Five pre-existing Louis C.K. comedy specials, including this spring’s “Louis C.K. 2017,” continue to live on the site, available for viewing.
Meanwhile, four projects still pop up when searching for Spacey’s name, including “House of Cards” and the documentary “Now: In the Wings on a World Stage,” a behind the scenes look at Spacey starring in the Bridge Project production of “Richard III.”
That’s not to say that the streaming service isn’t taking a hit: Netflix scrapped plans to release the Spacey starrer “Gore,” a Gore Vidal biopic that had already finished shooting. And it may have to start over on Season 6 of “House of Cards,” with Robin Wright now as star, even though that show had already been shooting.
Netflix changed the artwork on “House of Cards” to remove Spacey’s image (first replacing him with Wright, and now with a photo of a cigarette butt) in order to downplay his presence, but “you can’t erase these shows from existence,” one insider said.
The decision not to scrub the streaming service entirely of Spacey and C.K. contrasts with what traditional networks have done in the face of scandal: FX, for example, not only cut all ties with C.K., but it has yanked “Louie” off its site entirely. HBO did the same thing, not only removing C.K. from its upcoming “Night of Too Many Stars” special, but pulling all C.K. projects (including the comedy “Lucky Louie”) off its HBO On Demand services. A few years ago, TV Land, Centric, and Bounce pulled repeats of “The Cosby Show” off the air following an avalanche of sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby, while UP TV shelved “7th Heaven” after star Stephen Collins admitted to molesting children.
But the streaming services are finding it more difficult to completely remove their sites of programs featuring talent who have now been accused of harassment or assault. While FX has yanked “Louie,” Hulu still has the series available for streaming, along with the standup special “Louis C.K.: Chewed Up” and countless clips of the comedian on “Saturday Night Live” and other shows. (Hulu also left “The Cosby Show” on its service after networks yanked it.)
Beyond Spacey and C.K., Netflix has other reasons to be concerned should several other recent allegations take on steam. Among them: Dustin Hoffman, star of the Netflix film “The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected),” Jeffrey Tambor, whose “Arrested Development” is currently shooting Season 5, and Brett Ratner, who’s been discussed to direct Netflix’s Eddie Murphy film “Soul Soul Soul: The Murray Murray Story.”
Netflix, Hulu, and FX declined to comment on the difference in how they’re handling the multitude of scandals. But ultimately Netflix and Hulu operate very different than a traditional network, which program only a handful of series — making it more glaring if one of them stars someone accused of assault.
FX’s website, for example, only offered 15 shows to stream — and although “Louie” was at the bottom of that list, it still would have stuck out after the channel severed ties with the superstar.
Streaming services, however, are direct-to-consumer models, and customers are paying a monthly fee for the specific ability to search out programming they want to watch. Cable subscribers, even online, are more likely to stumble across offending programming.
But there’s another reason perhaps: Streamers like Netflix have also developed a reputation for marching to their own drummer — ignoring repeated calls within the industry, for example, to share ratings data. “They’re gonna do what they’re going to do,” sighed one cable exec.
That doesn’t mean Netflix, Hulu and others won’t have to change their tune if public pressure mounts to take a stand against all content from Spacey and C.K., not just future projects.
To be fair, Netflix specifically finds itself in a bind with “House of Cards,” as the show is expected to continue, which means viewers need to have past seasons accessible to catch up or refer back to. “Louie” wasn’t an active series (C.K. had already said he wasn’t sure if it would return), making it easier for FX to purge.
At least for now. As some of the stars of “The Cosby Show,” including Malcolm Jamal-Warner, noted, they were also being penalized by losing out on syndication residuals. Eventually, some networks relented: UP TV brought back “7th Heaven,” while Bounce restored “Cosby” to air. That’s something FX reserves the right to do with “Louie” in the future.