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The streaming giant has opted to cancel the series from showrunner Victor Fresco. The decision comes as a bit of a surprise given the star power attached to the wacky comedy about a married couple in suburbia and the fact that the series is owned and produced in-house at Netflix.
“The world had never known a ‘zom-com’ until Santa Clarita Diet, and we’re indebted to creator Victor Fresco for bringing this idea to Netflix,” Netflix said Friday in a statement. “To their endless credit, the incredible Drew Barrymore and Timothy Olyphant were totally game, with an uncanny knack for comedy that brought Sheila and Joel Hammond to vibrant life, even though one of them was undead. We’re grateful to Victor, Drew and Timothy, along with fellow executive producers Tracy Katsky, Aaron Kaplan, Chris Miller and Ember Truesdell and the terrific cast, including Liv Hewson and Skyler Gisondo, and crew for three hilarious seasons for Netflix members to discover for years to come.”
While Netflix hadn’t previously announced that Santa Clarita Diet would be ending with season three (which launched March 29), promotional materials for the latest batch of episodes hinted at a fatal decision. The trailer teased that Olyphant’s character could become undead as well, enabling him and his wife and fellow realtor Sheila (Barrymore), whose undead transformation early in season one set the series in motion, to spend eternity together. Posters for season three posed the question, “Til Death?”
“Like our audience, we were all-in on Sheila and Joel. Their relationship, in the face of incredible adversity, was inspiring to write and to watch. Mostly, they were funny, which in a comedy is important. Working with Drew and Tim, along with the immensely talented Liv and Skyler, was a joy and a once in a lifetime experience,” Fresco and executive producer Tracy Katsky said in a joint statement. “Netflix took a chance on this odd show and for that we will always be grateful. They were supportive, ever positive, and appreciative of our work. Until about noon today. Still, they were just one phone call away from being a perfect studio. Not bad. Everything ends. This was a thing. And so it ended. We’ll miss it but are proud of the work we did and will always appreciate the love and enthusiasm we felt from our audience. If it was up to them, Sheila and Joel would continue for another 10,000 years.”
Two weeks after Santa Clarita Diet‘s second season dropped last year, Fresco said the writers were already back at work on a then-unannounced third installment and that there was a lot they could still explore with Joel, Sheila and their suburban community. “There’s always more story. The whole season one took place over two weeks and season two takes place over two weeks, so they’re still only about a month into this incredible change that they’re going through,” Fresco said of Joel and Sheila.
“Of all of the characters I’ve ever been, Sheila Hammond is one of my favorites,” said star and exec producer Barrymore. “She and Joel were an amazing couple, who had shared goals. And I am lucky to have worked alongside Tim Olyphant. It was an honor to get to do something so delightful. Sheila lives forever in me. And I am grateful to Victor Fresco, who created a world so unique.”
Added star and exec producer Olyphant: “I loved working on this show. I’m going to continue coming in and doing scenes. If they don’t want to film it, that’s up to them.”
Though Fresco and his team hadn’t received data from Netflix about the show, he previously said, “We hear anecdotally from people and I think it’s been well-received. I know that the people who are important to me in my friends and family and the actors on the show really had a good time doing it and really are happy with it, so that’s important to me. I feel good about it and the stuff that I’ve heard back is good too and the stuff I’ve read has been very positive about it, which I enjoy also. It’s touched people in a way I didn’t anticipate when I first created it.”
The show was renewed for a third season just a few weeks after that. Netflix, like fellow streamers Amazon and Hulu, famously doesn’t release viewership information. Santa Clarita Diet has an average 89 percent rating among critics and 87 percent audience score for its three seasons on Rotten Tomatoes.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter the day season three launched, Fresco said that he and his team didn’t “know anything” about the fate of the series and that nothing had been decided about whether Santa Clarita Diet would be renewed or canceled.
“We’re aware that the show gets more expensive every year; we’re aware of what seems like templates of [Netflix’s] studio stuff now. It looks like mostly three-season stuff,” he said, seemingly confirming a recent report that the streamer now appears to have a two- or three-season business model for many series. “We know they like the show. I like to say the humans there seem to love the show; I don’t know how the algorithm feels about us, and the algorithm makes a lot of decisions, ultimately. So I just don’t know.”
Fresco, who said he imagined the series running for five seasons, and his team crafted the season-three finale not knowing what the future of the show was, he explained, adding that if that episode turns out to be the series finale, “We wanted to leave it hopefully satisfying if we don’t come back, but also promising something that could be really interesting to explore if we do come back.”
Santa Clarita Diet marked Barrymore’s first series-regular TV role. She has since said that it was the script for Santa Clarita Diet that made her want to act again. Fresco, Barrymore, Olyphant, Kapital Entertainment’s Aaron Kaplan and Tracy Katsky, Chris Miller and Ember Truesdell exec produced.
The cancellation arrives as Netflix continues to carefully review its internal data when it makes renewal decisions. The streamer, which spends upward of $8 billion on original content, typically has to take on added costs as series age. Netflix most recently pulled the plug on the critically acclaimed comedy One Day at a Time after three seasons after the streamer could not work out a new deal with owners/producers Sony TV. That followed Netflix’s decision to sever ties with Marvel and cancel all of its remaining dramas (all of which were owned by Disney).
But while One Day at a Time and the Marvel series that Netflix dumped came from outside studios, Santa Clarita Diet is a Netflix production.
So if the streamer chooses to pull the plug on its own series, it’s unknown if Fresco could take the comedy that Netflix owns elsewhere.
“I can’t see how it could be shopped elsewhere since Netflix is the studio. I haven’t explored that and that would be something that would be easy to figure out in a phone call if that’s even possible to take it elsewhere. But I just don’t know if it is, since they own it outright,” he said.
Few comedies at Netflix have lasted beyond three seasons, with American Vandal, All About the Washingtons, Haters Back Off!, Lady Dynamite, Disjointed and Love all ending after three seasons or fewer. Earlier this year, perennial awards contender Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt aired its fourth and final season, an ending that was announced ahead of time. Other longer-lasting comedies include Grace and Frankie, the streamer’s longest-running live-action scripted comedy series, which was renewed earlier this year for a sixth season; Arrested Development, which recently debuted the second half of its fifth season, having been picked up from Fox but airing only two new seasons on the streaming platform thus far, the first of which dropped in 2013; and more broader-skewing fare like The Ranch, which was renewed last fall for a fourth season, and Fuller House, which is set to end with its upcoming fifth season.
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