‘Longmire’ returns: Netflix rides in to save the day

Walt Longmire.
Walt Longmire lives! Or at least returns for Season 4.

WASHINGTON, November 19, 2014 – Netflix announced Wednesday evening that it would be picking up A&E’s wildly popular—but canceled—wild west detective series “Longmire” for a 10-episode Season 4. The buzz of enthusiasm among the show’s many fans, including the indefatigable online “Longmire Posse,” is intensifying, as the good news hits the wires and the Internet.

Netflix’ VP of Original Content noted in a news release that

“When Warner Horizon Television came to us with the idea for a new season of Longmire, we were intrigued because the series is so unique, and consistently great. We are thrilled to help continue Walt Longmire’s story for his large and passionate following.”

In a jointly issued statement, “Longmire’s” executive producers at Warner Horizon stated

“We’re excited and honored to have the opportunity to bring this show that we love so much, and all its devoted fans, to Netflix.”

The upcoming Season 4 of “Longmire” is set to run in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, according to Netflix.

The action will begin exactly where it left off in the Season 3 cliffhanger finale, which found Sheriff Walt Longmire in hot pursuit of his wife’s likely killer with the likely goal of termination. At the same time, Longmire’s former deputy, Branch Connally, whom Walt had earlier sacked, thinks he knows who the real killer is. But as he confronts the suspected perp, a gunshot is heard and…that’s the end of Season 3.

Who’s discovered the real killer? Will the Season 4 cast be missing a crew member? Will Walt take a permanent trip to the Dark Side?

In addition to the series inherent and unusual audience appeal, these are the questions that drove the “Longmire’s” avid fans crazy enough to mount a gigantic and ultimately effective campaign to revive the series. Now it looks like everyone will find out the answers, likely in mid- to late-summer of 2015 when the series is likely to be available for streaming on Netflix.

Since the “Longmire” cast apparently remained under contract for the series through February 2015, this likely made it easier for Netflix to maintain the continuity.

According to Deadline’s Nellie Andreeva,

“The cast members, led by Robert Taylor and Katee Sackhoff, have all made their deals for Season 4. That doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone will return — Season 3 ended in a cliffhanger, with characters’ lives in the balance, and I hear an exit is likely.”

Looks like “Longmire” fans will have to wait a bit for Season 4: Episode 1 to learn if that final bit of speculation holds true as well.

Based on best-selling author Craig Johnson’s best selling, eponymous series of novels, “Longmire” is set in the wildly beautiful wilds of wide-open “Absaroka County” Wyoming, although most of the filming has been done in and around Santa Fe, New Mexico which boasts similar scenery but a better film production infrastructure.

In addition to its unusual setting for a mystery-detective-thriller show, “Longmire” has frequently ventured, with surprising candor and realism, into the rarely-glimpsed world of the American Indian, as Walt has to interact with some frequency with his prickly law-enforcement counterparts on the nearby Indian Reservation, or “The Rez” as they call it on the series.

Through Season 3, the series’ regular cast has included Robert Taylor in the title role of Walt Longmire. He’s an Australian-born actor familiar to fans of “The Matrix” films as the generally silent number two bad guy Agent who backed up the evil Agent Smith.

Additional regular cast members have included Lou Diamond Phillips (“Young Guns,” “La Bamba,” “Southland”), Katee Sackhoff (“Battlestar Galactica,” “Riddick”), Bailey Chase (“Damages”), Adam Bartley (“Justified”) and Cassidy Freeman (“Smallville”).

The cast has clearly enjoyed the camaraderie and the characters of the series, given that several of them enthusiastically joined in with the online fans of the Longmire Posse big-time push to get their favorite show back on the air. Lou Diamond Phillips and Adam Bartley in particular kept up support for Warner Horizon’s efforts to sell the show to another outlet, and the others, including Katee Sackhoff and Robert Taylor also joined in.

Tweeted Katee Sackhoff, upon hearing Wednesday’s news:

“Longmire” had been scrubbed by A&E in August after A&E issued a terse statement not long after Series 3’s final episode. Viewers were shocked, as the series had been that faltering network’s second best draw after its reality series “Duck Dynasty.”

“Longmire” boasted some 5.6 million viewers in its nearly final season, vs. Season 2’s 6 million average. Both numbers made the show highly competitive across the spectrum of the increasingly sliced and diced broadcast medium.

Yet A&E complained that “Longmire’s” viewership skewed toward the older demographic, a problem when considering advertisers who prefer to pitch to the so-called “younger demographic,” which generally includes viewers between 18-49. That reasoning infuriated series fans, particularly since many of the show’s viewers were, in fact, part of the fabled younger demographic, while older viewers—the ones with the buying power, BTW—felt that their preferences were being increasingly ignored.

But A&E countered with an additional factoid, namely that they were allegedly not making a profit on “Longmire” since it was produced by an outside entity—Warner Horizon—and not in-house where they could capture all the profits.

However, it’s become increasingly obvious that A&E has chosen to go close to 100% for “unscripted series,” i.e., “reality series,” which are far cheaper to produce and air and all of which are done in-house. Given the proliferation of increasingly tawdry “reality shows” on nearly all networks, however, this reliably profitable genre may be close to jumping the shark.

Meanwhile, “Longmire” still lives, and A&E’s loss will be Netflix’ gain.

But despite the initial rush of enthusiasm for “Longmire’s” revival, some questions linger with regard to the possibility of Season 5 and beyond. Netflix will likely want to see a lot of viewers for the upcoming Season 4, and there will be additional pressure on those numbers.

READ ALSO: Neilsen NV SVOD stats are the new black ink.

CDN learned earlier this week that the Nielsen organization—the folks who have been dredging up viewer stats for the major networks and eventually for cable networks seemingly forever—have perfected the technology that will allow them to track streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime. Those numbers have previously been closely held by both services. But starting in December, these numbers will apparently be reported like all the others. So pressure may begin to mount on Netflix-exclusive series to measure up.

In addition, according to Internet gossip-mongers, Katee Sackhoff’s longevity in the series could be an open question. She’s long had an enthusiastic following among sci-fi fans, due to her roles in “Battlestar Galactica” and the recent Vin Diesel “Riddick” reprise. And rumors have her being approached by Marvel studios for a possible superhero role. So stay tuned.

Nevertheless, today is a day of rejoicing for “Longmire” fans. Walt will ride again, at least for one season. That Season 3 cliffhanger will finally be resolved. And, hopefully, life in Absaroka County and on The Rez will resume its normal, tranquil pace. Until the next murder, at least.

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Terry Ponick
Biographical Note: Dateline Award-winning music and theater critic for The Connection Newspapers and the Reston-Fairfax Times, Terry was the music critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2010) and online Communities (2010-2014). Since 2014, he has been the Business and Entertainment Editor for Communities Digital News (CDN). A former stockbroker and a writer and editor with many interests, he served as editor under contract from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and continues to write on science and business topics. He is a graduate of Georgetown University (BA, MA) and the University of South Carolina where he was awarded a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and co-founded one of the earliest Writing Labs in the country. Twitter: @terryp17