Netflix has emerged as an original video powerhouse through not only its willingness to spend but also its reputation as an ideal home for TV shows. Featuring critically acclaimed shows like “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black,” the company is known for buying projects whole, giving lots of freedom to show creators, and also offering useful insights. It also offers a distribution platform that lets shows bebinge-watched without commercials on multiple platforms by over 50 million subscribers.
Just look at “BoJack Horseman,” a recently released cartoon about the washed-up star of a 1990s sitcom who has a horse head on a human body and lives in a world of talking animals where this is normal.
The show is smart, funny, and innovative, and the show creators say Netflix was the only place it could have worked so well.
“I am SO happy to be on Netflix. I honestly can’t imagine making this show anywhere else,” show creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg said in a Reddit AMA.
Bob-Waksberg pointed to the Netflix viewing experience as the best part:
The coolest thing about their model to me, moreso even than the idea of people watching all the episodes together, is the idea that people are going to watch all the episodes IN ORDER. This is something I think we as audiences take for granted, but you CAN’T take it for granted when you’re working on a show for a more traditional network. Traditionally, every episode needs to work as an entrance to the series even if you’ve never seen the show before. But here, we got to know that nobody’s going to watch episode 7 unless they have already seen episodes 1-6, so we didn’t have to constantly reintroduce the characters and the premise, AND we could have the characters and the premise CHANGE. This influenced EVERYTHING we did, from background stuff, like the burnt ottoman and the Hollywoo sign, to setting up jokes and stories in early episodes (like Vanessa Gekko, Dr. Hu, the Beast Buy receipt) that we knew would pay off MUCH later.
Talking with Bob-Waksberg and other people from the show, we heard more about how much they like Netflix.
“[Netflix was] the premier place to take content that was serialized, and we had the chance to do long story arcs and something that hadn’t been done in animation before, and it was Raphael’s vision from the beginning to tell this story in a unique way with that serialization,” Steve Cohen from production company Tornante said.
“For us just the prospect of a serialized narrative was something new and different and I think the audience would agree it’s really satisfying when you see that thread evolve over a season it’s terribly exciting,” Alex Bulkley from animation company ShadowMachine said.
“The thing that’s so great and so exciting about having a show on Netflix be a binge thing is that ‘BoJack’, unlike other cartoons that I can think of, is a linear story,” supervising director Mike Hollingsworth Hollingsworth told Cartoon Brew. “It doesn’t reset at the beginning of every episode like ‘The Simpsons’ or ‘Family Guy’; his house and all of his relationships are slowly destroyed throughout the season, and that was a unique and fun thing. It seems like something they might do in anime, but I can’t think of an American cartoon where the world keeps evolving.”
Binge-watching isn’t the only benefit of Netflix. The “BoJack” team also raved about working with the company.
“I would say [Netflix] was hands-on in the best possible way,” Bob-Waksberg said. “It’s not like Netflix said, ‘OK, go do your thing, we’ll see you in 12 months with a show.’ They were very much onboard with it and supported the whole way through. They didn’t hamper us with notes or overload us with notes. They really got what the show was and was trying to be and they trusted us to make it. On every trip they had notes and thoughts and on every radio play and storyboard, they’re very much involved and have a lot of input, but they’re not trying to dictate the show into being something it isn’t. You get the sense on some shows that the network buys one show and they’re really trying to make it into another show and in this case it really felt like Netflix bought the show they wanted and they supported us and empowered us to make it.”
“I think Netflix — obviously they bought it — but I think executives there responded to the material in a way — they were such champions of the material — that we couldn’t be at a better home,” Cohen said.
“We think of them as a welcome partner,” Bright said. “[F]rom the moment we went in there, they have been enthusiastic about the show and it has just built from every level up, from the people I mentioned to everyone in the marketing, the PR department, the social media department up to [Netflix Chief Content Officer] Ted [Sarandos] himself,” Noel Bright from Tornante said. “It’s just been a phenomenal experience for us, so having that’s really important, knowing that we’re setting out to make something really unique.”
After the show aired on Aug. 22, Netflix made sure that people saw it, promoting it on its homepage in the U.S. and around the world.
“It’s a trip to see characters you wrote speaking in four different foreign languages and thinking about how people are going to see this all over the world,” Bob-Waksberg said.
Netflix also put money into advertising. We don’t know how much, but we were impressed to see “BoJack” video ads in the New York subway and bizarre decals over the urinals in a club bathroom. According to the people at Zoom Media, which was contracted by Kinetic WorldWide as part of the campaign, those decals are in bars and other venues across the country along with coasters and talking posters.
“We’ve been bombarded with people saying they saw these things and they want to buy the things. Bars say people keep asking for their own,” Patrick West at Zoom said.
Is “BoJack” a hit? Netflix doesn’t share any viewer data, other than average star ratings, which put the show at 3.9 out of 5, but all you have to know is that the company signed on “Bojack” for a second season less than a week after its initial launch.
Meanwhile, the company continues to advance in its assault on traditional studios and exhibitors, announcing this week that it would co-produce its first film in the “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” sequel — to be released simultaneously on IMAX and Netflix. Soon it will take on late-night TV with its expensive Chelsea Handler show, and next year will see the release of “Daredevil” as the first of four much-hyped projects with Marvel, and between these and many other original shows it hardly seemed weird this week when Netflix also announced four original Adam Sandler movies.