Cobra Kai EPs explain Netflix move, tease possible spin-offs
Cobra Kai exec producers Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg reveal why they chose Netflix over the (many) potential platforms vying for their show.
It's been an anxious few weeks for fans of Cobra Kai, the Karate Kid sequel series that premiered on YouTube Premium in 2018. Last month, word leaked that YouTube was releasing the show back to Sony Pictures Television — meaning season 3, which was tentatively scheduled to premiere this past spring, was now without a home. But viewers can take a nice, cleansing breath: On Monday, Netflix announced that it had officially picked up all three seasons of Cobra Kai, which will premiere at some point "this year."
Exec producers Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg spoke to EW about the big move, why they chose Netflix over the (many) other platforms vying for Cobra Kai, and even teased the possibility of more Karate Kid-universe spin-offs.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was your first thought when YouTube said they wanted to release the show to Sony?
JON HURWITZ: So we had returned from shooting season 3 in December, and we got a surprise call from [YouTube's Global Head of Original Content] Susanne Daniels, and she said basically, “I’ve never had to make a call like this before. We love Cobra Kai… It’s an undeniable hit show but we’ve decided to leave the premium scripted series business, so season 3 is going to be our last.”
For the three of us it was not an entire surprise to get that call. We had watched over the past year as YouTube had sort of canceled or moved all of their other scripted series…
So when she said that, we thanked her for the opportunity. We had an amazing experience with YouTube, but we reminded her that Cobra Kai never dies, and said that we had plans to make the show going forward. And we asked her for an opportunity for us and Sony to shop the show elsewhere to try to find a home that would allow for us to continue telling the story. We’re thankful that she and the team at YouTube allowed us to do that.
It’s been reported that there was a lot of competition among streamers to land the show. What was that shopping process like?
JOSH HEALD: It was a very interesting situation because [we left YouTube] in December, and then we’re in the holiday season. The conversations we had with Sony were, “Ok, as soon as we come back from the holidays, we’re going to get right into this.” Which they did, and then we’re in post and we’re working on season 3 and then Covid starts happening in the midst of shopping the show. And everything just kind of came to a screeching halt for a moment there.
I think that kind of made the show even more valuable, once everyone when took a beat to realize that there was brand-new content [here], and an untapped market. The amount of people who have seen the show is obviously massive on YouTube, but Sony and we believe that there is a much larger market that knows about the show but hasn’t taken that step to sign up for YouTube premium to watch it.
So all of a sudden, the interest [among potential buyers] swelled and we found ourselves in these Zoom meetings. We started having real meetings in public, and they became Zoom meetings by the end. It went from, “Are we going to have one or two platforms interested?” to “Oh, there’s a whole lot of people and a whole lot of places jockeying for this show.” It was a great place to be, but it also made it a much longer process because there was a lot of business things to sort through.
What made Netflix the right home for Cobra Kai?
HAYDEN SCHLOSSBERG: What made Netflix the right home for Cobra Kai is the fact that they have the largest subscriber base all over the world, and this is a show and a brand that is known all over the world. The Karate Kid is something that is famous all over the world — in Europe and in Asia and in Australia. And even though it was available in some of those countries on YouTube, Netflix will be able to make it even more accessible to that audience.
In addition to people in America who maybe know about the show but didn’t tune in because they didn’t want to join a new subscription service, there are people all over the world who are not quite aware of its existence, and this immediately draws attention to that huge that crowd.
And frankly, when we were pitching it all around, [the team at Netflix] were as enthusiastic if not more than any other place about the show. We just felt the love in the room. Why did we choose YouTube the first go around? It was because Susanne Daniels went full force in the pitch room and showed her real desire to have the show, and we loved that. And when we went through the process of [pitching it] this go around, you really felt like Netflix wanted the show. It hits all their demos. It’s a show that really works well for an older audience that watched the Karate Kid as kids, and also for a teenage audience today. They saw the potential in that and just went with it.
HURWITZ: We’ve always felt that there was a huge untapped audience for Cobra Kai. Seeing shows like YOU having the kind of success that they have with the move to Netflix was something that was absolutely on our mind. We always felt like if Cobra Kai was on the biggest stage, it would perform well on that stage. In our experience, if you give Cobra Kai a chance, you typically like Cobra Kai. So we’re now going to get to experience what it’s like when pretty. Much everybody has access to Cobra Kai as opposed to having to go through a paywall.
What was the cast’s reaction when you told them about the move to Netflix?
HEALD: Once it really became clear that we were definitely leaving YouTube and we were definitely going to one of a very small number of platforms that it had been whittled down to, we told everybody what was happening in real time.
Once the deal closed, we got on Zoom with everybody. We started with one at a time, and then it became a little bit of a Zoom party where we were able to share the news in real time. And if someone showed up late, we kind of messed with them and told them that the whole show fell apart forever. [laughs] It was really nice to be able to get together with everybody in that format.
In your statement you say you plan to “explore opportunities to further expand the Karate Kid universe.” What does this mean? Will there be more spin-offs?
SCHLOSSBERG: Cobra Kai itself is a spin off in a way, in a sense of this massive, awesome movie that we all fell in love with. We treat Karate Kid like Breaking Bad, and our show is like the Better Call Saul. But we may be the Breaking Bad for some other Better Call Saul that we come up with — whether it’s through characters we’ve created or other characters from the franchise that haven’t been explored. We just love The Karate Kid so when you give us an inch, we’ll go for it all when it comes to having fun with the story and the characters.
There’s nothing no official thing in the works. This deal is all about Cobra Kai going to Netflix but it’s absolutely our intention to have as much fun with this world and these characters as possible.
The announcement says that the show will come to Netflix “this year,” which is a maddeningly vague time period. Can you narrow that down for us a bit?
HURWITZ: We don’t have any details in terms of the release. The plan to release the first two seasons and then follow it up with season three is something that came about to us very recently.
We know that there’s some work to be done to get the show ready for viewers all around the world. One thing that’s extremely exciting to us is that the show will now be dubbed in north of 30 languages so that fans all over the world will be able to hear it in their native tongues. So that’s something that takes a little bit of time. It’s all with the design of expanding that fanbase an amazing viewer experience to the widest number of people. Every decision Netflix is with the future of the series in mind. We’re just excited to find out what their plans are.
SCHLOSSBERG: I feel like the release date is something that is to be determined, but to be determined quickly.
Last time we spoke, you said season three is about “rebirth and rebuilding.” What else can you tease about that?
HEALD: I don’t want to tease too much because we don’t want to [spoil it for] the people who haven’t seen season one and two… But I will say that season three is our biggest season yet by far. The world has just grown so large in scope and with characters and storylines that are meaningful to where it all started with Johnny and Daniel. Everyone’s in for big surprises and big answers.
SCHLOSSBERG: When we finished making season three and we found out that YouTube was not going to go forward with the show, we were like, well this season is too crazy and big and too much fun to [end]. It’s going to be a real fun experience… We feel very confident that fans are going to ultimately get what they want, and more.