Why Netflix is Full Of It For Canceling One Day At A Time
Netflix cancels One Day at a Time, one of its best shows, despite massive fan support, and won’t release the data to back up their statement. More on why Netflix decided to cancel a beloved show and why their excuses don’t quite cut it.
On March 14, the internet was dropped a bombshell. No, I’m not talking about the Avengers: Endgame trailer, I’m talking the news of Netflix canceling One Day at a Time. The remake of the popular 1970’s Norman Lear original appeared on Netflix in 2017 and ever since it aired it generated positive reviews from critics (all three seasons rank above 98% on Rottentomatoes) and it had a very strong vocal fan following including celebrities like Hamilton star Lin Manuel Miranda, comic book writer Marc Andreyko, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine stars Stephanie Beatriz and Melissa Fumero, who both appeared as guest stars in the newest season. Yet despite all the critical love and fan support, its status was always up in the air as it seemed on the verge of cancellation. In 2018 when season 2 dropped the show’s creator Gloria Calderón-Kellet took to Twitter to ask people to watch the show and get them a third season. It caught on and with how many people I followed that talked about how great it was, I decided to check it out.
I binged the first two seasons in two days. It is that great.
One Day at a Time follows three generations of a Cuban-American family. A newly-single mom and military veteran Penelope Alverez (Justina Machado) journeys through the triumphs and tribulations that come with raising two strong-willed millennial children. Elena (Isabella Gomez) is the feminist activist who is recently coming to terms with her sexuality, and Alex, the (Marcel Ruiz) the charming younger son who is learning what it means to grow up and be a man. She enlists the “help” of her mother (Rita Moreno), a refugee from Cuba and her building manager-turned-invaluable confidante (Todd Grinnell). The series also starred Stephen Toblowsky as Penelope’s boss and potential love interest to Lydia, Dr. Leslie Berkowitz.
The campaign worked and it got renewed for a third season. Yet as soon as it arrived the save One Day at a Time train started again. I told everyone I knew to watch the show, yet apparently, it didn’t work this time. Netflix made the decision to cancel the show, releasing the following response on Twitter:
“We’ve made the very difficult decision not to renew One Day At A Time for a fourth season. The choice did not come easily — we spent several weeks trying to find a way to make another season work but in the end simply not enough people watched to justify another season. Thank you, Norman Lear, for bringing this series back to television. Thank you, Gloria Calderon Kellett & Mike Royce, for always making us laugh and never shying away from bravely and beautifully tackling tough subject matter in a meaningful way. To Justina Machado, Todd Grinnell, Isabella Gomez, Marcel Ruiz, Stephen Tobolowsky, and Rita Moreno: thank you for inviting us into your family. You filled this show with so much heart and warmth and love, it truly felt like home. And to anyone who felt seen or represented — possibly for the first time — by ODAAT, please don’t take this as an indication your story is not important. The outpouring of love for this show is a firm reminder to us that we must continue finding ways to tell these stories.”
The showrunners and cast have released statements that express their love and gratitude to the fans, how heartbroken they are to say goodbye to show, and what it meant for them to make it. Sony is shopping the show around at other networks, so there is still a possibility it can find a new home. But in the meantime, it looks like it is over for the Alvarez family. Many fans are rightfully angry at Netflix for this cancellation, as it shows a lack of faith in the show many suspected the network had, that the talk of diversity was never genuine, and frustration with a failure of transparency on Netflix’s part. There is so much to pick apart with how needlessly stupid the cancellation is.
Netflix did a terrible job marketing the show
Ever since One Day at a Time hit the streaming service in 2017, Netflix has often abandoned the show. Part of this is because they have so many shows that they flood the market with new content every week, leaving no show with time to really breathe before a new one comes along. When the third season hit in February of 2019, Netflix had already put up Russian Doll and their new original film, Velvet Buzzsaw. The next week The Umbrella Academy would launch and take up all the eyes on Netflix. Netflix put a lot more backing and marketing promotions behind Umbrella Academy then they ever did One Day At A Time, even when it was a new show. I saw ads for Umbrella Academy play before YouTube videos, I saw bus ads and billboards for it, yet I never saw any for One Day at a Time.
Because of Netflix’s poor attempt to market the show, it often fell to the showrunners, Gloria Calderón-Kellet and Mike Royce, and the stars to campaign for the show on their social media. This isn’t part of their job, but to make sure they could still have a job they had to continue to push it even after proving themselves each year with seasons that racked up critical and fan acclaim. Netflix couldn’t afford to do the job of marketing their show, they made the people who make it do it to fight for their job.
Yet aside from how little Netflix has marketed the show it still managed to find an audience and had a big following on Twitter. So it fits the Netflix mold of a show finding an audience and generating buzz. Apparently, though, not enough to justify the cost. Which one has to wonder: what cost exactly?
Netflix has the money, they just don’t want to spend it.
“We spent several weeks trying to find a way to make another season” – here being that they didn’t have enough money to justify it. Yet they seem to have plenty of money, as they are expected to spend $15 billion in 2019 on content. Yet none of that money could be used on One Day at a Time.
Netflix can’t claim it cost too much money to produce One Day at a Time when they spent $100 million dollars to stream Friends on their platform, but not for an extended period of time. That $100 million was only for a year until WB takes it back to put it on their own streaming platform next year. Netflix could have invested that money into their own content, and help make a show like One Day at a Time as important a phenomenon as Friends.
