Canceling the first season of a TV series happens all the time – but not if you’re Netflix. The streaming video giant has very rarely ever canceled a new original series, and never after just one season. That’s what made Netflix’s decision to cancel “The Get Down” after just one season so puzzling for many veteran Netflix watchers.
“The Get Down” came with a hefty price tag, some top industry talent, and a decent amount of buzz, yet never seemed to make a splash with viewers. Is this just a bump in the road, or the sign of a more serious shakeup in the works at Netflix? A number of theories have been advanced why Netflix canceled “The Get Down,” and these are the most probable…
The first thing you should know about “The Get Down” was that it was enormously costly to produce. Just coming up with the first 12 episodes for Season 1 reportedly cost Netflix $120 million. And, with so much money at stake, Netflix wanted to see results that the show was moving the needle with audiences and critics.
But, with Season 1 now complete, it looks like “The Get Down” never moved the needle with either Netflix fans or critics. In short, the show never became “award show material” and it never crossed over into the public mainstream, the way earlier shows like “House of Cards” or “Orange is the New Black” did. People weren’t mentioning “The Get Down” at the office water cooler.
The problem is that Netflix never publicly releases numbers on viewership for its shows, so it’s almost impossible to tell how many viewers “The Get Down” attracted. Instead, you’d have to use proxy measures of success – such as how much buzz the show was picking up on social media and blogs. As Vanity Fair noted, this new Netflix original series “never captured the zeitgeist.”
This could signal a change of business strategy for Netflix. Previously, the company was more than willing to spend tens of millions of dollars, and was never trying to end a series before it had run its course. Even in the examples of “Bloodline” (which ran 3 seasons) and “Marco Polo” (which ran 2 seasons), Netflix was a lot more willing to see how things developed before calling the show a flop. Going forward, it could be the case that Netflix is going to be a lot more demanding about any new original shows that it produces.
Part of what gave “The Get Down” so much energy and spark was the creative vision of Baz Luhrmann, known for “The Great Gatsby” and “Moulin Rouge.” There was a reason why Netflix was willing to spend so much time and energy on the show – they expected a spectacular re-telling of the origins of hip hop in the South Bronx in the 1970s.
But now it appears that Baz Luhrmann was ready to move on. In a Facebook post to his fans, he explained that he “couldn’t fully commit” to a second full season, especially because it meant he had to defer new film commitments. Reading between the lines, it’s clear that Baz Luhrmann’s heart was in movies, and not in directing a Netflix series. He explained to his fans that “new cinematic work” was what motivated him, and that as long as Netflix and Sony were expecting a second full season from him, he wouldn’t be able to start up any new film projects.
Internally, the show’s writers referred to it as “The Shut Down.” There were so many problems with behind-the-scenes woes that it looks like the series was never going to make it to Season 2. The start just weren’t aligned correctly – the show seemed to be constantly shuttling through show runners and writers. And “The Get Down” – already the most expensive show ever for Netflix – kept going over budget. That might have been forgiven, but there were also delays in production and a constant pruning of new scripts.
And Baz Luhrmann, the creative force behind the series, hinted that he had no intention of being the chief show runner. He was much more interested in developing the creative vision for the show, and then handing it off to someone else. In short, this show was a hot mess. As soon as Netflix agreed to pony up more than $100 million for this new show, it was courting disaster.
It could be time for Netflix to take a step back and think about how it is allocating its dollars for original content, especially now that market entrants like Amazon are becoming more aggressive about creating original video content. In the early days, Netflix was willing to forgive a major mistake like “Marco Polo” (rumored to have cost upwards of $90 million) by virtue of the fact that it helped to build awareness of the overall value proposition offered by Netflix. In short, a series like “Marco Polo” helped to put Netflix on the map, and viewer eyeballs weren’t nearly as important as simply getting people and the media buzzing over the “latest Netflix project.”
Surely, the addition of Baz Luhrmann as the creative force behind “The Get Down” was part of that vision. Netflix knew that putting such a high-profile film director in charge of the project was going to create buzz. But, in the end, the show never created the right amount of buzz, and it never attracted eyeballs. There wasn’t a single major metric where “The Get Down” was a winner. In fact, chances are, most Netflix subscribers had never even heard of the show.
So, in the grand scheme of things, it may be that a whole host of factors conspired against “The Get Down.” It was too expensive and never had the full buy-in of Baz Luhrmann, who was more eager to move on to new film projects. And it might have arrived at a time when new changes in the competitive landscape for video streaming meant that Netflix has had to become more aggressive when it comes to picking winners and losers. At the end of the day, “The Get Down” was a big let down – both for viewers and for Netflix.