Netflix is no stranger to canceling shows. In fact, they’ve garnered somewhat of a reputation for canceling even shows that release to tremendous positive feedback from both critics and the public, but a few creators have shared insight on why this happens.
Sandman, one of Netflix’s most recent hits, is an 11-episode show adapted from Neil Gaiman’s beloved graphic novel. Gaiman himself was very involved in the show’s inception, having a say on casting decisions and presumably many other creative decisions to ensure the show was faithful to the original material.
The show was very well-received by fans and critics alike, sitting at an 87% rating on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes and staying as the number #1 most watched show on Netflix for a few weeks in several countries. This is particularly notable seeing as a live-action adaptation had been in development hell since the early 90s, leading many to claim the graphic novel impossible to adapt – the same was said about The Lord of the Rings, before Peter Jackson’s trilogy.
And yet, these eleven episodes only adapt a portion of the original material, leaving a lot on the table for a second season that by all intents and purposes, should be confirmed by now… but it isn’t.
Fans are already restless asking the author on Twitter if a second season is confirmed or not, but even after the monumental success of the show, at the time of writing, season 2 has not been confirmed.
Gaiman told fans on Twitter that Netflix takes into account the number of complete viewings when deciding to invest in a second season, which means that no matter how many people started watching the show, Netflix is looking at all the people that watched it all the way through.
Even more urgent is that there is a predetermined date for this metric to be acceptable, as implied by Gaiman on Twitter when a fan asked if there was something they could do to help ensure a season two: “Yes, you can tell other people to watch it. And, if you're watching it, try to finish watching all of it before Friday.” (@neilhimself Twitter) He later revealed that the first 30 days of viewership are the most important for Netflix, among other factors.
Writer Joe Hill also took to Twitter to emphasize the importance of watching the show all the way through. “Cannot emphasize enough -- if you were thinking of giving #Sandman a try, don't wait. To use a horrid industry term, engagement matters, especially immediate, overwhelming engagement. We can have 5 - 7 seasons of this, but only if you show Netflix you want it.“ (@joe_hill Twitter)
Apparently, the total watch time is also an important metric, which led screenwriter Michael Green (Blade Runner 2049, American Gods, Logan) to kindly ask fans of new shows to leave it playing in the background if they could, even if they had already watched it.
“This will sound stupid (and it is) but if you are savoring a new show dropped on Netflix, if it’s all the same to you, please let the episodes play through right away so the completion is counted in a timeframe that is meaningful to the show’s success.” (@andmichaelgreen Twitter)
These insights explain in part why some shows were never renewed or were canceled entirely after the first season – if it doesn’t reach the overwhelming watch time that Netflix wants, it’s not worth the investment. Gaiman also explained to fans that Sandman is very expensive to make, so this approach is understandable.
However, it’s become fairly obvious that Netflix’s “binge-watching” model is hurting the platform more than ever before. Netflix basically pioneered this model of releasing all episodes of a season at once and allowing viewers to watch it fully on day one, but they are now thinking about abandoning this model entirely.
It’s unsurprising, given how other platforms are still opting for weekly episodes, and that generates far more engagement, even if the show isn’t adored right away. Paramount saw this with Halo, the live-action adaptation of the famous video game – fans did not enjoy the show and critics were also not very impressed, but every week there would be videos and articles discussing every individual episode.
And right now, House of Dragon from HBO and The Rings of Power from Amazon are both enjoying decent engagement with their weekly episodes, even though the verdict is still out on how good each show is as a whole because the season is still going.
Netflix will certainly experiment with a weekly model sooner rather than later, but it remains to be seen if they will do this for all original shows or only a select few.