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Netflix is turning to fandom to find reliable programming

Campaigns like #SaveLucifer and #SaveShadowhunters are influencing programming decisions

Tom Ellis as Lucifer
20th Century Fox

Netflix is known for holding business and creative practices close to the chest, but new information from the Television Critics Association (TCA) conference finally illustrates how executives make final cut decisions.

Cindy Holland, Netflix’s vice president of original programming, suggested season completion rates play a big part in whether a show like Everything Sucks is renewed. Everything Sucks, the teen dramedy akin to Freaks and Geeks, for example, didn’t have enough people watch the entire first season for it to warrant a second, even though the show is beloved by people at the network.

“We realized that it is very unlikely that we would be able to grow the audience, move a whole new audience through the show and have a large enough audience to justify a season two,” Holland said, as reported by Deadline.

This won’t be a groundbreaking discovery to anyone who follows traditional networks. Steady ratings, which is essentially what Netflix is describing, is key to a show’s ongoing success. It’s why Grey’s Anatomy is in its 14th season, and also why Firefly was cancelled after just one season. But the insight is small pivot to a new direction for Netflix.

The network has always prided itself on trying to create exceptional original series — the type that win at the Emmy’s and Golden Globes — and while the company is still occasionally producing “prestige” dramas (Seven Seconds, for example), the attentions-spans and viewing habits of the TV-viewing audience are becoming more important to the greenlighting side of the business. Just look at the network’s new licensing deals, like Lucifer. Netflix realized pretty quickly after the Sense8 fiasco (a show Netflix cancelled after a cliffhanger ending that received a two-hour proper finale after fans rallied around the show on Twitter) that rabid fans create their own buzz, their own publicity, and worthwhile catering to.

Fans have a superpower: hashtags. Make enough noise, hashtag every tweet, and start a revolution. Demand a show be renewed. Cry out to whoever will listen that life simply can not go on unless Brooklyn Nine-Nine or Timeless end up somewhere. Netflix has become a foster home for unwanted series. They’re taken from the hands of neglectful networks, given a spiffy new look and welcomed into a new family for a time. These shows get to mingle with other series beloved by fans but tossed aside like trash by various networks.

Arrested Development, Longmire, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Degrassi are just a few of the shows Netflix has “saved” in recent years. Fans begged Netflix to consider picking up The Expanse after SyFy dropped it (the series was revived at Amazon), and The Mindy Project fans pleaded with Netflix to do something after Fox cancelled the show (Hulu nabbed it instead).

Netflix’s most recent resurrection is Lucifer, a show that hung by a thread for three seasons at Fox. The show didn’t do particularly well ratings wise, hovering between 2.5 and 3 million in its third season, but its fans were boisterous and dedicated. They took up action on Twitter, asking for a network to resurrect Lucifer.

Like many times before, Netflix became that network.

“Lucifer is a fantastic show that has really resonated with audiences in parts of the world, so we felt it was important for our licensing team to try to help that show continue for our fans,” Holland said at the TCAs, according to Deadline.

Netflix learned from some of the aforementioned shows, and its own original genre series like Stranger Things, that fans will show up. Repeatedly. They’ll create fan art, pack convention halls and launch Twitter campaigns to save a show they adore. Not all genre shows are going to win Emmys, but Netflix found a dedicated audience in fandom’s deepest cores, and the network is finally leaning into it.

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that Holland said season completion rates play a big part in whether shows were renewed. She instead suggested season completion played a role in Everything Sucks’ renewal. Holland told Deadline, “because we were seeing a much low completion rate of the whole season, we realized that it is very unlikely that we would be able to grow the audience, move a whole new audience through the show and have a large enough audience to justify a season two.”

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