I admit it. I spent six hours of my Thanksgiving weekend watching Netflix's exceedingly saccharine "Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life." And based on the social buzz, I was not the only one. You know who you are.
While the quality of this latest reboot is up for debate, it's safe to assume that, once again—as with Netflix's "Fuller House" earlier this year—nostalgia and curiosity guaranteed a healthy return on the streaming service's investment. But given Netflix's reputation for pushing the programming envelope, might this be a dangerous road for the company to be traveling?
Netflix, of course, has never been one to follow a traditional path. "The 18-to-49 demographic is so insignificant to us that I can't even tell you how many 18-to-49 year old members we have," Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos stated at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour just last year. "We don't track it. It doesn't matter. It's an advertising-driven demographic that means nothing to Netflix."
Netflix has publicly said it only cares about subscribers, not the total number of viewers. Its revenue comes from maintaining and growing the number of people paying for its service each month, not the broadcasters who sell its audience size and demographic profile to potential sponsors. And the ultimate goal for Netflix is to offer a full slate of programs with broad appeal and reach to justify the cost of the subscription.
So, reuniting Lauren Graham, Alexis Bledel and the rest of the cast of "Gilmore Girls," not to mention the extended Tanner clan from "Full House," means viewers accustomed to watching these former favorites via the broadcast networks now have a new platform to catch up with them. That likely means a whole swath of potential new subscribers, viewers who would rather pay for comfort food than challenging fare like "Master of None," "Orange is the New Black," "Stranger Things" or documentary series "Making a Murderer," to name a few.
In other words, these revivals, uninspiring as they may be creatively, may not be such a bad idea if they are positioned appropriately. No main course is satisfying without a schmaltzy side dish.
But there is something that actually worries me about "Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life," "Fuller House" and the other reboots I am sure will pop up in the future on Netflix (including upcoming new editions of Norman Lear sitcom "One Day at a Time" and Irwin Allen classic "Lost in Space"). I use the Fox network as a warning sign of what could ultimately happen if you shift your focus from your own creative voice to a more cookie-cutter brand of programming. It could be costly.
Launched in April 1987, when there were only three broadcast networks and cable was in its infancy, Fox positioned itself as an alternative, not an imitator. Early fare like "Married with Children," "The Tracey Ullman Show" (which begat "The Simpsons"), "21 Jump Street," "Beverly Hills, 90210" and "The X-Files" gave Fox a reputation for daring to be different. Once the critics took notice, viewers ultimately made Fox destination viewing.
Fox used these programs to build its initial base, and by the 1996-97 season, it peaked in adults 18 to 49 with a healthy average 5.4 rating. The Fox of yesteryear, like the Netflix of today, was the "in" place to be.
But time eventually took its toll at Fox, and the 2002 arrival of mega-hit "American Idol" meant the network would hold an advantage in the coveted demo no matter what garbage it aired the rest of the season. So instead of focusing on that next generation of hits unique to its brand, Fox got fat and happy on "Idol," and lost its creative edge. When the singing competition finally began to lose steam, just as fractionalization was really taking its toll on broadcast, Fox took a tumble. This season to-date, the network is averaging a record low 1.9 rating in the demo.
While "Gilmore Girls" and "Fuller House"—and anything else in the future—offers Netflix a crutch of sorts, and the likely potential to reach more subscribers, it must remember what the ingredient was that got the streamer on the map to begin with. As fun as it was to see Lorelai (Graham) and Luke (Scott Patterson) finally tie the knot, this should not be considered anything more than one of those schmaltzy side dishes. And for the love of God, please avoid singing competitions.