Netflix adds Pee-wee Herman to its growing list of revivals

He’s back.
He’s back.
Image: AP Photo/Steve McEnroe
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

The most famous man-child in U.S. entertainment history is stepping back into your living room.

Netflix announced that it will exclusively distribute Pee-wee’s Big Holiday, the first Pee-wee Herman movie since Big Top Pee-wee in 1988. Paul Reubens will reprise his role as the eponymous hero, and Judd Apatow, who has been trying to revive Pee-wee for years, will produce the film.

“Judd and I dreamt up this movie four years ago,” Pee-wee said in a press release. “The world was much different back then—Netflix was waiting by the mailbox for red envelopes to arrive. I’ve changed all that. The future is here. Get used to it. Bowtie is the new black.”

While the news may be surprising to some, it falls perfectly in line with the streaming service’s content strategy. Netflix is in the business of efficient content—in other words, it wants to produce shows and movies that will appeal to the most people, at the lowest cost. The rights to Pee-wee, who has not entertained audiences in years, were likely a cheap acquisition.

In 2013, Netflix revived the cult comedy series Arrested Development for a fourth season, a decade after it first premiered on Fox. It also gave new life to AMC’s The Killing and A&E’s Longmire. All three couldn’t have cost Netflix much, and each came in with a built-in core of guaranteed watchers. Efficiency.

On the other hand, Netflix passed on reviving the recently canceled Community (which ended up at Yahoo), perhaps because its cost was not worth the devoted, but small, following that it would bring to Netflix.

Now, the company is employing the same strategy with movies. It will stream a sequel to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, adapt the cult movie Wet Hot American Summer into an eight-episode miniseries, and recently struck a deal with Adam Sandler to produce four new movies. Sandler’s films usually don’t please critics, but they often do well at the box office. Grown Ups 2, released in 2013, drew a laughable 7% on movie review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, but amassed a respectable $247 million in ticket sales.

Netflix isn’t searching for a breakout hit with every new show or movie it streams. Each one is carefully selected based on its costs and the audience that it will appeal to. Pee-wee, for better or worse, has an audience.

Netflix’s more risky propositions are being made with its original drama series. Marco Polo, the $90 million historical epic meant to appeal to the Game of Thrones demographic, was a misfire. Its upcoming shows Bloodline and Daredevil look promising, but could just as easily fail to connect with audiences. And now the company will take a huge chance on adapting the popular Nintendo game The Legend of Zelda.

Sometimes going with Pee-wee is just the right business decision.