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Since the emergence of streamers such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon in recent years, their massive budgets, unrestricted episode run times and shorter season orders have made them go-to destinations for Hollywood creatives hoping to launch the next must-watch series.
Which is what makes it even more surprising when one of the Big Four launches a series like The Good Place, an ambitious, heavily serialized comedy about the afterlife that would seem to fit perfectly into Netflix’s binge-watch model of releasing all episodes at once.
However, series creator Mike Schur said network was the best home for his acclaimed series.
“A show that’s extremely structured, I think, benefits from the network structure because it forces you as a writer to think about act breaks, it forces you to think about … what the main character is going through,” Schur told reporters Friday at the Television Critics Association winter press tour.
“It’s not that people don’t do those things on streaming services, but if you watch certain shows on streaming service, it’s like the fish expands to the size of the fish bowl. I watch certain shows on certain streaming services where I’ve thought, ‘Man, give me like two hours with an editor, and I will dock 15 minutes off of this sucker and it will be better.'”
While streamers afford their creators the luxury of not having to worry about commercials or timeslots, Schur said that freedom can be a “little bit of a trap.” He said the strict episode run times in particular – an episode of The Good Place normally runs 21 minutes and 30 seconds – have in fact made the show stronger.
“Commercials are a pain in the butt, and the little snipes that come up at the bottom of the screen for other shows are a pain in the butt, and there’s not a single episode that I think was absolutely the best it could possibly be at the 21 minutes and 30 seconds, but it makes you hone the story. It makes you hone the way you write,” he said. “It’s a good feeling to me to leave moments and jokes and people on the cutting room floor because if I’m cutting things I like, it means that everything that’s in there is something I liked more.”
Schur is familiar with both sides of the coin, as he is also an exec producer on the Emmy-winning Netflix comedy Master of None, which launches its second season this year. However, he said he also wanted to bring The Good Place to NBC because of his long history with the network that stems back to his time on Saturday Night Live beginning in 1998 and also includes his work on The Office and Parks and Recreation.
“I don’t see a reason to necessarily just junk it, personally,” he said of his longtime home. “There’s not one right answer for any show. It’s not one size fits all. It’s not every show would be better on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon, or that every show would be better on ABC or Fox or NBC. … I think you figure out how you want to make it and you find the right place for it. And for me, I think this was the right place for it.”
Although The Good Place airs on NBC, Schur and his show also have embraced some of the benefits of the Peak TV era brought on largely by the streamers. For instance, despite it’s heavily serialization, The Good Place doesn’t open with any “previously on’s” to catch up occasional viewers.
“It would take so much time and be so boring for people who did watch it. It just felt like, we have 21 minutes and 30 seconds; every second is so precious,” he says of the potential episode refreshers.
Instead, NBC has gone to great lengths to make the entire first season thus far accessible for binge-watching (just like on Netflix or Amazon) online and on demand.
“In the old days, even when I started writing out here 12 years ago, the rule was you had to design the show so that people could jump in at any moment, and I just don’t think you have to do that anymore. It might be to one’s benefit, but this show just wasn’t conceived that way and it wouldn’t work any other way. I just sort of thought if people like it, they’ll go back and watch it from the beginning. At the end of the day, it’s 13 20-minute shots, so it’s like you can watch the whole season in about four hours. We’re not asking that much of people.”
The Good Place airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on NBC.
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