Last week, NBC pulled its freshman comedy Sunnyside from its Thursday night schedule and will air the fourth episode on Thursday, which will be the last on the linear network. The comedy co-created by Kal Penn and Matt Murray and executive produced by Mike Schur will air its remaining seven episodes on NBC’s digital platforms, but it isn’t 100 percent clear if the show has been canceled.
During a screening event of the fourth episode, Murray told Deadline that they pulled the comedy off the network before they were supposed to shoot episode 10 — which was going to be the final episode. “They did not tell us to stop production,” he said. “We shot episode 10 after they made the announcement and we are shooting the 11th episode now. It’s very confusing to me, but as someone who loves the cast and the writers, we’re doing everything we can to give ourselves a shot.”
In today’s wild west landscape of TV, there is a need to create a pilot that launces a series confidently — especially on broadcast. Sunnyside had a struggle out of the gate with a 0.4 18-49 rating and 1.78 million viewers in L+SD, numbers that had never been seen for a Big 4 in-season scripted series debut. Murray who has worked with Schur on bold, against-the-grain comedies like The Good Place says that with all of his projects, he just hopes he can make the best show that they can and hope it will net an audience.
“It’s kind of a tough spot to be in an era where no one watches live television,” said Murray. “We’re at a time when networks will stop paying attention to that as much — but we’re not there. I think it’s a hard spot to be especially on Thursday night up against football and baseball playoffs. I didn’t think the numbers would be that low, but that’s the trend where we are headed.”
There is a silver lining to all of this. In addition to living on NBC’s digital platforms, the comedy lives on Hulu and Penn said that the data they have received shows that the show is doing well with younger audiences. Penn then recalled the time when something similar happened to one of his other projects: Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle. The film was groundbreaking in that it had two Asian men leading a comedy. Like Sunnyside, it was a inclusive project and it told a story with a diverse cast that had never really been seen before. Penn thought if the movie could play in the midwest, then it did its job when it came to representation.
“It tanked at the box office when it first came out because it wasn’t marketed properly,” he said. “It lasted two weeks in the theater and John [Cho] and I were devasted.” He thought that maybe the naysayers were right and people weren’t ready for a stoner comedy fronted by two Asian males.
But after the film came out on DVD and HBO, the film found an audience and became wildly successful, spawning two sequels. Penn said that he and Cho couldn’t walk down the street without getting recognized — and this was outside of major metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco.
That said, despite being pulled from the linear network, Penn and Murray still have hope that Sunnyside will continue to live on in the digital space and we will see Joel Kim Booster, Diana-Maria Riva, Kiran Deol, Poppy Liu, Moses Storm and Samba Schutt continue their journey as immigrants trying to become U.S. citizens. Penn has even tweeted about shopping it around and hoping it will carry on after the last episode debuts on streaming.
“The writers and I have more stories we want to tell,” said Murray. “Should there be a season two down the line we kind of know roughly where it’s headed. We are about to shoot our final episode so we are just going to try to make the best episode we can and then see what happens.”
Penn points out that the rather than going broad on an older network, the data seems to reflect that streaming audiences that care about the subject matter of immigration feel “reassured and represented”. He adds, “This is a hug of comedy that we are giving them in a really shitty time where they feel attacked every time they turn on the news or go on Twitter. That seems to be the audience that has found the show and I am really excited to grow that audience.”