By Steve Pipps
If you haven’t heard of Netflix, you might literally be living under a rock. Or you were just released from an underground bunker where the crazy Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne was holding you. That also happens to be the plot of Netflix’ hilarious new comedy, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
What can’t Netflix do? At the moment not much, but the coming year will truly put that to the test.
It started out as an answer to classic video store rental systems such as Blockbuster. It was a new way to rent DVDs; delivered directly to your home. The company grew until it eventually mailed out its billionth DVD in 2007. From there, the Netflix we all know today began. Streaming content became available via the Internet and quickly outshone the other rental services.
Now, Netflix is in the homes of over 50 million subscribers and has been pushing its latest venture, original programming. House of Cards, Lilyhammer, Hemlock Grove and Orange is the New Black were all part of the first push of Netflix original content and two of these programs made a splash, HOC and Orange, while one, Lilyhammer, remains an almost cult hit that is currently in limbo. Hemlock Grove failed to fare as well as these other three ventures and will air the final 10-episode season in 2015.
It is part the success of these early shows, part the stride that Netflix has recently hit in its original content and part all of the other ventures Netflix has in the pipeline that make me think it can rival HBO.
Let me explain.
Since 2012, Netflix has been producing such shows as those mentioned above along with comedy specials of Aziz Ansari and Marc Maron to name a few. Netflix released the Academy Award Nominated documentary, The Square. Along with the Oscars, Netflix crashed the Emmys garnering over 30 nominations between House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. The 2013 nine Emmy nominations for House of Cards marked the first time an online-only web television series received a major Emmy nomination.
As those successful series continue their runs, Netflix optioned to continue other series such as the cult sensation Arrested Development. The streaming service also optioned season four of The Killing, giving the show a proper ending, seasons 8, 9, 10 and 11 of Trailer Park Boys and season four of the crime drama Longmire.
2014 saw the release of the inventive animated comedy Bojack Horseman, which featured a horse struggling to come to terms with his washed-up status and his attempts to return to relevancy. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was released this month from 30 Rock creator Tina Fey and co-creator Robert Carlock. The series toes the line of outrageously funny and too bizarre as we root for Kimmy to find her footing in a world she hasn’t been a part of for over 15 years.
Along with the numerous comedy specials Netflix puts out each year, they have yet to have a comedy bust when it comes to original content.
The company has released children’s programming such as Richie Rich, Turbo FAST and The Adventures of Puss in Boots.
What really sets Netflix up for success is the next few years. Netflix’ pipeline is like an entertainment junkie’s wet dream. Netflix paired with Marvel TV to produce four live-action series centered on Daredevil, Luke Cage, A.K.A Jessica Jones and Iron Fist all leading up to The Defenders mini-series which will also be a Netflix original. Marvel TV needs all the help it can get and Netflix seems to be the best place right now for that.
Netflix is releasing Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, which is a prequel to the insanely hilarious David Wain film Wet Hot American Summer. Also coming up is a thriller-drama Bloodline from the Damages co-creators Todd A. Kessler, Daniel Zelman and Glen Kessler. The Wachowskis created, wrote and produced the upcoming Sci-fi-drama Sense8 for Netflix, which is set to air June 5, 2015.
Netflix also has multi-picture deals with Adam Sandler and the Duplass Brothers, (who just wrapped their first season of Togetherness on HBO.) My point here is Netflix has done major work to get top notch content. They went from novice to big dog in a matter of years and they have no plans of stopping. Getting into bed with Marvel, Mitch Hurwitz, David Wain and Michael Showalter, Adam Sandler and the Duplass Brothers can only bode well for the company that started humbly in 1997.
Now to finally answer the question, is Netflix quickly becoming the new HBO? No. And yes in some ways. Let me be clear, I don’t think HBO is going anywhere soon, especially when they ultimately make HBO Now, which will be the standalone service to receive streaming content without a TV subscription to HBO. HBO is still putting out stellar content in True Detective, Game of Thrones and Last Week Tonight to name a few.
However, I do think that Netflix is becoming the HBO for younger generations. The Sopranos, The Wire and even Deadwood were during the heyday of HBO, but it took a hit when it was unavailable to those who didn’t subscribe to the expensive TV service, (even still, HBO Go is only available to those who also have a TV subscription). Netflix is more readily available to Millennials, it’s cheaper for families to sit around. Instead of the Fireside Chats, it’s A Night With Netflix, (granted, not near as catchy of a name).
In the modern age, the way we devour media has changed. We don’t “watch” TV anymore. We DVR it or stream it. We binge watch shows, which is why Netflix releases its shows all at once, (I watched Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt in two days). With this being the new norm Netflix has it’s foot in the door to our hearts and doesn’t intend to let HBO Now close it on them.
Hopefully it continues because only through competition will we continue to get such great shows as House of Cards and True Detective. It will be interesting to watch as Netflix goes from nobody to somebody in the rivalry with HBO. HBO aired Ali vs. Frazier on September 30, 1975. It’s high time we have another bout, this time Netflix vs. HBO.
Steve Pipps is a Chicago-based freelance writer. He enjoys writing for both the screen and TV. Follow him on Twitter @stevepipps or check out his website