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Earlier this week, Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese, the creators behind Netflix’s cult smash Dark, hit Instagram with sad news: Their new series, 1899, would not be renewed for a second season, despite debuting at the end of 2022 to positive reviews and a place on the streamer’s top 10 list. “We would have loved to finish this incredible journey with a 2nd and 3rd season as we did with Dark,” the pair wrote. “But sometimes things don’t turn out the way you planned.”
Plans are a funny thing in the streaming business. Obscure shows like Squid Game can find their audience, become cultural juggernauts, and then get additional seasons. Others, like Warrior Nun, can also find rabid fans but just not enough of them to stay alive. As the streaming landscape expands, the possibility of any show surviving starts to feel like Squid Game itself—and the thrum of “red light,” “green light” leaves everyone on their toes.
Netflix has seen a lot of changes in recent months: loss of subscribers, new ad-supported pricing tiers. Its recent spate of nixed shows had people wondering what writing was on the wall. Some suggested that 1899’s demise came because its “completion rate”—a percentage of how many viewers actually finish watching a show—was reportedly below 50 percent. Others pointed out that the show is expensive. Some suggested it just got lost in the shuffle.
The fact is that, as Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos once put it, “it’s 70 percent gut and 30 percent data.” There is no one metric that decides what the streamer does or doesn’t kill. Netflix has to focus on its bottom line now more than ever—and costly shows that don’t become big hits are risky. But giving the axe to a show before it can find a following does feel shortsighted. At a time when the streaming giant needs to hold on to subscribers, pundits will tell you that becoming a graveyard of forgotten, unfinished programming isn’t the best way to ingratiate a loyal fanbase.
Honestly, this explanation doesn’t entirely ring true. Shows are canceled all the time, and people who get excited about TV—especially genre TV—go in knowing there’s a possibility that the thing they love may never come to its creators’ hoped-for conclusion, that it could be literally endless. Sometimes, those gone-too-soon shows—Firefly, The OA—gain more cult status because of their cancelations.
Will this happen with 1899? Or even Warrior Nun? Eh, maybe. But perhaps that’s not the point. Netflix was once the place where weirder, more obscure shows were given space—and time—to thrive. But the 1899 cancellation shows that the company, like any streamer, is now in the position of having to operate much like the TV networks that came before it. When cable—particularly original programming on cable—came along, major networks suddenly had much less captive audiences. Streaming has arrived at that inflection point. The good news is that services like Netflix are creating all kinds of lost gems for people to discover later; the bad news is that the companies may not always want to keep those shows around.