Taste the happy, Michael. You’re coming back.

At the end of this month, a moment unthinkable in the minds of so many will finally be realized: new episodes of Arrested Development are coming. After a seven year “hiatus”, the show is re-emerging from the dead, fueled by a passionate fanbase and a desire to continue a story.

Arrested Development‘s irreverent run was cut short (during, as some may remember, the Opening Ceremonies of the 2006 Olympics) by FOX after three years of subpar ratings. But they clearly found merit in it, enough to bring it back.

When I really thought about it, the curious case of Arrested Development, as well as Family Guy, Futurama, The Game, and other shows that have been brought back from the dead, isn’t unlike a project I’ve spent much of my first year at Emmanuel working on. We have an involvement program that was gasping for air near the time of my arrival, and was quietly but mercifully killed. However, plans are in the works to resurrect it. As I spend my summer “phoenixifying” this dead program, I can’t help but draw some comparisons to AD’s imminent return. How can the return of cancelled TV help me bring this program’s version 2.0 to life?

Acknowledge changes needed.

When something doesn’t work as it should, you can’t come back and do it the same way and expect a different outcome. Yes, populations and circumstances change, but you should still aim to make your product fit the environment in which it lives. According to Entertainment Weekly, the first nine episodes of the new season will each focus on a character in the cast, what they’ve been doing in the seven years since the show left the air, and acknowledge some “origins” as well. So as you decide to bring a program back, consider what will need to change to spell success. Even in the case of Arrested Development, which was beloved by those who watched it, the model got tweaked. So do some deep examination as part of the resurrection.

Change the conversation.

To borrow a phrase from the lead of my other favorite TV show (Mad Men), “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” By that, I mean that you should redefine what you consider success, think about alternate signs that your goals are being achieved. Most TV shows live and die by the ratings they produce. When ratings are high, nobody worries. When they’re low, panic sets in. Plagued by low ratings, FOX shut down the show after an abbreviated third season. We treat a lot of our events this way. If they’re well attended, we don’t really look too closely at them. But when no one’s going, we panic and shut them down.

One thing that has changed since Arrested Development‘s original run is the incorporation of views that a show gets online, as well as delayed views produced from DVR. So even if someone isn’t sitting down to the program right away, their opinion and viewership counts. How could we do this with initiatives in our offices? As an example, can we count the few passionate students at an event telling their friends about what they saw or did, as successful? The model of Arrested Development spreading in popularity based on word of mouth tells me “maybe”.

Ponder a change in venue.

Another change working in Arrested Development’s favor is the advent of online television. Rather than being returned to FOX (like Family Guy before it), the show will be running in one 15-episode clump on Netflix. Network television wasn’t the place for a show of this type, but the creators and producers found alternate ways to distribute it.

The involvement program I’m revamping is working in a similar way. The content submitted by students had to be accessed through a series of emails, was collected by a student, and sometimes made it to where it needed to be recorded. Sometimes it didn’t. Does a faulty means of execution spell doom for any version of this program? Not necessarily. The delivery system is being changed to one that incorporates a more student friendly system and easier reporting. The change in method, based on what students asked for, should help with participation. Expect a contrite retraction if it doesn’t work!

The “banana stand” in the title of this post refers to the Bluth family banana stand, later found to be lined with cash. In fat times and lean, the banana stand was there. But regardless of how you used it (as a retail location or a rainy day fund), it could serve a purpose. Can you say the same for the programs on your campus? And if not, can you look at them another way and find a silver (dollar?) lining?

What other tips do you have for bringing a program back from the dead? Any success stories to share? And which character’s chicken dance is your favorite?

6 thoughts on “There’s Always Money In the Banana Stand: New Life from Old Programs

  1. I’m bound to be biased because I am in love with Michael Bluth, but great thoughts here. The question of assessment is more relevant than ever. Just like Nielsen ratings are not necessarily a good measure of, well, much at all anymore, we should also be giving thought to what the indicators of success will be for each program/initiative.

  2. Amma, love this comparison! You’ve got me thinking about a few older programs of my own. I love breathing new life into projects and appreciate your step-by-step (::singing::) comparison. Thanks for sharing!

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