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Arrested Development Returns May 26. Is This Your New Summer Blockbuster?

We'll soon see if the Bluths are still funny. In the meantime, it's intriguing that Netflix's scheduling strategy has as much in common with the movies as with TV.

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Image: Arrested Development on Netflix
PR NewsFoto/Netflix/AP Photo

So I think I have an idea what you’re doing Memorial Day weekend. Netflix announced today that its season-four revival of dysfunctional-family comedy Arrested Development will premiere 15—count ’em, 15—episodes on May 26. As with past Netflix debuts like House of Cards, the entire season will be available to subscribers the same day. Clear your calendar, stockpile food, and make arrangements to send the kids away.

There are all sorts of leaks about the content and casting of the episodes out on the Internet if you’re into that sort of thing. And I’ll be writing more about the show itself in the coming weeks. For now, I’m interested in Netflix’s scheduling strategy, which has as much in common with the movies as with TV.

Netflix is putting its big project live on a holiday weekend, nominally considered the start of the summer entertainment season (though, of course, “summer movie season” has gradually moved up to late April or so). Generally, summer TV shows start launching after Memorial Day weekend—in early June or into July, when people are assumed to be back home and in the living room.

The Bluths, on the other hand, will be returning smack on the weekend, as if Arrested Development already were the tentpole movie blockbuster—or, in this case, block-Buster—that Mitch Hurwitz dreams of it someday becoming. Its earlier premiere scheduling also suggests a kind of movie-night strategy.  House of Cards went live Friday, Feb. 1 and horror-thriller Hemlock Grove will debut Friday, Apr. 19.

Fridays have become a kind of ghost town, at least for network TV, where they program cult shows, reality, reruns, or series they’re looking to burn off. Basic cable networks do some counterprogramming that night, but in general it’s not a day for big TV projects, because there’s the assumption you’ll be doing something else. Netflix, on the other hand, seems to be assuming that you’ll make time for its series on the weekend—either bingeing them or making the same appointment time in your schedule as you might for a movie.

Now I don’t want to make too much of this, because you obviously consume a TV series, even on Netflix, differently from a movie. You might watch it all in one weekend, or spread out over the week, or over the course of months. Still, this is at least an example of how new forms of distribution have the potential to erode the difference between big-screen and small-screen entertainment—just as the theatrical window has shortened for movies, leading more people to watch them at home sooner.

We’re not yet at the point where the window disappears—where on opening day, you can as well decide to watch the new Iron Man in IMAX or at home on your widescreen. But Netflix’s programming decisions, and delivery method, at least offer a taste of what it would be like if “opening wide” simply meant that entertainment went on sale that weekend, either at your local theater or on your set-top box.

That said, we don’t know exactly how much or how quickly people’s habits will change. And neither does Netflix. Arrested Development is opening on a big holiday movie weekend, but also of note is that May 26 is a Sunday—the day people have become conditioned to turn their attention to appointment TV shows like The Walking Dead. Arrested Development, even on Netflix, is still TV—at least a little bit.