Best of the Decade: How streaming smashed the rules
When it comes to TV, the days of weekly watch parties and bathroom breaks during commercials are over. With more and more viewers cutting the cord, streaming is at the center of television today — and at the center of that center is Netflix.
After stepping into original programming in 2012 with the gangster dramedy Lilyhammer, the subscription service produced some of the decade’s biggest, buzziest shows, from 2013’s House of Cards to cultural phenoms Orange Is the New Black, Stranger Things, and more. For creators, Netflix offered a chance to work free of time constraints and broadcast standards, which is why powerhouse showrunners including Ryan Murphy and Shonda Rhimes have signed overall deals with the streaming giant. “Broadcast has so much to offer and is the platform that this was all built off of, but [working with Netflix] lifts a layer of creative restrictions,” says The Vampire Diaries co-creator Julie Plec, who sold her first Netflix series, The Girls on the Bus, this summer. “Broadcast has so much to offer, but that freedom is what I longed for.”
Yet Netflix’s impact goes beyond just the content it creates. For network shows, landing on Netflix can be the difference between surviving and, well, thriving; AMC’s Breaking Bad saw its ratings grow by 300 percent between its season 4 and 5 finales after previous seasons hit Netflix. Other shows followed similar trajectories — finding fame after landing on the streaming service — including Showtime’s Shameless, Pop TV’s Schitt’s Creek, and more. “Prior to Netflix, we had a nice cult following,” Shameless actress Shanola Hampton told EW in August. “Then our lives really changed once people were able to binge and watch every day and fall in love with this crazy story and these crazy characters. That’s when I realized, we are on a hit, hit show.”
Plec remembers a similar moment when The Vampire Diaries hit Netflix about halfway through its run. “We were at San Diego Comic-Con, and I noticed the crowd had an extra layer of young teenagers that I had never seen before,” Plec says. “So I started asking, ‘How are you watching the show?’ and they all said, ‘On Netflix.’ That was when I learned from some parents that all the seventh and eighth graders were picking a new show on Netflix and watching it together and then they were moving onto the next one. There was this whole group of kids watching The Carrie Diaries and Gilmore Girls and Gossip Girl and The Vampire Diaries and really consuming basically the entire WB/CW oeuvre.”
Speaking of Gilmore Girls, Netflix has also made a name for itself as a second chance for shows canceled by networks. It was Netflix that gave fans what they’d always wanted in 2016 when Rory and Lorelai returned to Stars Hollow in the series’ revival. After Fox canceled Lucifer, Netflix picked it up. It did the same with Designated Survivor. And more recently, Netflix saved Lifetime’s YOU, which saw massive growth after its first season hit the streaming service. “I did sense that more people were watching it when it went to Netflix, and wasn’t surprised,” YOU showrunner Sera Gamble told EW in February. “Netflix is so aligned with the way audiences, especially younger ones, find shows now.”
And it’s hard to argue with the numbers: As of October 2019, the service reported it had more than 158 million paid subscriptions worldwide. So yeah, it’s safe to say: We are still watching.