Today is not a good day for cable TV execs: Netflix has announced that after rewriting the book on original scripted dramas, comedies and movies, it's now taking on unscripted (aka reality) TV, too.
An article in The Hollywood Reporter breaking down Netflix's new venture doesn't mince words when it comes to analyzing what this means for conventional cable programming, quoting one producer who warns, "These guys are monsters — they're coming in to play and play hard."
The article goes on to say, "By year's end, Netflix's unscripted output, which includes docusoaps, competition series and talk shows, will be in the double digits. It's expected to explode from there."
While this may have TV execs shaking in their boots, lovers of good TV everywhere are celebrating. My immediate thought upon hearing the news was, Holy shit, does this mean we're finally going to see reality TV done right?
Unscripted TV is often the subject of brutal mockery and characterized as a lowbrow form of entertainment, and I can't say I disagree. My degree in sociology means that I have an intense interest in human behavior, yet the thin narrative arcs, contrived storylines and mind-numbing personalities featured in most reality shows mean that I've avoided them for years. I can't stand watching banal, unintelligent people getting paid millions to document their banal, uninspired lives. They're absolutely wasting the format.
But Netflix? The producer quoted above is absolutely right: Netflix is here to play. It's been incredible to see the way Netflix has revamped every genre it's touched, including political dramas (House of Cards), comedies (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Master of None) and ensemble dramas (Orange Is the New Black, Stranger Things).
While TV networks have continued churning out the same formulaic comedies attached to laugh tracks and featuring predominately white casts, Netflix tossed the status quo out the window and consistently featured more original storytelling and diverse casting than we've ever seen before, and people fucking love it.
THR reports that it's precisely this commitment to undiluted storytelling that has people so excited: "The biggest allure is Netflix's focus on straight-to-series orders, bypassing what has increasingly led to a challenging development process elsewhere."
Rather than pitching ideas, producing pilots, watering down creative direction and having the input of 20 different divisions on each series concept, producers can pitch directly to Netflix and see results fast.
We don't yet know what reality shows Netflix has up its sleeve (its director of alternative, Brandon Reigg, promises shows in every reality category), I'm crossing my fingers that this underutilized genre gets the full Netflix treatment by taking a tired premise and making it fresh, diverse and intelligently produced.
I can't wait.
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