Netflix nabs Ellie Kemper’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” from NBC for two-season commitment

In a stunning move, NBC has agreed to free one of its upcoming sitcoms from the clutches of its “drama-heavy” primetime slate to find an audience and grow for at least the next two years on Netflix.

Netflix announced Friday night it had picked up Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt — starring Ellie Kemper and co-created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock — for a two-season exclusive commitment, launching worldwide in March 2015.

NBC originally announced in May it had ordered 13 episodes of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt for fall, then didn’t put it on the fall schedule, nor the midseason schedule in January. The series stars Kemper as a woman who escapes from a doomsday cult and starts her life anew in New York City. It has been taping in NYC this fall.

Her co-stars include Jane Krakowski as her boss, Tituss Burgess as her roommate, plus Lauren Adams, Sara Chase, Sol Miranda and Carol Kane.

Here’s how NBC Entertainment Chairman Robert Greenblatt explained it:

“When the opportunity arose for Tina Fey and Robert Carlock to premiere their new show on Netflix with a two-season commitment, we decided this was the best possible scenario to launch this captivating new series. While it was originally developed for NBC, we have a very drama-heavy mid-season schedule so we’re thrilled about this Netflix opportunity; it’s an instant win-win for everyone, including Tina, Robert, and Universal Television. We’re already talking to these extraordinary creators about new development for NBC, but meanwhile, everyone here from Universal Television will do everything possible to see that Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt becomes a long-running hit on Netflix.”

Best possible scenario. Very drama-heavy mid-season schedule. Instant win-win for everyone.

Translations? The Peacock Network, which made its Must-See TV name on Thursday night sitcoms, has seen those fortunes turn in recent years, canceling all of its rookie comedy efforts there in Fall 2013 and Fall 2014. But NBC has climbed out of fourth place and back into top ratings position (at least in the 18-49 age demographic) thanks to dramas, the NFL and The Voice. Better to keep Tina Fey and Robert Carlock (30 Rock) happy and give them a chance to succeed for years to come than to find them flounder on NBC.

On the other hand, what a coup for Netflix.

Let’s hear them toast!

“The very construct of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt — its offbeat premise, hilarious and rich characters and serialized storytelling — make it a perfect Netflix comedy series,” said Cindy Holland, Vice President of Original Content at Netflix. “Tina and Robert’s unique comic voice and sensibility come through in this series and we could not be more excited to present Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt exclusively to Netflix members around the world.”

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to debut Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt exclusively on Netflix, which has proven to be such an outstanding place for distinctive, original programming,” said Fey and Carlock. “Happily, we will still collaborate with our longtime partners at Universal Television to fulfill Netflix’s two-season order. We grew up at NBC and will continue to develop broadcast projects with them as well. We found the inspiration for this series in Ellie Kemper’s shining all-American face, and we know that she and Kimmy Schmidt have found their best possible home at Netflix.

Netflix has saved canceled shows before — Arrested Development from FOX, The Killing from AMC, and most recently, grabbing Longmire from A&E.

This is more like a pre-cancellation save.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt joins Netflix’s growing comedy programming slate. Netflix also has a two-season order of Love¬†from Judd Apatow on tap for 2015, along with Grace and Frankie (Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda) and animated tandem of BoJack Horseman and Bill Burr’s F is for Family.

NBC, meanwhile, already pre-canceled Mission Control before its supposed midseason debut — and has put the planned kibosh on rookie sitcoms Bad Bride and A to Z. NBC has ordered more episodes of Marry Me, which is paired with sophomore sitcom About A Boy on Tuesdays. In the can, still, awaiting midseason debuts are One Big Happy and Mr. Robinson, plus the final season of Parks and Recreation.

As for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, NBC still will profit from its success as it’s a Universal Television production. Other credits go to Jeff Richmond, Jack Burditt, David Miner, Little Stranger Inc., 3 Arts Entertainment and Bevel Gears.

Sean L. McCarthy

Editor and publisher since 2007, when he was named New York's Funniest Reporter. Former newspaper reporter at the New York Daily News, Boston Herald and smaller dailies and community papers across America. Loves comedy so much he founded this site.

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