STREAMING SATURDAY: A Maturing Netflix Axes Three Series

With the cancellations of three popular series, Netflix is looking more and more like HBO these days. This can be a good thing for the streaming giant.

Netflix recently announced the cancellation of its popular Sense8 series. The news was a huge disappointment to the sci fi show’s legions of loyal fans. Netflix also cancelled two more popular original series – The Get Down and Marco Polo. Cancelling popular titles mid-way through a story arc is a very HBO-like thing to do, and I think that’s part of the reason Netflix made this decision, a big part. Giving these series the boot will make room for other fresh, bold new original programming, which is the ultimate goal of this popular streaming giant. It could be that this is a sign of a streaming service evolving into a network.

It’s Just Like Carnivàle
Netflix’s cancellation reminds me of something HBO did on May 11, 2005. Back then, one of the network’s biggest hit original series was a show called Carnivàle. Despite a strong and loyal cult following – and the show winning five out of 15 Emmy nominations in 2004 – HBO cancelled this series. It cited expensive running costs for the cast, location shooting, and number of episodes. The move sparked outrage and a deluge of fan mail in defense of Carnivàle, but HBO held firm. While viewers such as myself lost our beloved Carnivàle, HBO went on to showcase many other hit shows that were likely cheaper to produce.

Sense8’s cancellation brings back memories of CarnivàleSense8 was beloved by both critics and fans who loved this sci fi drama series about people who become “sensates” who are mentally and emotionally linked to each other. Like CarnivàleSense8 was a unique show that took risks and pushed boundaries and earned itself a loyal cult following. This wasn’t enough for Netflix to want to keep the series alive. On March 2, 2017, Netflix cancelled Sense8, citing escalating production costs compared to low viewership numbers, among other reasons.

I believe Netflix cancelled The Get Down and Marco Polo for reasons similar to its given Sense8 the boot. Both of these series are set in the past. The Get Down takes place in the Bronx of the late 1970s/early 1980s, while Marco Polo took place during China’s Yuan Dynasty of 1271-1368. Original series that are set during the past can be problematic and expensive to produce. Even if viewership is strong, the numbers are never quite high enough to justify the escalating costs of these productions. This is why I worry about the continued success of my favorite Netflix series, Stranger Things.

The Reason for the Cuts
While Netflix’s recent cancellations are similar to HBO’s past practices, the reason Netflix cancelled these shows is very HBO-like. Netflix already is a leader in original content. The streaming service spent big bucks to acquire a huge variety of original series, movies, and more. While this is great, there’s one gigantic downside – Netflix actually has too much original content. Most viewers might think that this isn’t a problem but it actually is. Netflix has actually arrived at a tipping point where it has more shows than the average viewer is able to watch. Clearing out these three series that cost more than their collective returns should make way for more original shows that will hopefully cost less yet bring in bigger viewer numbers.

I’ve felt the sting of Netflix’s content overload firsthand. In a past Streaming Saturday post, I promised to watch the entire first season of The OA. I might’ve watched a grand total of four episodes before I hit a brick wall. It’s not that The OA is a bad show. On the contrary, it’s rather intriguing. But it’s one of those shows that only one person in the household enjoys (me). This means it’s going to be put on the back burner while Mrs. Buckler and I enjoy the shows and series we watch together, which are many. I honestly don’t know how long The OA’s first season story arc will remain in limbo for me.

It’s clear that Netflix wants to become the next HBO, but you don’t have to take my word for it. In a 2013 interview with GQ magazine, Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer, said, “The goal is to become HBO faster than HBO can become us.” That pretty much sums it up rather directly, doesn’t it? Netflix wants to be HBO and sees getting rid of some series that aren’t performing up to the company’s standards is a big move toward that goal. Netflix viewers such as myself can expect more new content headed our way, but we can just as easily see some of our favorite shows exit stage left.

Will Netflix Become a “Real Network?”
This is the question some pundits are asking. They believe that the cancellation of Sense8The Get Down, and Marco Polo as the streaming service’s first step toward becoming a mature network on par with HBO. I don’t know if this is the case or not. All I know is that I have mixed feelings about all of this. I can understand Netflix’s decision to ax these titles because they were bleeding the company’s funds. I also know what it feels like to be a fan who’s just lost their favorite series. At the end of the day, I suppose Netflix will survive these recent content cuts as well as any more it might have in the future. HBO survived axing CarnivàleDeadwood, and Rome, after all. Perhaps Netflix is maturing from streaming service to its own network after all?