Another One Bites the Dust

Netflix and Their Constant Cancellations

There was a time, once, long ago, when streaming TV was heralded as the savior of canceled shows. A series might die on broadcast TV but there was every chance for it to get picked up again on a streaming service, like NetflixOriginally started as a disc-by-mail service, Netflix has grown to be one of the largest media companies in the world (and one of the most valued internet companies as well). With a constant slate of new internet streaming-based programming that updates all the time, Netflix has redefined what it means to watch TV and films (as well as how to do it).. One of that service's first acquisitions when it first got into original broadcasting was Arrested Development, a show that died too soon on FOX and deserved a second chance (although, admittedly, the less said about the quality of its revival, the better).

However, over the years Netflix has gained a reputation for being fast on the cancellation trigger, often cutting its own programs down in their prime. After the initial rush of original series -- Arrested Development, House of Cards, and Orange is the New Black -- Netflix has seemed to shift their perspective on series. Instead of fostering shows for the long haul, the network has consistently killed shows after just a season or two, no matter the buzz that's built around them.

To get into the reasoning for this you have to, at least in part, pay attention to the corporate culture of Netflix. As has been reported, Netflix has their own (for lack of a better term) back-stabbing culture with everyone reporting on everyone else for any little infraction and people getting fired for little things. It's all so "the cream can rise" essentially, a rather cut-throat way of making sure "only the strong survive". Netflix, in their estimation, only wants the best. No mistakes, no slip-ups, no mercy.

When applied to televisions shows the company is producing, that means that a lot of shows will only get a year or two before getting wiped off the mat. Sometimes, yes, the show is under-performing (whether by Netflix's own obtuse internal metrics, or on social media, or with critics, or anything else the network wants to use to justify what to keep and what to eliminate). Other times, though, the show will get canceled not because it's doing poorly but simply because the network feels like the show costs more to produce than its worth.

That can be a hard factor to gauge, though. Fans of shows will come back, time and again, to watch the adventures of their favorite characters. How many times have fans of Buffy or Firefly, Daria or The West Wing, The Office or Parks & Rec gone back through and watched the series again, and again, and again. Television can be like comfort food, something to be enjoyed whenever you crave it.

How many shows on Netflix have that same pull? Not House of Cards, which was already a brutally cut-throat and vindictive show even before Kevin Spacey was outed to the world as the creepiest man alive and was ejected from his show (which still couldn't get rid of the taint of him). Certainly not One Day at a Time, which Netflix canceled and is now airing over on CBS (broadcast TV, of all places). Certainly not any part of the Netflix Marvel Cinematic UniverseWhen it first began in 2008 with a little film called Iron Man no one suspected the empire that would follow. Superhero movies in the past, especially those not featuring either Batman or Superman, were usually terrible. And yet, Iron Man would lead to a long series of successful films, launching the most successful cinema brand in history: the Marvel Cinematic Universe., which the network unceremoniously dumped even though a few of the shows were really starting to draw eyes as they deepened their stories.

I'm not going to accuse any of these shows of being perfect, bear in mind. But televisions audiences love to binge their shows and see the whole span of stories as they play out. hell, Netflix helped to popularized the whole idea of "binging" TV, but they rarely keep a show running long enough to build that kind of long-form content to sate fans. Marco Polo was an interesting historical drama, not without its flaws by lushly imagined, and Netflix killed it after two seasons (despite making a mid-run movie that seemed to show the network's support for the show). Santa Clarita Diet was a fucked up and hilarious show that found its footing quick and clearly had a long-form plan in mind for its characters, and then it was canceled without warning, ending on a cliffhanger even.

Maybe Netflix is right and a show isn't worth the amount of money they'd make off of it for the month or two after it's released. But how many of these shows could keep audiences coming back, time and again, if they were allowed a couple of extra seasons and a chance to finish out their stories. I'm a huge fan of GLOW, for example, but knowing that the show has been canceled before its fourth season could finish production (killed because of the cost of keeping everyone on contract during COVID) means I won't be able to finish the story as intended. It ended on a cliffhanger and that hurts a binge of the show. There's no finality, no happy ending (or whatever the producers had in mind), leaving fans looking for something else to binge instead.

From a practicality stand point it would seem like Netflix would benefit from letting their shows run for longer, even if it's a bit more costly, so that they could have breadth to their libraries. Instead of quantity -- more shows of a single season or two -- the network would want to foster quality. It needs more long-running shows that develop their own fan bases that will come back, time and again, to continue binging the crap out of their episodes. Right now the only show that fits that bill, Stranger Things, is still popular but a network can't sell itself on just a single show, not and realistically keep monthly subscriptions going long-term.

This is especially true with shows like Friends, Parks & Rec, and The Office moving off to other streaming services. By all accounts, 50% of Netflix's regularly watched hours were for these shows (and others like them), but once all these shows are gone, what is Netflix supposed to do? How many shows will it own that have more than two seasons under its belt? How many of those draw regular eyes? Is it enough to sustain their bottom line?

If you go over the list of recent shows -- Teenage Bounty Hunters, I Am Not Okay With This, October Faction, The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina -- all of them are gone already. And we can probably expect Warrior Nun to join that list soon. What hits has Netflix had recently that could sustain the network? The Witcher can't keep the network going alone between bouts of Stranger Things (although Netflix is trying to milk it with two different behind the scenes series as well).

The irony is that with some of their canceled shows, like One Day at a Time, jumping ship for other networks, .etflix is in danger of becoming the new FOX, willing to cancel anything even before its found a fan base. That said, don't expect Hulu to become the new .etflix -- they, too, love to cancel shows before they have a chance to build their backlog (just look at Cloak and Dagger, or Runaways, or the relaunched Veronica Mars).