They say that a person dies twice: the first time is when their heart stops beating, and they literally stop living, and the second time is the last time their name is said. It seems that, in the streaming age of television, the same can now be said about shows. Cancellation is no longer the worst thing that can happen to a show, as big corporations keep removing streaming-exclusive programming with low viewership from their services, erasing these shows for good. This is a greed-fueled war against art, and one of its many casualties was an imaginative little alien-hosted talk show on Disney+: Earth to Ned.
This whole mess can be traced back to the summer of 2022 when David Zslav and the other Warner Brothers higher-ups looked at the numbers for their offerings on HBO Max (now “Max: The One to Watch for HBO”) and asked: “What if we took some of these projects people poured months of their lives into and deleted them for tax write-offs?” Some of the shows purged were critically acclaimed and had loyal fanbases, such as Infinity Train. Of course, the thing is that art shouldn’t have to be popular or well-received to justify its existence. It shouldn’t even have to be good: Cats is an abomination, but I’m glad it exists because of the fun I had watching it with my friends. No, art should exist for art’s sake, but the current state of streaming doesn’t allow for that.
See, to encourage viewers to subscribe to their streaming services, studios heavily rely on their new programming being exclusive to the platform. Sometimes, episodes are available for purchase on iTunes, but not always. As for physical media, you’re out of luck when it comes to finding a DVD or Blu-Ray for a streaming show unless it’s something like Stranger Things.
Recently, other companies have taken a page from Warner Brothers and figured that they too can obliterate some of their less popular “content” and make lots of money that none of the people actually creating things will ever see. The second big corporation to do this was Disney, who are committed to making sure that their Disney+ series never get released anywhere else, physical or otherwise. During a Disney earnings call on May 10th, 2023, it was announced by CFO Christine McCarthy that Disney+ and Hulu would be removing some of their shows and movies, despite a pre-launch selling point for Disney+ being that they wouldn’t get rid of shows and films from their library. Before the list of titles that would be removed popped up on May 18, and before the actual purge of shows and movies on May 26 revealed that they removed even more than what was on the list, I immediately knew that Earth to Ned was going to be one of the many titles that would vanish forever.
I don’t know if Earth to Ned was ever going to be a massive hit for Disney+, despite being universally loved by the few of us that tuned in. The problem with Disney+ is that it’s a prisoner of its own reputation. People see it as the streaming service where they can watch new Star Wars shows and new Marvel shows, and maybe watch an animated Disney film they’re nostalgic for if they’re particularly adventurous. This means that anything that’s not part of an ever-growing mega-franchise is going to be shafted, viewership-wise.
If you don’t know already, you’re probably wondering what the hell Earth to Ned was, because the words “alien-hosted talk show” can only mean so much to those of you who missed out on it. Earth to Ned is very unique in that it is a traditional talk show with real celebrity guests, silly little games, and shameless self-promotion… but there’s a whole delightfully bizarre narrative baked into the premise.
The show’s host is a large, four-armed alien named Ned. Ned is essentially the nepotism baby of a galactic conqueror, and his father wants him to blow up Earth. The only problem is Ned doesn’t want to destroy Earth because it has something that his people don’t: culture. Pop culture, specifically. So, he decides to make a talk show where he beams celebrities aboard his ship concealed beneath the Earth’s surface. Guests ranging from Billy Dee Williams to Eli Roth to Alyson Hannigan to RuPaul are abducted so that they can help Ned better understand our world- whether they want to or not.
Ned is joined by his lieutenant and co-host, Cornelius, who lost his planet to Ned’s people and serves a large part in Ned’s character arc of becoming less selfish. Additionally, the cast includes the ship’s sassy computer, B.E.T.I., and mischievous little creatures called CLODs (short for Cloned Living Organism of Destruction). All of these characters are designed by the Jim Henson Company and brought to life through voice actors, teams of puppeteers, and cutting-edge technology that allows them to interact with the guests on set in real time.
