What The Zech?! – Netflix Original Content Racing Ahead
With the recent launch of Netflix’s next original series, Orange Is The New Black (from Weeds creator Jenji Kohan), it appears that Netflix’s “Phase Two” is well underway. And yet, despite the media tidal wave that came with Netflix’s revival of Arrested Development, and the storm of Emmy nominations for House of Cards, Netflix’s original programming seems to have only scratched the surface of possibilities.
When I say Netflix’s “Phase Two,” I am trying to draw a comparison to the Marvel Studios franchises (Iron Man, Avengers, etc.) and their “phased” plan for an ambitious roll-out of content over the next several years. While Netflix isn’t officially labelling their “phases,” their grand plan for original programming certainly rivals Marvel Studio’s in terms of ambition. Allow me to elaborate:
Lilyhammer was Netflix’s first foray into original programming. Starring Steven Van Zandt as a New York gangster trying to make a new life in Norway, the Norwegian-American production shattered records in its European premiere with one-fifth of the Norwegian population tuning in.
House of Cards was the second original show dealt from Netflix’s deck, a political thriller premiering in February 2013 from star Kevin Spacey and director David Fincher. It has since gone on to garner not only 9 Primetime Emmy nominations, but those nominations also being the first for original web-only programming in major categories. So with its second play, Netflix managed to create history.
Hemlock Grove was the third major series produced by Netflix, unfortunately considered a misstep by many critics if only for the fact that it aims for the oft-maligned teen-supernatural/Twilight market. Despite its critical disappointment, Hemlock Grove furthered Netflix’s Emmy triumph with two minor nominations.
Finally, perhaps Netflix’s most anticipated (and semi-original) program was the fourth season revival of critical darling Arrested Devlopment. The media coverage alone was worth the investment in the series, as well as earning Netflix tremendous cred by satiating critics’ and fans’ long-delayed hunger for more AD (also earning a further three Emmy nominations, including one for series star Jason Bateman).
In many respects, Arrested Development stands as the “Avengers” of Netflix’s “Phase One,” if I were to continue the Marvel comparison. Netflix’s first slate of original programs hit a critical and anticipatory peak with AD, just as Marvel’s films all led up to the blockbuster that was Avengers.
And now, Orange Is The New Black leads off the “Phase Two” that I referenced earlier. Bearing a strong thematic resemblance to Jenji Kohan’s other popular series Weeds, Orange Is The New Black finds a different strong female lead involved with the criminal world. Another series benefiting strongly from Netflix’s creative freedom and lack of network censorship, OITNB definitely doesn’t shy away from nudity nor expletives (not to mention great storytelling).
Not only did Netflix manage to scoop up Jenji Kohan from her former home at Showtime, but also picked up another television icon in Ricky Gervais (The Office, Extras). Netflix will become the American home for Gervais’ new series Derek, which premiered in the UK last year.
But perhaps the biggest moment in store for Netflix’s “Phase Two” is its partnership with Dreamworks Animation. Starting with a tie-in series for the newly released film Turbo (56 11-minute episodes will be available to stream in December), the door is open for further collaborations down the road, which could boost Netflix’s profile in the children’s market.
Just as well, even further down the line is an upcoming sci-fi series titled Sense8, which appears to be aiming for the gap left by Fringe‘s departure from your screens. Sense8 will be coming from the Wachowski siblings (The Matrix) in their first advance into television series.
And so, Netflix’s original programming department clearly has some quite ambitious plans for the next few years, and appear to be hitting all the right notes with the recent success of House of Cards and Arrested Development. AD in particular served as a great lead-in to generate excitement and subscriptions for Netflix content, as well as opening the possibility of future series and a potential movie. Netflix also continues to attract a growing roster of stars and producers (Spacey, Fincher, Kohan, Gervais, the Wachowskis) attracted by the creative freedom and lack of network censorship.
If you look closely you can also see that Netflix appears to be all over the map in terms of genre, really applying the Jackson Pollock technique to their series development – just throwing paint around to see what sticks.
They’ve covered criminal series in both Lilyhammer and Orange Is The New Black, a political thriller with House of Cards, teen supernatural with Hemlock Grove, comedy with Arrested Development, children’s content with Turbo: F.A.S.T., and sci-fi with the upcoming Sense8. While it may appear to be all over the map, it really just goes to show the grand scope of Netflix’s plan for original content.
It remains to be seen how far these series will go, but if Netflix is lucky enough to have a string of winners on its hands, its current $200 million budget for original programming (about %10 of Netflix’s grand $2 billion budget for video licensing) will either be stretched to the limit, or see some serious growth. In the latter case, there would be room for even more original content, and a further revolutionizing of the television market as Netflix continues to garner tremendous acclaim from business boardrooms and television critics alike. A rare case of the two traditionally disparate groups actually agreeing on something.