Ever since Netflix started debuting original series in 2012, the streaming giant has been adding shows at an increasingly rapid rate. The platform also has been renewing the vast majority of them — until now, that is.
The streamer is finally starting to look a bit more like a traditional TV network by implementing a model that keeps the most successful shows and does away with some of the less fortunate contenders. Within the span of a month, the streamer pulled the plug on Baz Luhrmann’s pricey hip-hop drama The Get Down, The Wachowskis’ globe-spanning sci-fi series Sense8 and Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso’s semi-biographical comedy Girlboss.
Surprising many in the industry, the cancelations came amid remarks made by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings in a CNBC interview at the Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., speaking about the company’s track record. “Our hit ratio is way too high right now,” he said. “I’m always pushing the content team, ‘We have to take more risk, you have to try more crazy things,’ because we should have a higher cancel rate overall.”
A month later, at the Produced By conference held on the Fox lot in June, the company’s chief content officer Ted Sarandos also addressed the topic. “Relative to what you spent, are people watching it?” he said in a conversation with Jerry Seinfeld, whose show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee is moving from Crackle to Netflix next season. “A big, expensive show for a huge audience is great. A big, expensive show for a tiny audience is hard, even in our model, to make that work very long.”
Below, The Hollywood Reporter looks at the handful of Netflix shows that have received the ax and examines why they didn’t make the cut.
Hemlock Grove may not have been Netflix’s first original series, but it was the first to be canceled. In 2014, the company announced that it had renewed Eli Roth’s supernatural drama for a third and final season. The final 10 episodes of the series, which is based on a Brian McGreevy novel of the same name, premiered in 2015. “We are so grateful to the fans of Hemlock Grove who have championed the series so intensely over two seasons. We are looking forward to taking the last and final season into some dark and unexpected places, and to giving viewers the killer finale you’d come to expect from Hemlock Grove,” Roth said in a statement when the cancelation news broke. Mere months before Hemlock Grove‘s cancelation, Netflix’s original content vice president Cindy Holland broached the topic in a rare interview with THR. “They can’t all last forever!” she said when asked about the company’s cancelation strategy, adding, “If the creative team decides they don’t want to go on, that’s one factor. And if the investment required outweighs the subscribers and the viewing hours we predict for the series, that would be another.”
The Norwegian drama marked Netflix’s first foray into original programming when it debuted in 2012. But after three seasons following the exploits of former gangster Frank “The Fixer” Tagliano (Steven Van Zandt) as he makes a new life under Norway’s federal witness protection program, the streamer opted not to move forward with the series. The decision was brought on by entangled ownership rights and escalating costs. “It’s become a very economically challenged deal because there’s a partnership with the Norwegian broadcaster,” Sarandos told THR at the time. “It was very difficult to maintain the level of global exclusivity and control that we hope to with our shows with that show.” Star Van Zandt, for his part, noted his frustration with the show’s cancelation on twitter, writing, “#Lilyhammer RIP. Not my decision. Let’s just say for now the business got too complicated.”
A year after Netflix announced it would revive Fox’s cult comedy Arrested Development (which, by the way, is set to return for a fifth season on the platform in 2018), the streamer revealed it was doing the same with AMC’s mystery thriller The Killing. Based on a popular Danish TV series, Veena Sud’s drama starring Mireille Enos and Joel Kinnaman was canceled not once but twice by the cable network before Netflix picked it up for a six-episode fourth season. “The rich, serialized storytelling in The Killing thrives on Netflix. We are looking forward to offering fans — both existing and new — a series that we know is perfectly suited for on-demand viewing,” said Holland at the time. The short run served as the wrap-up for The Killing as Netflix did not order any additional seasons of the drama.
Though it’s hard to know for certain without any reliable viewer metrics, Netflix’s big-swing historical drama appeared to be a massive misstep for the digital service. With a reported $90 million budget for the first 10-episodes alone, sources told THR at the time of the show’s cancelation in December 2016 that the two seasons Netflix ordered of Marco Polo marked a $200 million loss for the streaming giant. The Weinstein Co. series starring Lorenzo Richelmy debuted to little buzz and dismal reviews, with THR‘s own chief TV critic Tim Goodman describing it “a middling mess, complete with random accents, slow story and kung fu.” However, Sarandos claimed in a THR roundtable discussion with other TV executives months prior that Marco Polo was a global success for the company. “Marco Polo is one of those shows for us [where viewership doesn’t matter to international audiences],” he said. “It’s hugely popular all throughout Asia and Europe. There’s a lot of focus on if your neighbors might be watching it, and it’s really irrelevant because it’s doing what it’s supposed to do.” Its cancelation following a quietly launched second season made it the first Netflix original scripted series to not make it to three seasons.
