Netflix Binge model, streaming wars eliminate comedy series

David H. Steinberg, the co-creator of “No Good Nick” – a 2019 season-long comedy on


netflix

– is used to executives passing on a pitch for a new show. It’s part of being a writer in Hollywood.

But the major streaming services, despite their insatiable appetite for programming, don’t seem to be buying much comedy these days, Steinberg told Insider. In fact, he doesn’t feel like they want to meet comedy writers at all.

“We’ve launched things many times where no one has bought it,” he said. “But [until now,] I never came out with a pitch and all the streamers said, “Yeah, we’re just not going to have a meeting.” ”

For those who manage to make their way around the room with


diffusion

frames — one


Zoom

bedroom, these days — a “yes” is harder than ever to come by, several writers told Insider. And for an executive, buying something during the pitch meeting is rare. More likely, a “yes” comes later, in corporate sequels and away from the creators’ hungry eyes.

This change is partly due to the complex network of decision-making in vertically integrated conglomerates that house studios, networks and streamers under one roof. (Does a show belong to


Hulu

or ABC? Best to consult with Disney General Entertainment bosses first – not to mention those on the distribution side who hold the purse strings.)

But another factor is that the streaming services are not tied to the conventions of the broadcast pilot season. Instead of testing the waters with (and spending money on) a pilot episode before ordering a series, streamers want to jump into shows they think will be successful.

“The system has made it so you have to hit more home runs, and there’s less room for a single or a double,” said ‘One Day at a Time’ reboot co-showrunner Mike Royce. from Netflix and a veteran of “Everybody Loves Raymond.”

Streamers’ global goal is to weed out domestic English-language comedy series

“We are at a critical juncture in the state of television comedy,” said a representative from a major talent agency, who recalled speaking at a recent industry party with a comedy showrunner who “ panicked”.

“As these streamers go global, especially local language content becomes more and more important; I think the first thing that’s pressed is national comedy in English,” the agent continued. The world of TV comedy is “very fractured right now. And that’s very serious.”

Still, there’s one criterion that executives have always impressed TV writers looking to get a show green-lighted: They only want “undeniable” shows, as at least two TV writers angrily recalled. what they had been told.

“It’s the buzzword of the century. Every place is, like, we need it to be ‘unmistakable,'” Steinberg said. “‘Undeniable’ means he’s got, like, five Oscar winners, and he’s got somebody with an overall nine-figure showrunning contract.”

Pitches right now “have to be bulletproof,” echoed ‘Last Man Standing’ alum Maisie Culver, who is buying two projects that have so far been well received in the room. “It can’t be a very good idea. You have to have a very well-known showrunner attached [or] have another kind of attachment, whether it’s stars or directors.”

What worked a few years ago is not what buyers are looking for today.

“Netflix said they wouldn’t do ‘Dead to Me’ – they wouldn’t have bought it if it was now, which is crazy, because it was such a critical hit and such a great show,” said said a second top TV agent on the Emmy-nominated comedy. “But now what they’re excited about is the spectacle of Rob Lowe and his son, which looks very different.” (While “Dead to Me” is a dark comedy about grief and loss, “Unstable” centers on an introvert who goes to work for his biotech boss father.)

The second agent lamented that shows like “Broad City” or “Louie” were once able to break through the noise, but streamers are “now heading to broadcast networks” in search of the next “The Office,” “30 Rock” and “Parks and Recreation.” (Incidentally, the latter two were never ratings giants when they were on NBC.) That, the agent said, made it harder for new voices to emerge.

Why Netflix’s Frenzy Model ‘Doesn’t Necessarily Fit With Comedy’

While Netflix, by all accounts, is still pouring $17 billion into content this year, its recent troubles — falling stock price, layoffs — have fueled fears of a pullback.

“I think Netflix has probably done as many shows as all the other places combined,” Steinberg said. “The fact that Netflix is ​​kind of in a confusing state right now is really to blame for the problem selling half-hours, when all the other streamers didn’t really do them in the first place, or they did. in a very limited way.”

Netflix’s slate of summer and fall comedies is pretty robust, including new series like “Boo, Bitch” and Neil Patrick Harris’ “Uncoupled.” New seasons of “Emily in Paris,” “Never Have I Ever” and the animated “Big Mouth” are also playing. But traditional multi-camera broadcast sitcoms in the vein of “Friends” have had a harder time succeeding on the streamer. This may be due to a lack of routine in the television schedule, perhaps, for viewers who only occasionally want to pop in and see what their favorite characters have been up to each week.

While Netflix’s longstanding strategy of releasing an entire season at a time can be rewarding for binge-watching viewers, it’s difficult for comedic structure, the writers said.

“The [binge] The model requires you to create a heavily serialized show, with cliffhangers, which draws audiences in to watch the next episode,” Steinberg said. “This model isn’t necessarily having fun with comedy.”

When it comes to broadcast, even with the resounding success of recent sitcoms like ABC’s “Abbott Elementary” and CBS’ “Ghosts,” the networks aren’t necessarily looking to focus on comedies. NBC removed “Mr. Mayor” and “Kenan”. CBS made several comedy pilots and eventually passed on everything, in addition to canceling three other comedies that had previously aired. (Instead, he ordered three dramas.)

“It was a really strange decision to go with all these dramas and then no comedy this year,” the second agent said of CBS.

On basic cable, networks such as TBS and TNT are reportedly ending all scripted operations as MTV shifts to reruns of “Ridiculousness”. Comedy Central, which once elevated shows like “Broad City” and Amy Schumer’s sketch show, is no longer in the screenwriting business at all.

In newly merged conglomerates like Warner Bros. Discovery and growing outlets continuously from Freevee to Roku, creative executives are still sorting out their own mission and identity. Streamers are looking for more broadcast-style shows, of course: Netflix picked up Randall Park’s star “Blockbuster” after NBCU’s move. But as management teams mix — and some insiders say some newer services don’t seem to have comedy-focused executives at all — it can be hard to see the target of any given outlet. , let alone hit the bullseye.

“Now really all streaming services try to appeal to a much broader sensibility and what their brand is can change or be confusing, at least for the people who are selling to them,” Royce said. “You just don’t know the rules, so when you walk into the Zoom to present, you have a lot less idea of ​​saying, ‘Oh yeah, this is the place for this one.'”

“You can’t walk into Peacock and say, ‘I’ve got the perfect Peacock show,'” Steinberg echoed, “because nobody knows what that is.”

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