Here’s a bit of inside baseball: Every once in a while, people in the writing-about-the-news game write about news that hasn’t happened yet. Every major newspaper has a file of pre-written obituaries for the famous but physically fragile. “Dewey Defeats Truman” gets printed, just in case. And if a relatively predictable event lurks on the horizon, many folk today might spend a half-hour the night before an announcement seems likely to pre-write a story so that when the news comes, it can be quickly distributed.
This week, we faced one of those moments: “Sense8,” the baffling but beloved series quickly developing a cult following after launching on Netflix two months ago, seemed extremely likely to announce its renewal for a second season. The timing was right because Tuesday was Netflix’s day at the Television Critics Association press tour; its singular opportunity to present news and panels featuring its current lineup of original programming to a ballroom full of thirsty television critics and journalists.
One of those previously announced panels was, in fact, a panel devoted entirely to “Sense8,” which meant it was easy to assume that the show would be renewed. The TCAs can be a publicity bonanza for networks, but one that can also lead to brutal cross-examination by journalists whose tolerance for bullshit has been worn down by years of PR speak. No way does a network present to journalists a show that’s going to be canceled.
Not only that, but to date the longest a Netflix original series has waited to be renewed for a new season, following its season premiere, was “Between” (which premiered on May 21 and was renewed on July 8, and, for the record, isn’t a pure Netflix original). “Sense8” hasn’t earned universal critical acclaim, but certainly more people seem invested in it than a Canadian import starring Nickelodeon veteran Jeanette McCurdy about teenagers quarantined in a small town.
So consider us shocked when Tuesday morning dawned with no official update on “Sense8” Season 2. And when asked directly during the show’s panel where things stood on Season 2, all co-creator J. Michael Straczynski would say is, “We’re still awaiting word… We’re waiting for a final determination. We’re cautiously optimistic, but ultimately it’s Netflix’s call.”
It was a frustrating answer, especially because, in case you were curious, “Sense8’s” creators have plans in place for a five-season series, as Straczynski told Indiewire in an interview earlier this year:
“Before we started this, we knew we wanted to do a prolonged story. I love five-year arcs, so we have a five-year arc worked out for this thing. We know what all of the seasons are going to be… we have 30 pages of notes on the second season and where the structure would be. So we know where the story’s going to go, down the road.”
But no one could speak to what would be happening in future seasons at one of the biggest television press events of the year. Only “cautious optimism” was on offer. Which, if we were to play mind-reader, hints at “all the contracts haven’t been signed yet.” And frankly, after the mess that was Showtime getting David Lynch signed for the return of “Twin Peaks,” it’s hard to blame Netflix for not officially announcing anything until after all the papers are signed.
It still seemed like a missed opportunity… And yet.
Here is one of the basic facts about Netflix programming that speaks in general to the state of television today: As beautiful as the dream is, that everyone tunes into a new series as soon as it goes live, the fact is we’re all catching up on something (even those of us who get paid to keep up).
“Sense8” is still building its fanbase. For certain Netflix viewers, it is technically a new show. Netflix is in fact still treating it like a new show; not only by bringing it to the TCAs, but launching innovative marketing initiatives like a global Google hangout featuring the cast and this crazy “Brainwave Symphony” experiment in which eight strangers had their brainwaves measured and transformed into music.
Those initiatives, which have rolled out in the last few weeks, indicate that Netflix is still committed to building the show’s audience. Which is in line with Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos’s philosophy regarding show viewership: Yesterday, following his presentation at the TCAs, Sarandos said to reporters that when they look at how a show performs, “it’s not just a weekly behavior or a monthly behavior; it’s over the course of an entire viewing year.”
And when a show isn’t performing well, he added, “Sometimes that’s a marketing failure or merchandising failure… it’s not really a reflection on the show. It’s a reflection on bad audience matching.”
So “Sense8” fans, it may suck that you’re still waiting for official confirmation that the show will return, but don’t freak out just yet. Because it’s also worth noting that “Sense8” represents, in its themes and emphasis on diversity, exactly what Netflix is trying to become itself: a giant, global community.