Netflix also currently has plenty of shows in development. They are developing a Narnia series, in an effort to fill the power vacuum left by Game of Thrones ending and to compete with Amazon’s Middle Earth series. They’re also working on a whole set of kids series based around the works of Roald Dahl and Doctor Seuss. They also have been developing series based on the comic books of Mark Millar. They continue to crank out Netflix original movies, including Bright 2, a sequel to a movie that critics hated and no one really seemed to like. That is getting a sequel, but a fan favorite critically acclaimed show that actually deals with diverse important themes? That is what got canceled. Not a good look Netflix.
Let’s Talk About Viewership
“….we spent several weeks trying to find a way to make another season work but in the end simply not enough people watched to justify another season.” Oh really? Aside from the fact that maybe if you did a better job marketing the show people would have watched, but let’s dig deeper into the viewers that were and weren’t there.
Netflix claims the viewers weren’t there to watch One Day at a Time, but what is frustrating is fans will never know the truth. Unlike other networks or basic cable channels, who have viewership tracked by Nielsen ratings, Netflix doesn’t have to and rarely releases this information to the public. When they do, it is only when they want to roll out a success like when they claimed that Bird Box was watched by 45 million accounts in the first week (but not saying if it was watched to completion – if anyone turned it off before it was over – or if it autoloaded). This lack of transparency makes it frustrating and infuriating when Netflix says the numbers weren’t there because nobody knows the truth. They could be spinning the best way to say they don’t want it around anymore and put the blame on viewers (not realizing – hey maybe if they marketed it better they’d have more of those).
Diversity Matters…but Does It Really?
Earlier this month there were reports that Steven Spielberg was going to go to the Academy and make an effort to ensure Netflix movies couldn’t be considered for Oscars because they don’t fit the definition of a theatrically released movie. Netflix then tried to counter these sentiments by saying they were the platform that gave a voice to diverse talent and wanted to tell their stories.
A worthy sentiment, but one that loses a lot of credibility when they cancel a show that helps highlight and gives a voice to a group of people who often don’t see themselves on television. Yes, Netflix gave it a shot to begin with, but they never fully put their support behind it.
“to anyone who felt seen or represented — possibly for the first time — by ODAAT, please don’t take this as an indication your story is not important.”
This is even more insulting because they don’t get to tell people how to feel. The very fact that Netflix canceled a show, means this story isn’t important to them. They made a choice. Nobody forced their hand, they aren’t slaves to the data. They can take a risk, make an investment, but they chose not to. With canceling it they said these stories aren’t important enough. Not as important as a third season of The Crown. Or a new season of Stranger Things. Or any of these new shows they have announced as in development. They weren’t forced to cancel it, they made the choice and they do not get to wiggle out of taking fault for this.
One Day at a Time has a lot in common with many other popular fan favorite shows Netflix decided to cancel. Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, The Punisher, and American Vandal were all critically adored to varying degrees (yet probably none as much as One Day at a Time). Yet they all were canceled without warning and they are all produced by other studios. Netflix licenses these shows out but they are owned and developed outside of Netflix. Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and The Punisher were with ABC Studios, American Vandall at CBS, and One Day at a Time was by Sony. That made these shows more expendable than the ones Netflix makes in house.
Instead of saying this outright, Netflix tried to spin it as they had no other choice. They are your friend who is just as heartbroken by this as you are. Yet they aren’t. At the end of the day they are still a tech company, and these shows aren’t art for them. It is content, and if they don’t see it as valuable to them, then it doesn’t matter.
What Was Lost
Why such a big deal about a show? Representation matters, and One Day at a Time did a great job putting female writers and performers front and center, as well as people of color, and gave a voice to many immigrants and children of immigrants. It was a miracle of a show. It helped raise awareness, in the context of a traditional sitcom, to important LGBTQ rights and the voice of immigrants, who in this country under this current administration need it.
Remakes of shows are often so cynical, they are often meant to cash in on name recognition yet never actually become popular and end up getting canceled. No one remembers the remakes of Knight Rider, Bionic Woman, or Charlie’s Angels because trying to replace the original with a cheap copy rarely works. You can’t recapture the magic that made the show a cultural phenomenon in the first place. It’s not just brand recognition.
But the ones that survive, the ones that endure and become great and even surpass their predecessors, it is because they see untapped potential in the original or spin it in a new direction. They don’t just use the name, they use it as a springboard for new ideas. Battlestar Galactica did this perfectly, and I would say so did One Day at a Time. It arrived on Netflix two months after Donald Trump was sworn into office, and the idea of a show that showcased a Cuban-American family with an immigrant matriarch seemed a lot more relevant. It showed them just trying to live a normal life, but also highlighted the unique struggles that come with their circumstances. It was a way to show people another side of life maybe they never considered. It took the premise of the original and truly modernized it in ways beyond the superficial.
It took the original multi-camera set up we’ve seen on numerous other television shows and was able to use that comfort people have with those types of shows to be subversive. People expect a lot of silly laughs, which they got for sure. But they were also able to use that as a platform to put the focus on a Cuban-American family and while still being funny knew how to talk about serious topics like veterans’ struggles with PTSD, depression and anxiety, as well as sexuality, gender identity, sexism, consent, alcoholism, drug addiction, and religion, amongst many others.
The best moments of the show were never just the ones that made you laugh, but the ones that made you cry. It was a gem of a show and it is a shame that Netflix didn’t see the amazing show they had.
Thank you to the show’s creators, the cast, and crew who made this show a possibility. It’s one of the television greats and it will live on in hearts and minds for generations to come.