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History of Netflix Originals

by Elsa Scott

Photo courtesy of Carina Lee

In 1997, Reed Hastings and Marc Randolph had an idea that would revolutionize the entertainment industry and the way the public consumes movies and television shows, forever. They co-founded an online site that allowed customers to buy and, more importantly, to rent, DVDs to watch at home. This site was Netflix. In 1999, Netflix debuted a subscription service, where a customer could have unlimited rentals for one monthly price. When 2010 came along, Netflix adapted with the times and started their online streaming service that millions of viewers worldwide know and love today.

Netflix was founded on a principle of providing what is essentially a library of movies for viewers to pick from. But whoever heard of a library producing its own books? In 2012, Netflix entered the content production industry, debuting its first original series, “Lilyhammer.” In 2013, Netflix debuted “House of Cards,” which went on to be the first original online-only web television series to receive major Emmy nominations.

In 2016, Netflix released an estimated 126 original series or films, more than any other network or cable channel. In October 2017, Netflix iterated a goal of having half of its library consist of original content by 2019, announcing a plan to invest $8 billion on original content in 2018.

Netflix has become a powerhouse of entertainment production and distribution. However, the quality of their original content, the caliber of the content of their shows and movies, and the prestige of the actors they employ is greatly varied.

There are numerous Netflix television shows that employ adult actors to portray high schoolers, such as the American high school comedy-drama series “The Politician,” where Ben Platt, a 26-year-old actor, plays a high schooler running for student body president. In Netflix’s original show “13 Reasons Why,” all of the cast is over the age of 21, with most of the actors over the age of 25. This portrayal of high schoolers as adult actors makes sense from an industry perspective; there are more hoops to jump through with having minors on the set of a production. However, an adult body looks very different from a teenager’s, and the potential for dangerous comparison amongst teen viewers to the heroes of their favorite television shows is very real. As Barbara Greenberg, a clinical psychologist and teen and family expert, said in an interview with Teen Vogue, “It [casting actors in their 20s to portray high schoolers] can give the message that they’re supposed to look good all the time.”

Netflix’s goal of having half its library consist of original content by 2019 means they are really churning out projects, with frequent new releases on a pretty consistent basis. This emphasis on quantity does result occasionally in a serious sacrifice of quality. Movies such as “The Red Sea Diving Resort,” “The Silence,” “Sextuplets” and “Polar” all score below a 30 on Metacritic, a review site that aggregates various scores from respected film critics, making it a better indicator than Rotten Tomatoes.

Rather than flooding the entertainment marketplace with lower-quality content, Netflix ought to take a step back and focus on crafting projects more along the lines of their award-winning series, like “House of Cards,” “Orange is the New Black,” “Stranger Things,” “Master of None” and movies, such as the documentary “Icarus,” which won the Oscar for Best Documentary Film.

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