Netflix Pushing Original Series
Cinema & New Media Arts | On Jan 30, 2013
On February 1, all of Hollywood will be watching the debut of House of Cards, David Fincher’s drama starring Kevin Spacey, for which Netflix outmaneuvered HBO. (Fincher, the director of Fight Club and The Social Network, has never before done television; Hastings gave him $100 million and let him make two thirteen-episode seasons.) Subscribers will be able to stream the entire first season of the pitch-black Beltway thriller—imagine the anti–West Wing—in a single sitting. Within months of that debut, two other series, Orange Is the New Black (by Weeds creator Jenji Kohan, from a memoir about a Smith girl in a women’s prison) and Hemlock Grove, an adaptation of the supernaturally tinged novel, will also stream exclusively on Netflix. And in the spring, Netflix will debut the long-awaited season four of Arrested Development, the beloved series that Fox canceled seven years ago. (Also on the tarmac: Derek, Ricky Gervais’s much maligned show about a dim-witted eccentric who works in a nursing home, and season two of Lilyhammer, Netflix’s first attempt at an original series, which debuted last February and stars Steven Van Zandt as a mobster taking shelter in a small Norwegian town.)
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[Hastings] hopes to make at least five new shows a year, he says, leaning back on a sofa in his Beverly Hills office in an anonymous-looking suite. His dream project: a Netflix series created by Warren Beatty. “He’s great in long form,” Sarandos says. “His only problems have been when he’s constrained.” Sarandos is also warming up Jodie Foster, who directed an episode of Orange Is the New Black. “The goal,” he says, “is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us.” His seductive pitch to today’s new breed of TV auteurs: a huge audience, real money, no meddlesome executives (“I’m not going to give David Fincher notes”), no pilots (television’s great sucking hole of money and hope), and a full-season commitment.
“The idea that they wouldn’t just pull the plug midway was totally thrilling,” says Kohan, who spent years in the network trenches before making Weeds for Showtime. To her, “It’s similar to a pay-cable model but even more liberating. This is the future.”
Sarandos is hoping his big tent will attract creators who want to explore the boundaries of storytelling. Binge viewing obviates the need for recaps and other clunky narrative devices. He isn’t even wed to uniform episode lengths. What’s so magical about twenty-two minutes or even a hour? “I really think we have the chance to radically change the depth of character connectivity,” he says. “I mean, a meaningful shift. It’s going to further blur the line between television and movies.”