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Steven Van Zandt Explains Why 'Lilyhammer' Was a 'History-Making' Choice as Netflix's First Original Series

Photo of Alison Willmore By Alison Willmore | Indiewire November 18, 2013 at 3:01PM

"Lilyhammer" star Steven Van Zandt explains why Netflix launching its original programming with his show back in 2012 was such a big deal, and why he's not feeling any pressure about returning next to originals like "Arrested Development" and "House of Cards."
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Steven Van Zandt in season two of 'Lilyhammer'
Netflix Steven Van Zandt in season two of 'Lilyhammer'

Before Netflix launched its big year of original series with "House of Cards," "Lilyhammer" was the streaming service's first venture into exclusive programming. A Norwegian co-production, the comedic drama starred Steven Van Zandt as New York gangster Frank "The Fixer" Tagliano, who heads to Lillehammer via the witness protection program to start a new life under a new name. The first season of the fish-out-of-water story, which also aired on Norwegian television, quietly launched in February 2012 with all eight episodes going live at once, as would become Netflix's pattern.

READ MORE: Steven Van Zandt is Back as a NYC Mobster in Norway in the Trailer for Season Two of Netflix Original 'Lilyhammer'

"Lilyhammer" is coming back with a second season on Netflix on Friday, December 13 at 12:01am PT. In the time between its first season premiere on the site and its return, Netflix has become a major new force in television, earning a slew of historic Emmy nominations, finding awardsy success in "House of Cards" and a genuine, homegrown hit in "Orange is the New Black." Van Zandt doesn't just play the lead in "Lilyhammer," he's a writer and executive producer on the show, and Indiewire caught up with the former "Sopranos" star and E Street Band member on a press call today to find out his thoughts on returning to a platform that's made such a splashy introduction into the world of original shows.

"It was an amazing, history-making choice by Ted Sarandos and the Netflix people to go with a foreign show first."

"Just two years ago, it's hard to believe it didn't exist. And now Netflix has become this powerhouse right up there with HBO!" Van Zandt said. "We were very proud to be the first. It was an amazing, history-making choice by Ted Sarandos and the Netflix people to go with a foreign show first. It made a statement that has reverberated through the entire world."

He explained that "At the time, I went to MIPCOM in Cannes and I was talking to four or five different countries a day through all that whole week -- I must have talked to 25, 30 different countries, and all they could talk about was the fact that Netflix chose a foreign show to be their first original program. It was subtitled. This was mind-boggling to the world, because there's this discussion about the international marketplace now being standard because of digital distribution -- it because more than talk all of a sudden. It was real, and Netflix made it real."

Van Zandt calls Netflix's success "a remarkable thing to watch. And they have five hits in a row on top of that, which blew everybody's mind. It's great to go back now with a second season that I think is going to be quite impressive for people who maybe tuned into the first season out of curiosity and were attracted by the eccentric nature of it and the fun premise of it."

He's not feeling any pressure about coming back to the platform and being placed next to "Arrested Development" and "Orange is the New Black." "We caught everybody by surprise -- we were a surprise hit -- but now we're going to actually deliver on the promise, I think, and we really stepped up our game and we're going to be a show that can be compared to any other show on American television. I'm very, very proud to go back to this continuing golden era of television, and Netflix is right at the forefront of it."

This article is related to: Television, TV Interviews, Netflix, Lilyhammer, Steven Van Zandt





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