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Does ‘Fuller House’ Risk Damaging the Netflix Originals Brand?

Does 'Fuller House' Risk Damaging the Netflix Originals Brand?

When TV fans think of Netflix, it’s likely a few specific shows come to mind: “House of Cards,” “Orange is the New Black,” maybe even “BoJack Horseman” or new titles like “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and “Bloodline.” These are the shows that define the Netflix brand. Certainly plenty of subscribers also appreciate the ease of use, vast movie library and TV options made up of series created by other networks, but it’s the combination of the two ideas — exclusive content and inclusive access — that makes Netflix so incredibly appealing to its 60 million subscribers (and counting).

As I mentioned in a recent article on the growing number of television franchises, Netflix has been taking advantage of its broad appeal on the TV front for some time. “Fuller House” is only the latest twist on the established brand + new content formula. Announced late Monday night by producer John Stamos on Jimmy Kimmel, the new sequel series will track the adult lives of D.J. Tanner-Fuller (Candace Cameron-Bure), a recently-widowed and expecting mother of two, her sister Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin) and lifelong friend Kimmy Gibbler (Andrea Barber). All three (plus Kimmy’s daughter) move in with D.J. to help her with cope with the loss while supporting a new baby and two growing boys. Stamos is set to guest star as his star-making character Uncle Jesse, and the series comes from original “Full House” creator Jeff Franklin. 

There’s plenty to like about the new sitcom (not the least of which is that it stars three women), and I’m not here to claim the 13 upcoming episodes still a year away from being released are going to be terrible. No one can claim to know the quality of what’s coming, even if plenty of opinions are already out there. What’s concerning about the Netflix announcement is an apt combination of two troublesome trends: the network’s poor track record when it comes to sequels and its continued reliance upon them.

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Depending on who you speak to, “Arrested Development” Season 4 was either a daring experiment or a complete bust. Very few people would argue it improved on the original product, an argument supported by the idea that less screen time for the original cast can’t be a good thing. No one was too pleased with the absolute, no-doubt-about-it, final season of “The Killing,” either. Even though there were enough fans to hold out for that last, improbable year, bringing back the cast and writers wasn’t enough to craft a conclusion equal to its impressive start. Perhaps their greatest success to date came with the animated series “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” and its 64 Season 1 score on Metacritic indicates a lack of high quality from the start.

Some upcoming continuations hold more initial promise. It seems like everyone is looking forward to “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp” (though that’s a prequel to a film, not a TV show), and “With Bob and David,” a reunion of “Mr. Show” creators Bob Odenkirk and David Cross, has sketch comedy fans very excited (though it’s not officially related to “Mr. Show”). But then there’s also the fourth season of “Longmire” — an A&E series with its own cult following, certainly, but not one of such size to create a substantial cultural outcry demanding a conclusion. 

And this is where “Fuller House” gets tricky. In the official Netflix press release confirming Stamos’ announcement, the new series is described as “the long-awaited sequel to the iconic hit series ‘Full House.'” “Iconic” we can live with, but who exactly has been waiting 20 years to find out what happened to D.J., Stephanie and Kimmy? I’d argue that while there will be plenty of people curious enough to check it out, very few have been actively waiting for news of “what’s next” for the Tanner family.

But very few is all Netflix seems to need. As a company constructed to attract more subscribers, it doesn’t have to make new programming with broad appeal. It wants the “Full House” demographic to come over and sign up.

Repeated failures with continued series may be worth the hit to their originals’ brand, because other subscribers will keep paying the monthly rate for access to other content, even if the originals’ name takes a few more knocks. Netflix is not HBO. Every new series isn’t aimed at Emmys, Golden Globes or wide critical and cultural consumption. They’re in the business of becoming the only streaming service you need, not one more network you might choose to watch. So while we may still be getting excited every time Netflix announces a new series, there may soon come a time when such a response isn’t needed. At least, it won’t be needed for everybody, and that’s just fine with Netflix. They just want a fuller house.

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