The sheriff is near.
After getting canned by A&E after its third season for being too popular with older viewers (that oh-so-undesirable demographic among advertisers), “Longmire” is set for its comeback on Netflix.
The western crime drama, which centers on sheriff Walt Longmire who returns to work to police Absaroka County, Wyo., following his wife’s death, was surprisingly canceled by A&E last year despite being one of its most-watched original scripted series -- averaging 5.6 million viewers in its third season.
Little time was wasted before its producer Warner Horizon looked into efforts to find it a new home -- fueled by the fervor of die-hard fans who refer to themselves as the Longmire Posse.
Netflix, which has developed a reputation as a periodic show resurrector, ultimately emerged as the show’s new homebase. The 10-episode fourth season of “Longmire” will hit the streaming giant on Thursday.
We spoke with executive producers Hunt Baldwin, John Coveny and Greer Shephard about the show’s revenge tale, the state of the industry, and catering to the over-49 crowd.
There’s all this talk about the state of the TV business amid all the shifts in viewing behavior. But talk about what it’s like to be in this world where a cancellation doesn’t necessarily mean a show is dead.
Hunt Baldwin: It’s pretty extraordinary to go from where we were, which was feeling unfairly, prematurely put in the grave to not just being back, but being back in such a great place. The experience of making the show in the Netflix environment, just from a creative standpoint, has just been amazing. We’re basically making the show we were always trying to make but always having to compromise just to fit in a certain pre-determined time period that we were always having to interrupt with five artificial act breaks. We’re really shooting, and filming, and writing, and acting the same show, but now that show is actually coming to fruition.
John Coveny: It was a great feeling to be like at the terminal and they say, “Um, your flight’s canceled and you’re never going to get another one.” And then the guy on the next shift comes up and says, “By the way, we found another flight. It’s a private jet, all first-class seats.” Greer has been doing this slightly longer than us. We had a former life and a world to get out of, which was advertising. But to have a show come out of cancellation is one thing. But to have an upgrade to Netflix is an entirely other beast, and it’s utterly fantastic.
When did conversations begin? And how hopeful were you that the show would be given a second life?
Baldwin: We got canceled, people were emotional about it, and a phone call happened pretty damn soon after that said it was not dead. It’s dead at A&E, but it’s not dead.
Coveny: Within an hour, we were in discussions figuring out how do we keep doing this.
Greer Shephard: And I think through Twitter and social media, we were able to communicate with the fans to keep up the fervor. Because, particularly at a place like Netflix, which really does pay attention to the marketplace and does pay attention to consumer and consumer interest and choice, that was going to make a difference. I think for us, it was so hard to believe that it would happen -- that the show could be saved. But we’re in a real transition period in television, with people perhaps moving away from network television and going to streaming platforms. And we benefited from that, we benefited from a relatively new company needing content — content that was diverse from everything else that they were already programming. They already had an investment in us in that they were already streaming us. We benefited from this new territory.
Baldwin: We’ve always known, since the show started airing, it’s been really clear to those of us who work on the show: there is a massive audience that loves this show. And it was always strange to us that seemed not be registering with certain people because it wasn’t the audience they were trained to covet. So, we knew there was this audience, we knew how difficult it is to get an audience for whatever you’re doing, and when you have one that large and that loyal, there has to be a place for it.
Was it shocking to you that the median age was 60?
Baldwin: Not really, no.
Coveny: We came from the world of “The Closer.” Granted, the audience wasn’t that, but it was an older demo. A lot of people who are that age are retired or they have time on their hands because they don’t have a house of kids and they watch television the old-fashioned way — more so than any other demographics in the way it’s being archaically measured right now. As I mentioned before, we’re ad guys. We heard 18-49 all the time — “where’s Joe six-pack?” “where’s Johnny 19-year-old.” We heard all the hooks and phrases. But there’s something beautiful and there’s some poetic justice in the fact that a character who doesn’t own a cellphone is now streaming on Netflix. And people who will literally not send emails to their sons and daughters because they didn’t want to get involved with email, are emailing to voice their fanaticism.
Shephard: I would say that’s what’s surprising. Not the age of our viewer, but how vocal they are.
Coveny: They’re in it, and they’ve been in it. And while the story that people are telling -- and it is a fact that our audience skews older -- our 18-49 numbers were bigger than some shows that stayed on the air, so.
What do you think needs to change about the way traditional networks are programming?
Baldwin: Listen, it would be great if we were to look back three years from now and feel like we were the ones on top of the barricade that’s leading the revolution. The experience of our cancellation and the reaction to it started to wake people up to the fact that we’re counting — I remember years ago, before I had a dog in the hunt, I was hearing about the importance of younger viewers and I remember thinking: ‘My mom just bought her third computer. I don’t think they have this right.” Like, I don’t think my mom was valuable at 20 and now she’s done being marketed to. I hope that this shakes up the paradigm a little bit because I do think that it promotes a lack of diversity in the entertainment options out there. If everyone is chasing that very narrow thing, it becomes a lot more challenging to get sophisticated, interesting and complex character on the air. The fact that Netflix is embracing the idea of an audience is allowing for an incredibly diverse lineup. They’re not trying to hone in and just do one thing. They’re looking for something that will draw a passionate audience — whoever they are. And I think that’s fantastic.
Shephard: Netflix is also accessible to a giant socioeconomical range. It’s a reasonably priced monthly subscription. I think you actually might start seeing changes when the next generation of viewers just doesn’t have cable at all. Instead, they have a Netflix subscription, they have a Hulu subscription, maybe HBO Now.
Coveny: If I’m the head of marketing at a company or at an agency right now, I’m trying to figure out how to capture this thing. Because when we were in the business, 18-49 was the demo. Why not 19-50? It was such an arbitrary cut-off of an age. Yeah, it was backed up by research, but it’s now so fluid. And it’s a challenge for someone else to ultimately figure out. We’re just fortunate to be in a world where people want to be entertained. And they will find different ways to get that entertainment when they want it and Netflix is doing it the most efficiently.
You talk favorably about the transition to Netflix, but are there any sacrifices to bringing the show there? Is the budget comparable?
Shephard: While we’re not going to talk about money, our feeling is we’re delivering the same show. It’s probably actually going to look better and sound better because of 4K and because the elimination of sound is not the same.
Baldwin: Our first sound mix was a real revelation.
Coveny: We were like, you can hear a gun shot?
Baldwin: It’s funny, I think it affects us a lot less as creative people than you might imagine. In some ways, it takes away the idea that you’re going to be able to niche-target something and be really clever about it and strips it down to: what’s the story you want to tell, what’s the show that you want to make. I guarantee you, the best version of it is going to work the best. That’s the thing that’s going to get people looking out for it. What a lot of it comes down to is increased choice and the way people decide whatever it is that they’re going to watch. The goal — and you can lose sight of it when you’re on broadcast — is make a good thing that people want and they will find it. They will demand it. And I think that’s what happened to us.
Shephard: One thing that did influence the way that we constructed the stories is we began to think more about the varied ways people are going to be consuming them. We realize there’s not going to be a week separation between episode 1 and episode 2. In fact, there may be only a five-minute separation. In one case, we changed our opening because we realize it’s an old school way of structuring out story. It’s a teaser. We’re free to be free.
I tweet about TV (and other things) here: @villarrealy