Netflix, others crank out new TV for ‘the on-demand generation’

Written By By LORI RACKL TV Critic Posted: 02/12/2014, 02:24am
Array Jeffrey Tambor (center) stars in “Transparent,” one of the pilots presented by Amazon as potential series. It was created by Annoyance Theatre alum Jill Soloway.

Netflix is giving “House of Cards” lovers a sweet Valentine’s Day present Friday: the second season of its binge bait, starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright as Washington, D.C.’s ultimate power-hungry couple.

In keeping with Netflix’s MO, all 13 episodes will drop at once — 2:01 a.m. Chicago time, to be exact.

“We’re programming for the on-demand generation,” said Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos at a TV critics’ gathering last year, days before “House of Cards” debuted on the video streaming giant.

“They will tell us how many episodes they want to watch. They are going to tell us what time to watch them. And they are going to tell us what device they want to watch them on.”

The buzzed-about, award-winning series went on to help Netflix reinvent itself as a creator of premium programming, not just a repository for TV series and movies born elsewhere.

Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus — these subscription, on-demand providers are all investing heavily to step up their original content to attract and retain members. Why settle for being a DJ when you can be a rock star in your own right, especially when the cost of acquiring streaming rights for the likes of “Mad Men” and “Downton Abbey” reruns isn’t getting any cheaper?

To beef up its programming menu, Amazon last week posted 10 new pilot episodes online. It’s a repeat of last year’s crowdsourcing experiment that resulted in Amazon’s first two original comedy series, including the John Goodman-led “Alpha House,” as well as an upcoming trio of kids’ cartoons.

This latest batch of pilots — two dramas, three sitcoms and five children’s shows — may be watched for free on and with the Amazon Prime Instant Video app on iPad and other devices. Viewer feedback will help determine which shows are greenlit for a full season and become programming perks that come with Amazon Prime’s $79 annual fee.

Among the offerings: a drama from “The X-Files’ ” Chris Carter, Roman Coppola’s “Mozart in the Jungle” starring Gael Garcia Bernal, and the dark comedy “Transparent” from Annoyance Theatre alum Jill Soloway (“Six Feet Under”).

Not too shabby.

The Amazons and Netflixes of the world are starting to look more like traditional networks with their own unique, increasingly robust programming lineups, while continuing to charge full stream ahead into a future where television gets delivered via the Internet.

Netflix followed up “House of Cards” with the resurrection of Fox’s canceled cult hit “Arrested Development” and the debut of the critically lauded prison dramedy “Orange Is the New Black.” They all helped make 2013 a breakout year for Netflix original programs. It’s a key part of the company’s long-term goal to rack up 60 to 90 million U.S. subscribers willing to shell out a few bucks each month for unlimited access to its online offerings. The digital service ended last year with 33.4 million paid U.S. subscribers, surpassing HBO for the first time. (Internationally, the premium cable net still has a far greater reach than Netflix.)

Netflix officials are fond of saying they want to become HBO faster than HBO can become them. That’s a big reason why the company was willing to fork over a reported $100 million for two seasons of “House of Cards” before the pilot was even shot. There will be a third season of the Emmy-winning political drama, Netflix announced last week.

More “Orange Is the New Black,” “Lilyhammer” and “Hemlock Grove” are on the way, too, along with an exclusive final season of AMC’s axed cop drama, “The Killing.”

Netflix inked a deal with DreamWorks Animation last year for 300 hours of new programming, including the streaming service’s first original kids’ show, “Turbo FAST,” which debuted in December. It also has a multi-year pact with Disney for several live-action series revolving around Marvel characters.

Will Arnett and Aaron Paul will voice Netflix’s foray into adult animation with “BoJack Horseman,” and the Weinstein Co. is producing a Marco Polo show for the video streamer.

Other big-ticket originals in the works include a psychological thriller from the minds behind “Damages” and a sci-fi series from Chicago’s Wachowski siblings (“The Matrix”) called “Sense8,” which reportedly will be filmed here, among other cities.

When “House of Cards” returns Friday, we won’t know how many people blew off their Valentine’s Day dinner reservations to burn through the entire season in one sitting. That’s because Netflix doesn’t share viewership data, and the streaming service isn’t measured by Nielsen TV ratings.

“Their outlook is, ‘We’re not looking at opening night numbers; we just want this to be part of the reason you come to our service,’” said “Arrested Development” producer Mitch Hurwitz, who likes the freedom that comes with making a show for a video streaming provider. “It allows for more creativity.”


Twitter: @lorirackl

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