Netflix original content gets auspicious start
Published: Monday, September 9, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 9, 2013 01:09
With all of Netflix’s recent success, it’s hard to believe that merely two years ago the video-streaming provider was in the middle of a massive public relations crisis.
In September 2011, CEO Reed Hastings posted on Netflix’s blog that the company was planning to separate its DVD-by-mail service from its online video-streaming service. The new DVD-by-mail service was, bafflingly, to be named Qwikster — and customers who subscribed to both services would see their accounts split: “Qwikster.com and Netflix.com websites will not be integrated,” Hastings acknowledged in his rambling blog post.
Astonishingly, the Qwikster announcement came less than two months after a price hike that instigated vitriolic posts on the company’s Facebook page from angry customers. With subscribers promising to cancel their accounts and the press covering every blunder the company made, Netflix’s future couldn’t have looked more bleak.
Today, Netflix has capitalized on the ever-increasing appetite for binge-watching television. It boasts 37.6 million streaming subscribers and three of its original shows are up for Emmy Awards. Long gone are the days of Qwikster — the company wisely backtracked on their decision in October 2011, before the separated services became a reality — and of hateful Facebook posts. Miraculously, Netflix has resurrected itself and is providing its subscribers with quality original programming, as well as untold hours of previously released TV shows and movies.
Netflix made the first season of the drama “House of Cards” (2013) available in February — its first real foray into the world of original content. (Between 2009 and 2012, the company briefly dabbled in webisodes and comedy stand-up specials.) The political thriller had big names behind it: Academy Award nominated director David Fincher directed the first two episodes, while Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright led the cast.
It was a savvy way to launch its first show; with A-list stars involved, even the more skeptical viewers would be inclined to tune in. And, perhaps more importantly, viewers could indulge in their desire to binge-watch all thirteen episodes in one weekend.
This auspicious start for the video-streaming service was hampered only by the negative reviews that “Hemlock Grove” (2013), the Netflix-distributed horror series, garnered when it premiered in April. Despite poor feedback, Netflix announced that “Hemlock Grove” attracted more viewers its first weekend than “House of Cards” did, and the series was renewed for a second season, solidifying, at least for now, its place in the lineup.
Although the buzz surrounding “House of Cards” has been fairly well sustained since its release, it paled in comparison to the hype surrounding the cult favorite, “Arrested Development” (2003-2013). Fox canceled the critically adored, low-rated comedy in 2006, and rumors of an “Arrested Development” movie have been swirling almost constantly since then. Filming of a fourth season began in 2012 and Netflix released the 15 episodes of the fourth season on May 26 to rabid fans eagerly awaiting the return of the dysfunctional Bluth family.
Although it was generally well-received, the new season divided both fans and critics — and, surprisingly, was overshadowed this summer by “Orange Is The New Black,” the comedy-drama series set in a women’s prison, which received more viewers in its first week than either “House of Cards” or “Arrested Development.”
Of all of Netflix’s original shows, “Orange Is The New Black” indicates the potential power Netflix has as a producer of original content. The show, based on a memoir of the same name, boasts a nearly all-female cast and features black and Latina actresses who rarely get to play characters as substantive and fleshed-out as they are in “Orange Is The New Black.” Series creator Jenji Kohan hasn’t shied away from depicting lesbian relationships or introducing transgendered characters. And because Netflix doesn’t have to worry about ratings in the same way network and cable shows do, it can afford to create a “risky” show that most networks would pass on because it may not appeal to enough advertisers.
The success of “Orange Is The New Black” reveals the potential Netflix has to continue to explore stories and characters that would never make it to ABC or CBS. Netflix is well on its way to revolutionizing the way we watch TV and the content of programming.
For now, though, Netflix is poised for more success. “House of Cards” is up for nine Emmys, including Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. Jason Bateman of “Arrested Development” was nominated for Outstanding Actor in a Comedy Series, and “Hemlock Grove” received minor Emmy nods.
Meanwhile, second seasons of “House of Cards, “Hemlock Grove” and “Orange Is The New Black” are in production, and a host of comedy specials and new shows are slated to premiere in 2014. There’s even potential for a fifth season of “Arrested Development.” It’s been an incredible transformation for a company that now has nowhere to go but up.