Hell hath no fury like a modern TV audience scorned. Though the latest major cancellation blight came directly from DC Universe's streaming service, a lot of viewers' heat still falls on Netflix for its habit of only giving most of its original series three seasons or less. The company's recent renewal of Lucifer for a final season is more proof of that tactic.
While Netflix's powers that be aren't always so willing to offer quick or elongated explanations for any of the decisions made regarding renewals and cancellations, VP of content Cindy Holland recently laid out a short answer that supplies a nutshell-view of the thinking process, using the sitcom One Day at a Time as her example. In her words:
The basic calculation is, how much viewing are we getting for what it costs? We also look at, is it reaching different audiences? Is it gaining critical acclaim? Is it doing something for us as a business that we like?
Now, there are no doubt many more factors involved in Netflix's cryptic method for allowing or destroying its series' futures, but that's a nice four-quadrant example to start with. With every show from One Day at a Time to Daredevil to Dear White People to Dark, Netflix's team of execs has to gather up all of the relevant viewership data at its disposal – if only they made it public knowledge! – and then also look outward to measure the shows' impact on critics and pop culture.
None of those factors are new or exclusive to Netflix, mind you, and it can be argued that broadcast and cable networks have it far rougher in that respect, since many of them live and die by advertiser demographics. A commercial-free streaming service like Netflix obviously doesn't need to worry about those particular stats, even though it's still highly important what demographics are watching.
The most important issue, especially for a company that funds its programming with borrowed money, is whether or not the viewing audience's overall value can reach or top the money it took to fund the project. It's probably a lot easier to fund a visually grounded and sparsely cast comedy like Russian Doll, which just got renewed for Season 2, than any effects-driven genre series such as The Punisher or Lost in Space.
So, hypothetically speaking, if Russian Doll and Lost in Space are bringing in the exact same average-sized audience, then it doesn't really matter how loud or vocal the latter's viewers are about wanting a new season. The bigger spectacle show is going to get cancelled nine times out of ten in that situation unless there's some other exceptional motivating factor.
Of course, even with its populated ensemble cast, One Day at a Time also likely falls in line with Netflix's less expensive originals. And considering it was also one of the more critically lauded comedies on the service, the show's problems there likely came from the audience itself. Or the lack thereof.
Speaking at Recode's Code Conference (via Deadline), Cindy Holland explained that the show just didn't land with a bigger and broader audience over the course of its three seasons. She shared these frank words:
We wouldn’t have renewed that show on a viewing-to-cost basis. But it was such a well-made show, and we were so proud of Norman [Lear] Gloria [Calderon Kellett], Mike Royce and everybody involved with it that we wanted to see, could we broaden the audience, could it gain a some more steam. And it would grow a little bit, but we just couldn’t find the broad audience we hoped it could get and it deserved to get. And so, after three seasons, we decided to end it.
Anyone within One Day at a Time's core fanbase – or the central fandom of any series that was cancelled "too soon" – would likely want to argue against any assertion that there weren't enough viewers to keep things going. But in the end, it's the execs at Netflix who make the final decisions about what stays and what goes.
All we can do as viewers is continue streaming episodes of what we want to see more of, and continue passing on good word-of-mouth about the shows people need to be watching next. That way, there's a chance that something like One Day at a Time can eventually find the kind of audience that inspires Netflix to renegotiate deals for a new season.
That kind of stuff can't happen with the Marvel shows like Daredevil and Jessica Jones, since those cancellations were in part influenced by Disney's future in streaming. But for other shows, it's a possibility.
Speaking of Jessica Jones, the Marvel super-heroine's third and final season will be premiering on Netflix on Friday, June 14, at 12:01 a.m. PT.