Judd Apatow Explains Why He Won't Work On Network Television Again

judd apatow

Judd Apatow is a big name when it comes to the big and small screens alike. The producer, director, writer, stand-up comedian, and occasional actor has had a hand in a number of series. One of his most beloved projects to date was Freaks and Geeks, which aired for a single season back in 1999 on NBC and often winds up on lists of shows that were cancelled too soon. He hasn't tackled any broadcast network shows in quite a while, however, and recent comments reveal that he's not looking to return. Apatow had this to say when asked if he would ever return to commercial network television:

No. There is nothing that has made my life better than not working for network television. I'm sure there are great people and changes and there may be the nicest person in the world that is helpful in that process. The elements of network television that people rarely talk about is it's creativity with a gun to your head. They can cancel you at any moment... It's not like you're in the middle of your series and Ted Sarandos walks on the set and says 'Unplug it.' You're getting to finish thoughts. You make a bunch, and then you have a conversation. You want a bunch more? Okay, I'll make a bunch more. But for network television, on Episode 2, if the ratings are bad, you'll get a call from the network. 'We need more hot chicks on the show. Ratings are low.' And you're like, what? What is happening? I don't think that that's the fix that we need. 'Do it or you're cancelled.' You're up all night crying.

Well, tell us how you really feel, Judd Apatow! The famed multi-hyphenate didn't mince words when he spoke about network television and why he has no desire whatsoever to venture back into that sphere. In recent years, Apatow has worked primarily with HBO and Netflix. As a streaming service, Netflix forgoes the traditional pilot process and gives direct orders for full seasons, even if programming chief Ted Sarandos decides to give the show the axe after one batch of episodes.

A Netflix show isn't guaranteed a long life on the small screen, but it is guaranteed a full season without the folks behind the scenes needing to worry about getting a cancellation order halfway through a season. Perhaps Apatow's lingering bitterness about his network TV experiences contributes to why he's not interested in doing more Freaks and Geeks. He doesn't show any bitterness toward Netflix for cancelling his streaming series Love, which seems to speak toward his appreciation of the process of making TV for a streamer. Given that he filmed a stand-up special for Netflix that was difficult in some ways and easier in others, the odds are that he's content with how the streaming service handles business.

For its part, HBO doesn't make all episodes of a full season available at once like Netflix with its shows, but HBO does give season orders and let its shows carry through to the end. The premium cable network -- home to Judd Apatow's projects like Girls, Crashing, and the recent Garry Shandling documentary -- does occasionally reverse renewal orders, as it did for Vinyl and Tim Robbins' Here and Now. Still, both of those series got a full first season. For better or worse, they had a beginning and end. If Apatow sticks with streaming services and premium cable networks, he can create without a figurative gun over his head.

Judd Apatow went on in his interview with the Remote Controlled podcast from Variety to describe what it was like to work on network television:

I remember a network executive said to me, 'We need more eye candy.' I was like, 'Oh God, I can't.' Now that's scary, because they cancel you! I mean, that happened to me three times. The Ben Stiller Show, Freaks and Geeks, and Undeclared, where I was cancelled mid-season, mid-thought, on these shows. And I think that's a lot of the reason why there's this panic. Also because they'll do the same thing with your casting, they just won't approve it. You'll say, 'I like these four people to be the star!' And networks are very aggressive about 'I like two of 'em, but the other two are the ones I like,' and they don't understand, 'Well, you've just ruined the whole show. This show will never work because it can't be half my thought and half your thought. You have to let us complete it.'

If you're still annoyed that The Ben Stiller Show, Freaks and Geeks, and/or Undeclared prematurely got the axe from their networks, Judd Apatow's story about what went into those cancellations probably won't help. At least Apatow will hopefully be able to avoid major disappointments like with these three shows by focusing his efforts on streaming platforms and premium cable networks. We'll have to wait and see.

If you're now in the mood for some Judd Apatow goodness, check out his stand-up special Judd Apatow: The Return on Netflix. Our 2018 Netflix premiere guide can help you find some more streaming options. If you don't share Apatow's aversion to broadcast network television, check out our summer TV premiere guide.

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. Resident of One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and Northeast Ohio. Will not time travel and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).