How Writing A TV Show For Netflix Is Different From Every Other Network

netflix maniac jonah hill emma stone

Once upon a time, broadcast network and cable TV were the only platforms that could provide small screen entertainment. The emergence of Netflix and other streaming platforms has given consumers more options about how they want to consume their television, and Netflix shows no signs of slowing down on attracting big names to produce new original content. In fact, Netflix could begin outspending all the other networks combined in the not-too-distant future. Renowned director Cary Fukunaga of True Detective fame has a new project set to debut on Netflix in September, and he had this to say about how writing a Netflix series different from writing a network TV series:

Because Netflix is a data company, they know exactly how their viewers watch things. So they can look at something you're writing and say,We know based on our data that if you do this, we will lose this many viewers. So it's a different kind of note-giving. It's not like, Let's discuss this and maybe I'm gonna win. The algorithm's argument is gonna win at the end of the day. So the question is do we want to make a creative decision at the risk of losing people.

Netflix has always been stingy with its viewership numbers, and there's not a whole lot of hard data about how its shows perform in the ratings compared to shows with numbers measured in traditional ways. Still, Netflix's model of releasing full seasons of shows at once (with the exception of talk shows) means that it goes about producing series differently than shows on HBO or AMC or any of the major broadcast networks. According to Cary Fukunaga in a chat with GQ, Netflix has an algorithm that can break down what works to win and hold an audience as well as what doesn't. A lot of Netflix users like to binge-watch their shows; if shows don't appeal on a binge-watching level, those shows may not be hits on the streaming service.

Prior to arriving at Netflix for his upcoming series Maniac, Cary Fukunaga's main TV experience was on the first season of HBO's True Detective. He won an Emmy for directing an episode of True Detective, and while he didn't actually write for that show, he knows what it takes to bring episodes of complex shows to life on the small screen. On the writing front, he's probably best known for 2015's Beasts of No Nation, which released on Netflix. He also wrote an early draft of the IT movie as well as for TNT's hit The Alienist, which recently scored an order for a follow-up limited series. It should be interesting to see how Maniac compares to his past projects on the big and small screens alike.

Maniac stars Emma Stone and Jonah Hill as two strangers who are part of the late stages of a mysterious pharmaceutical trial. As you can probably guess by the fact that it's called Maniac and not Two People Who Have Super Normal Pharmaceutical Experiences, not everything will go as planned. You can see the story for yourself when Maniac premieres on Friday, September 21 at 12:01 a.m. PT on Netflix. For more of what is on the way to the streaming service, swing by our 2018 Netflix premiere guide. If streaming isn't always your style, take a look at our fall TV schedule for more options.

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. CinemaBlend's resident expert and interviewer for One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and a variety of other primetime television. Will not time travel and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).