A&E raised eyebrows when it decided to cancel the Western drama after just three seasons. It was, after all, the cable network’s most-watched original scripted series — however, contemporary crime thriller’s fan base skewed old and was doing little to boost the coveted, advertiser-friendly 18-49 demo that the channel needed it to for revenue purposes. But since advertising is a foreign concept to Netflix given its subscription-based model, the streaming giant quickly swooped in to save the show in an effort to lure a new (and older) crowd to its service. “When Warner Horizon Television came to us with the idea for a new season of Longmire, we were intrigued because the series is so unique, and consistently great,” Holland said of the pickup. “We are thrilled to help continue Walt Longmire’s story for his large and passionate following.” Netflix announced in November that the drama would conclude with its sixth and final season later this year after three additional seasons on the streamer.
Despite series creators and executive producers Todd A. Kessler, Daniel Zelman and Glenn Kessler being open about having a five- or six-season plan for the family drama starring Kyle Chandler, Bloodline came to an end earlier this year after only three seasons. In an in-depth story on the inner workings of the streaming giant, THR exclusively revealed that Netflix had notified producers at Sony Pictures Television sometime after the show’s July 2016 renewal that the third season of the series would be its final outing on the platform. The streamer also cut the episode order from 13 episodes to 10 and slashed licensing fees on the show, though both parties deny any tension between them. Even prior to the renewal, a third season of Bloodline had been uncertain due to the demise of Florida’s entertainment tax incentives program, which made the Keys-set drama more costly to produce. “There were ideas that we thought we might do in a third season leading into a fourth season and beyond,” Kessler told THR at the time. “But it’s storytelling, so working with amazing actors and great collaborators and directors, we had to figure out how to shake it out and say, ‘OK, here are all of the moments that we want to hit’ and give each character as great a story as possible that will hopefully create emotional resonance and be entertaining.”
The Get Down
Ever since the project was first announced in February 2015, the musical drama from acclaimed film director Baz Luhrmann was plagued with rumors of a chaotic behind-the-scenes process. On top of multiple production delays, the series faced financial problems. With a reported overall budget of $120 million, The Get Down was quite possibly the most expensive television series, though Luhrmann refuted the claim when pressed on the matter by THR. “I heard The Crown was the most expensive show ever made,” he said at the time, pointing to another Netflix series. Still, Lurhmann’s ambitious vision wasn’t enough to keep the show alive. The streamer waited until the second half of the first season debuted on the platform — both parts received middling reviews — to make the final call. In a lengthy letter to fans posted on his Facebook page, Luhrmann suggested that the fact that he was unable to continue on the series full-time moving forward was the reason for the cancelation. “When I was asked to come to the center of The Get Down to help realize it, I had to defer a film directing commitment for at least two years. This exclusivity has understandably become a sticking point for Netflix and Sony, who have been tremendous partners and supporters of the show. It kills me that I can’t split myself into two and make myself available to both productions,” he wrote, adding, “But the simple truth is, I make movies.”
A week after Netflix canceled The Get Down, the streaming platform pulled the plug on the sci-fi drama from Lana and Lilly Wachowski and J. Michael Straczynski. “After 23 episodes, 16 cities and 13 countries, the story of the Sense8 cluster is coming to an end,” Holland said of the drama, which centered on eight strangers around the globe who find themselves interconnected. “It is everything we and the fans dreamed it would be: bold, emotional, stunning, kickass and outright unforgettable.” But following outcry from fans that included a petition to bring back the series, Netflix announced that Sense8 would return with a two-hour finale episode next year. “After seeing that the cancelation was a total cluster, we decided to give Sense8 fans the ending they totally deserve,” said a Netflix spokesperson. Co-creator Lana Wachowski unveiled the news in a emotional letter in which she admitted to falling into a “fairly serious” depression after the show was abruptly axed. “The outpouring of love and grief that came in the wake of the news that Sense8 would not be continuing was so intense that I often found myself unable to open my own email,” she wrote. “While it is often true that these decisions are irreversible, it is not always true.”
Girlboss didn’t last long after debuting to dismal reviews. Netflix quickly opted to not move forward with a second season of the Britt Robertson-led comedy that’s loosely based on Nasty Gal founder Sophia Amoruso’s life. The 13-episode series — which followed a rebellious anarchist who turns herself into a business woman by up-selling vintage clothes online — was written and executive produced by Pitch Perfect’s Kay Cannon and counted Charlize Theron among its executive producers. Amoruso shared the news herself in a rather candid Instagram post. “So that Netflix series about my life got canceled,” she wrote. “While I’m proud of the work we did, I’m looking forward to controlling my narrative from here on out. It was a good show, and I was privileged to work with incredible talent, but living my life as a caricature was hard even if only for two months. Yes, I can be difficult. No, I’m not a dick. No, someone named Shane never cheated on me. It will be nice to someday tell the story of what’s happened in the last few years. People read the headline, not the correction, I’ve learned.” Since Will Arnett’s sadcom Flaked somehow managed to score a second season despite being critically panned, Girlboss marks the first comedy to get cut by the platform.