Paul Rugg (of Freakazoid) voices Ned and remotely controls the movements of his mouth with a rig on his hand (think of it like a wireless sock puppet). At the same time, four puppeteers (Allan Trautman, Jack Venturo, Donna Kimball, and Morgana Ingnis) manipulate Ned’s body and limbs. Cornelius is simpler than Ned but still requires multiple people to control him. Michael Oosterom both voices and puppeteers Cornelius, and he’s aided in the latter performance by Nicolette Santino and Drew Massey. Occasionally, Cornelius appears in full-body shots where he walks around, which is accomplished by actor Kyle Pacek wearing a suit. Because Cornelius’ puppet is smaller than Ned’s, he’s more mobile and is featured in an “on-location” segment every episode, where he interviews people off the main set. B.E.T.I. is voiced by Coleen Smith and represented as a digital face (designed by Eri Hawkins, John Hold, Dan Ortega, and Patrick Palmer) that runs on the Unreal Engine and utilizes the Henson Company’s virtual puppet tech. The CLODs are a lot simpler, with only one puppeteer per CLOD.
I can’t emphasize enough how much of a breakthrough this show was in terms of practical creature effects. While the scenes where the aliens are alone together were scripted, the interview bits heavily required the actors and puppeteers to improvise in unison in reaction to what the guests were saying. The humor and expressiveness were all delivered on the spot, and it’s just so delightfully unhinged.
In terms of its premise, Earth to Ned has been compared to Space Ghost Coast to Coast. Visually, a lot of parallels have been drawn to Farscape (also produced by the Jim Henson Company). But what Earth to Ned really felt like was the original Muppet Show. Not just because of the puppets, but because of that chaotic energy that’s family-friendly, even though it has just a tiny bit of edge to make the adults guffaw. Ned falls in love with humanity because of things like mayo, Rula Lenska, and Star Wars, and that’s basically what’s keeping him from killing all life on Earth. It’s goofy, in a spraxed-up sort of way (“sprax” is the alien swear word that Ned uses, which you would know if you watched Earth to Ned).
The first ten episodes of the show were released on September 4, 2020, while the other ten dropped on January 1, 2021. Earth to Ned was well-received, and the perfect comfort-food entertainment for a world under lockdown. The show was ambitious, and its future seemed even more so. In interviews, Brian Henson (son of Jim Henson and chairman of the Jim Henson Company) expressed his desires for where he hoped the show would go in a second season. Still, there was one big issue. While opinions of Earth to Ned were high, viewership was low, and fans pleaded that their friends and family give it a shot. Unfortunately, this wasn’t enough, and in April of 2022, Earth to Ned showrunner Eliza Skinner confirmed that Earth to Ned had been canceled. Around a year later, the show suffered an even worse fate: being scrubbed from existence.
There’s a sort of tragic irony to Ned choosing to preserve humanity, but humanity failing to preserve Ned. When the Disney+/Hulu Purge was announced, many people were quick to bring up piracy as a solution – but the thing is, a lot of the shows and movies that were removed didn’t have high viewerships, and it’s possible that many were never downloaded for redistribution by anyone. Maybe I’m too much of a landlubber to be a true pirate, but no matter how many websites I sail through stuffed with viruses and sketchy adverts, I can’t find a way to watch Earth to Ned again.
Whenever the Walt Disney Company makes a deplorable decision, people always say that “the Mouse” did it. “The Mouse laid all these people off.” “The Mouse dismantled an entire studio.” While it doesn’t need to be said that no one actually thinks that the fictional character Mickey Mouse is behind these decisions, it does keep the names of the individuals responsible out of people’s mouths. I want people to know that Disney CEO Bob Iger should be held accountable for destroying projects that people crafted over countless hours. I want them to think of Christine McCarthy when they think about how Disney made an entire movie and then got rid of it forever after less than two months. I want them to remember Warner Brothers head David Zslav, who started this barbaric trend in the first place, and Brian Robbins, the Paramount CEO who is following along in treating entertainment as disposable. I want these greedy anti-artists dragged into the spotlight so that everyone can see who was responsible for the entertainment industry completely imploding.
Most of all, I want to watch that strange, clever little talk show with the alien host.