indie studio which, in recent months, has seen valued producers including Seth Rogen (Preacher), Adam F. Goldberg (The Goldbergs) and, more recently, David Caspe (Happy Endings) depart for lucrative overalls with other studios. (Sony has landed new deals with Homeland's Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon and Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse duo Phil Lord and Chris Miller.) Still, ODAAT is the latest and, perhaps most challenging, series to land a new home under the current regime. The Sony trio, who replaced Van Amburg and Erlicht in July 2017 after the duo departed for Apple, moved Bad Boys spinoff L.A.'s Finest from NBC to Spectrum as it became the first scripted original for the cable provider. That continued Sony's rare ability to find new homes for canceled series including Community (which moved from NBC to Yahoo) and Sneaky Pete (from CBS to Amazon).

The timing of the Pop pact comes as options for the ODAAT cast were about to expire. The process was delayed as multiple broadcast networks — including ABC and CBS — eyed the series but focused instead on their current pilot crop. To hear Royce tell it, he had "fully moved on" from ODAAT before things "started to heat up in the last month or two."

Royce and co-showrunner Gloria Calderon Kellett will now prepare to plot out a new season that will be rolled out weekly and feature shorter episodes as they now will have to accommodate the ad breaks that come with a home on a basic cable network. And with the series airing on Pop, industry watchdogs will now for the first time have ratings data with which to measure just how big ODAAT's vocal audience will be.

As for the future, Royce has no plans for season for of ODAAT to be its last. "I don't think Rita is going to stop after 10," he said with a laugh. "It's the kind of show that has more stories to tell. It's not done. It's a format where you can keep going. … We'll see what happens this season. It's a very experimental situation — no one has ever done anything like this before."

Now the task becomes ensuring that One Day at a Time's vocal fans have cable subscriptions and can watch — preferably live — on Pop, the home to Schitt's Creek, Big Brother: After Dark and repeats of the original Beverly Hills, 90210.