The streaming giant on Thursday launched its new comedy series Blockbusterfeaturing Randall Park, Melissa Fumero and JB Smoove. The show centers on Timmy (Park), the manager of the popular video rental channel last remaining storeas he tries to keep the brand alive while competing with streaming culture. Blockbusterlocated in Michigan, is a fictionalized look at the company’s last remaining franchise location in Bend, Oregon, which was the focus of the 2020 documentary The latest blockbuster.
Series creator Vanessa Ramos recounts The Hollywood Reporter that Dish Network, which currently owns the rights to Blockbuster, visited the show’s set to verify its authenticity, including ensuring that the recreated store used the exact shades of blue and yellow. She also points out that Netflix was more than happy to poke fun at its own brand while paying homage to the former competitor who actually turned down an opportunity to acquire Netflix for $50 million in 2000.
“I was so glad they were on our side,” wrote Ramos, who wrote for Big mouth, Brooklyn nine-nine and Hypermarket, says Netflix. “They let us try the algorithm, and we were surprised how many times we had to call it.”
In an interview with THRRamos explains how Netflix ended up with the show after NBC let it go, why it gets more script notes from broadcast networks than streaming services, and how she feels today about the pilot’s Yeezy joke.
The series started out as an NBC project before landing on Netflix. How did it come to this?
John Fox from Davis Entertainment came up to David Caspe and me and said, “I have the rights to Blockbuster.” He’s like, “Do you want to develop a workplace?” and I was like, “I’m immediately into it.” I wasn’t so confident back then – I was like, ‘OK, I’ll figure it out.’ It was the fall of 2020, and I sat down at my dining room table and attacked it from, “What type of person would work, let alone race, a Blockbuster in 2022?” And that’s how the character of Timmy was born. After that, it was pitched to Universal, then to NBC, who bought the pilot script, and then they finally decided not to continue. By some sort of magic – I feel like the luckiest person in the world – a week later after they passed away, Netflix said they were interested.
Did the pilot change much once it arrived on Netflix?
They had some notes to rewrite the pilot a bit, but honestly, that was just a clarification – it’s like, “Can we get a better idea of what the Timmy-Percy relationship is?” And so it was just settling in that they had known each other since high school. We kind of made it all into jokes, just to reinforce what was there and give a little more context.
What about the nostalgic element of the Blockbuster era and that company that still captivates people?
We would have guest stars on set, and they would walk in and feel like they were in a time capsule. It’s just such a sensory thing. See the yellows and blues and just the layout. Someone said, “You have the old self-checkouts!” It takes you back – you remember walking down every aisle and picking out the perfect movie.
For the production design, has anyone involved with Blockbuster shared details on how to recreate the store?
Our decorator, Ricardo Spinacé, is simply amazing. The rights to Blockbuster belong to Dish, but there’s someone who basically represents Blockbuster and had to approve the whole thing, had to sign off that we used the correct blues and correct yellows. They took a Zoom tour of it and saw a bunch of photos. The only thing they have there is, “Well, the way Timmy’s office is here, we wouldn’t do that. I understand it’s television, so you have my blessing.
How does your work on this show compare to other workplace ensemble series you’ve been a part of?
I did three years Hypermarket and two years at Brooklyn nine-nine. It’s kind of like going to live somewhere for a while and then you start picking up a bit of an accent. That’s sort of what happened, whether I realized it or not, because while we were writing some of the group scenes, we were like, ‘Oh, this kinda sounds like the Hypermarket break room scenes. Looking back, I was like, “A little part of the Carlos-Hannah relationship is similar to [Superstore’s] Cheyenne and Mateo. It’s a bit inside me now, and it finds its little places to come out. But also, Timmy is a bit different from [Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s] James or [Superstore’s] Jonah or any of those great men.
The pilot includes a joke about corporate collaborations that mentions Yeezy. Does that sound weird to you now, given Kanye West’s recent headlines?
It was written and shot long before. But it’s also just a mention of comparison: “It’s like the Dorito shell at Taco Bell.” It’s just a word that, if we had known it at the time, would probably have been replaced by something else. In fact, I forgot about it until you mentioned it earlier. I was like, “Oh, yeah, I guess we have that word.”
With comedies seemingly having fewer streaming opportunities, how have you evolved to working with a streamer and what’s your take on the state of TV comedy?
The streaming was interesting because everything in my brain was like, “OK, you have 22 minutes to tell your stories – nothing more than that.” Some of our episode lengths are all over the place – I think the finale is almost 26 minutes and the pilot is closer to 22. So the freedom of being able to do that was nice. And I don’t know if it’s because there aren’t a ton of sitcom-type shows on Netflix, but they haven’t given a ton of ratings. There were things that, if they had questions, we could push back on, and our team was very supportive in terms of, “OK, we hope you know what’s funny.” With the network, they see it as, “We’ve been doing this for X years. It proved it. We know this is the way. They have the stats on their side, so it’s a little tough to push back.
Do Netflix executives have a sense of irony to launch a show targeting a former competitor they helped render irrelevant?
They absolutely do. I was so glad they were on our side. It’s more bizarre not to recognize it. We have a few references to it throughout the show. In the pilot, our client played by Carl Tart is looking for a movie because the algorithm keeps recommending The Great British Bake Off, and his girlfriend left him for a pastry chef in Manchester. Sort of the downside of that. They let us try the algorithm and we were surprised how many times we had to call it.
Have you been to the last remaining Blockbuster store?
I do not have. I need it because I’ve been asked about it and I’m like, “I gotta take a trip to Bend.” If we get a season two, I’ll plan to go for it.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
Blockbuster is available to stream now.