Netflix has, on occasion, “saved” shows from cancellation. Fox axed “Lucifer”; ABC ended “Designated Survivor”; A&E dropped “Longmire”; AMC killed off “The Killing” — and they all showed up on the streaming service with new episodes.
But now, for the first time, a show Netflix canceled has found new life. Season 4 of “One Day at a Time” debuts Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. on cable channel Pop TV.
In March 2019, Netflix canceled the show to howls of protest from both fans and critics. And, Netflix being Netflix, it released no viewership numbers to justify its action.
“Which is why I’m happy to announce and reveal that we were the highest rated show on Netflix,” joked executive producer Mike Royce.
Three months later, Pop TV picked “One Day at a Time” up for a fourth season — reportedly outbidding its ViacomCBS sibling, the CBS All Access streaming service — and saving what has turned out to be an important comedy.
Not that it was all about altruism. Pop TV president Brad Schwartz is clearly delighted that “we made headlines by ordering a new season of the beloved Latinx comedy” — and, outside of its comedy “Schitt’s Creek,” this is clearly the most publicity the former TV Guide Channel has ever gotten.
“They just came and rescued us, as far as we’re concerned,” said executive producer Gloria Calderon Kellett. “We’re thrilled to have this new home, and we’re grateful to Netflix for giving us those first three seasons.”
‘Just another version of you’
“One Day at a Time” is, of course, a reboot. The original series — executive produced by the legendary Norman Lear (“All In the Family,” “The Jeffersons,” “Good Times”) aired from 1975-84 on CBS, and it was sort of shocking for its time.
Ann Romano (Bonnie Franklin) divorced her traditional, controlling husband and moved out to raise two daughters (Valerie Bertinelli and Mackenzie Phillips) on her own in Indianapolis. Ann had a much-younger boyfriend in the first season, and the apartment building superintendent, Schneider (Pat Harrington Jr.), was an unofficial part of the family throughout the nine-season run.
Lear brought the show back in 2017 with a decided twist — executive producers Calderon Kellett and Royce retooled it as a series about a Cuban American family in Los Angeles.
Penelope Alvarez (Justina Machado) is a nurse and an Army veteran who divorced her husband — also a vet — when his PTSD and alcoholism made him dangerous to be around. With the help of her mother, Lydia (Rita Moreno), who immigrated from Cuba, she’s raising two teens, Elena (Isabella Gomez) and Alex (Marcel Ruiz). Penelope’s boss, Dr. Berkowitz (Stephen Tobolowsky), is also an on-again, off-again love interest for Lydia. And Schneider (Todd Grinnell) is an unofficial part of their family.
In the best traditions of a Normal Lear sitcom, the “One Day at a Time” reboot has tackled topics like alcoholism, depression, veteran’s issues, diversity, inclusion, homosexuality, sexual harassment and, above all, the Latinx experience.
“Representation is vital,” Calderon Kellett said. “And when we are 18% of the population and we are 5% of what’s on television in largely stereotyped roles, that affects how the country sees [us].”
She said “One Day at a Time” intentionally shows Latinos of different ages, skin colors and political persuasions. “These are people that love each other and are trying to build bridges to each other while also trying to humanize the Latinx experience.”
Calderon Kellett’s parents came to the U.S. from Cuba in 1962, a time when Americans had become accustomed to watching an immigrant from Cuba on one of TV’s most popular shows, “I Love Lucy.”
“A Cuban American is in your home, being lovely and funny and working hard,” she said. “And then when my parents needed to come here to seek political asylum, America was like, ‘Oh, my God. Yeah, Ricky Ricardo? Awesome. Come on in.’”
All you have to do is check the headlines to see it’s a very different experience for Hispanic immigrants today — a time when TV is filled with Latino characters who are “gangbangers and drug dealers.”
“We are seeking to make people laugh, of course. To entertain people, of course,” Calderon Kellett said. “But also to right the wrong and to let people know who we are, which is just another version of you.”
‘A universal story’
You certainly don’t have to be Hispanic to enjoy the show. If there’s an overriding message to “One Day at a Time,” it’s that we’re all more alike than we are different.
“It is a universal story about family and love,” Machado said. “We just happen to be Cuban Americans on the show.”
That’s very much in the Norman Lear mode, although the 97-year-old producer — who continues to entertain studio audiences before tapings — said he’s sometimes given too much credit.
“Well, I never sat down to cure America of its problems,” Lear said. “We just reflect them. … I think that’s what television does. It reflects the problem, and then we get up, walk out, and talk about it. Live our lives perhaps just a hair differently as a result.”
Everyone involved in the production, from Lear on down, is thrilled with the move to Pop TV — not just because “One Day” was saved, but because it’s getting the kind of attention it didn’t get as one of the hundreds of shows on Netflix.
“Everyone seems to be so happy to see us,” Moreno said. “I, for one, am thrilled at the support that we’ve gotten — just more than we ever dreamed.”
While the subject matter and content of the show won’t change, a few things will. Episodes will be several minutes shorter. There will be act breaks. And the Season 4 episodes won’t all suddenly stream at once.
“Mike and I would always joke that at 6 a.m. the morning after launch [on Netflix], people would be, like, ‘We binged the season. When is the next season?’” Calderon Kellett said. “We’re, like, ‘What? It took so long to make that!’”
By airing weekly on Tuesdays, “we get to stop and talk about each episode” with the fans on social media, Calderon Kellett said.
“We are going to buy America a watercooler for each home,” Royce joked.
If you missed the first three seasons, they’re still streaming on Netflix. But you don’t have to watch them to pick up what’s happening in Season 4.
“It doesn’t take long to figure out that that’s the mother. That’s the grandmother. That’s the neighbor,” Calderon Kellett said. “Anyone who has not seen the first three seasons is going to be just fine.”
There is, however, one significant loss in the transition to Pop TV — Gloria Estefan’s Latin-flavored version of the original “One Day at a Time” theme song.
“We don’t have that 50 seconds,” Calderon Kellett said. “We need it for the show. But [video of the theme song is] on YouTube.”
“If people want to pause and play the theme song, it’s hopping,” Royce suggested.
“That’s a great idea,” Calderon Kellett said. “Have a dance party and then start the episode.”