The Arrested Development of Niche Audiences

I've been spending time lately rewatching Arrested Development. If you haven't had the chance to watch it, you really should. It's a show that's so intricately designed, metaconscious, and intertextual that it just had to be too smart for most people.

It showed. During its run, Arrested Development averaged between four and six million viewers. Despite how brilliant and hilarious the show was, this was its viewership. For years, fans have clamored for a movie. Jeffrey Tambor has flip flopped on talk shows and interviews all along the way confirming and denying it. But here's the thing: if folks were to watch this movie, how would it do? With the medium of film largely accordianic, could a narrative that continues in the style of the TV series translate to a 100 minute film? Does a score made largely of ukuleles even sound good in a gigantic theater?

There are those who fear when art goes mainstream that it must change to appeal to masses. In this situation in which TV must be adapted to the big screen, not only must the work conform to the masses but it must also conform to the medium. It loses a part of its integrity.

This is not to say if the film were made that I wouldn't want to see it. It not to say I don't have complete confidence in Mitchell Hurwitz's skills as a writer. When news comes that production begins, I'll shout it on the rooftops. When the film drops, I'll be there. But that still doesn't mean I don't have my doubts.

But I'm taking the time right now to talk about the proliferation of the niche audience. Before, if something was a cult classic, it showed in small theaters every now and again for midnight screenings. Down the line, folks owned the VHS, then the DVD. What began as common knowledge became little communities over the internet. Masses were able to organize at better rates. They gained clout and supported the art they loved. Yet as time has progressed and the ability to organize a niche increased, clout had to give way eventually.

As wide as the fan base is for Arrested Development, the show still had a viewership of four to six million viewers. A movie of this sort would get the same cult-like viewership of Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, Richard Linklater, or P.T. Anderson. The work is of quality but doesn't get a lot of butts in the seats. In all honesty, expecting folks to come out in droves isn't to be expected.

Such is the way when communication is eased. The niche audience doesn't have the power it used to have. It won't act in the force in which it used to act. The same sort of followers who ensure The Rocky Horror Picture Show ends up at rinky-dink theaters all across America aren't the same kind of people who kept Firefly afloat long enough to make Serenity (and frankly, I'm certainly not in that group. I don't care for the works of Joss Whedon).

There isn't a Bjo Trimble for this day and age pushing for an Arrested Development movie. There aren't legions of folks sending peanuts to FOX to bring back another Whedon series with really tiny ratings. It's counterproductive to the American spirit to talk about how pointless a small group can be to the masses, but in this case, when the bottom line is the name of the game, I hope Mitchell Hurwitz isn't thinking of cashing a big check.

But that movie will still be pretty awesome.


Anonymous said…
hmm maybe i will check out the show then comment
Unknown said…
God I loved that show...Every bit of dialog expertly acted and written by geniuses who "got me"...and if you "get me" you are a genius by default...just sayin' :)

Peace - Rene

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