How Ted Sarandos and Bob Odenkirk's 15-Year Bromance Got 'Mr. Show' Revival on Netflix

Courtesy of Netflix
David Cross (left) and Bob Odenkirk

The streamer's CCO laid the foundation for a 'Bob and David' comeback while sharing an office building with Odenkirk back in the early oughts.

This story first appeared in the Nov. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Twenty years after David Cross and Bob Odenkirk's influential sketch series Mr. Show With Bob and David premiered on HBO, the comedy has a revival of sorts on Netflix. The Nov. 13 bow of With Bob and David (no "Mr. Show") is the fruit of barely two weeks of filming in early 2015. But the seeds of the four-episode project were planted by Netflix's Ted Sarandos way back in 2001.

"I was the only Netflix employee in L.A., and my first office outside of my home was at the Raleigh Studios lot, directly above Bob's," recalls Sarandos, the streaming service's chief content officer and a self-professed comedy nerd. In the days before Netflix's original series, he focused solely on acquisitions for the company's DVD-by-mail business. "One of the reasons we connected was distribution frustrations. I couldn't get Mr. Show on Netflix DVD back in the early days because it wasn't even on DVD," he says.

Those DVDs eventually arrived, but rights issues still keep episodes from HBO's over-the-top service or Netflix streaming. Yet Odenkirk and Sarandos had struck up a friendship. "I remember sitting in the cafeteria and him telling me about how streaming was the future … computers just need to be faster," says Odenkirk, who had a frequent visitor in Cross. "It sounded like it was 100 years away."

With Mr. Show in perpetual limbo, the trio found other ways to collaborate. The first Netflix off-site retreat in L.A. was planned in 2003 by Sarandos and Odenkirk's wife. Naomi Odenkirk, a manager and producer at Odenkirk Provissiero Entertainment, booked then-little-knowns such as Patton Oswalt, Sarah Silverman and her husband for the private event at the Hollywood Improv.

In the years since, their paths have crossed elsewhere. Odenkirk's AMC series Breaking Bad got a huge ratings boost credited by many to its older episodes streaming on Netflix, one reason why he's now starring in the spinoff Better Call Saul — streamed on Netflix in many territories. And Cross starred in the Netflix revival of cult sitcom Arrested Development. Still, despite all that, With Bob and David could have gone elsewhere. "We went to HBO partly out of a sense of obligation," says Cross. "When they wavered at how we wanted to do it, Netflix stepped up."

Sarandos, who insists niche comedy fits Netflix's model, is not just playing favorites: "Wet Hot American Summer, Mr. Show and Arrested Development, these are projects that existed before there was the technology for people to embrace them. The wish fulfillment is finding a home for really good people."