Netflix, Original Content, and Second Chances in TV

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Not long ago, the cancellation of a show by a major television network would officially be the end of its run. No reboots. No redos. Maybe, if it was lucky, a show may retain cult status and live on as chat-room canon fodder, but with the rise of streaming powerhouses such as Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime, the network cancellation of a show may just give the program the boost it needed to succeed on an alternative platform.

In the past few years, Netflix, in particular, has made its mark with fan favorite original programming -- Haunting of Hill House, Stranger Things, and Orange is the New Black are just a few of the successful shows that come to mind.

Less obviously, however, Netflix has also become sort of a “second chance” home for shows that couldn’t withstand the broadcast ax.

Shows such as Arrested Development and You originated on broadcast networks -- Fox and Lifetime, respectively. The cancellation of Arrested Development off of Fox came as a surprise to critics, but the low ratings achieved during the show’s network run sealed its fate in 2006. Or so we thought.

In 2011, Netflix acquired the rights to the comedy and began producing new episodes, which aired on the streaming service by 2013. And so, a doomed network show found a second life on an online platform.

Netflix’s purchase of Lifetime’s murderous stalker drama You is just the most recent example of a trend that has been a long time coming for the network. In fact, Netflix is leading the charge for streaming services to provide the most original television content out there. Of course, HBO arguably started this trend, but Netflix churns out more original content than perhaps any other studio--broadcast or online.

According to Variety, in 2018 Netflix spent about $8 billion on content, and 85% of that cost was strictly used on original programming.


It’s not just original programming and second-life shows though. Netflix has also made a name of itself by acquiring artistic talent from major broadcast networks. For example, Shonda Rhimes, of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal fame, signed a $150 million deal to move her Shondaland production studios in-house at Netflix. Considering Shondaland’s “TGIT” line-up on ABC is the single most-popular evening of shows in the network’s history, this is a huge purchase for Netflix, and a blow for ABC.

This is a far cry from Netflix’s meager beginnings as, lest we forget, a DVD rental service. Remember those?

Obviously, Netflix has the money to spend on this programming. But even so, it still is rare for shows to successfully survive off of their home networks.

Netflix’s heavy marketing schemes could be part of the reason why You and other shows such as Abducted in Plain Sight and The Great British Bake Off have blown up in popularity. Also, there are shows like Queer Eye, the reality makeover show that initially launched in the early 2000s on Bravo! network. Netflix recently rebooted the series to stellar reviews and already a slew of Primetime Emmy awards. Once again, strategic marketing could be the answer to the Queer Eye’s enduring success.

For one, the minute Netflix acquires or puts out a new program, you see that product being marketed everywhere. From Twitter to Instagram to Facebook to advertisements on film/tv sites, you can’t escape their shows. Plus, in an age where the demographics of who watches cable tv are skewing much older, the fact that Netflix’s second-chance shows are popular with millennials and nearly every other demographic is just not surprising.

Now, this isn’t to say that big broadcast networks don’t occasionally pick up their own second-life shows--NBC’s rescue of Brooklyn Nine-Nine from Fox is a recent example--but these are exceptions rather than the rule.

With Amazon Prime and Apple beginning to churn out more original content, and housing subscription-based Showtime and HBO programming themselves, the future of non-news episodic television is going to be online. It’s just a matter of time.