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Netflix State of the Union: The Original Programs, Controversies, and Opportunities That Will Define 2018

Network Report Card: Netflix wants to be a one-stop-shop for all things entertainment, so here's what's coming in 2018 that could shape that mission.

Netflix David Letterman Altered Carbon Robin Wright

Netflix

The Awards Factor

Master of None Season 2 Episode 8 Angela Bassett Lena Waithe

Netflix made big gains in the awards world in 2017. Thanks in part to its expanded originals lineup, the streaming service pulled in a record 91 Emmy nominations, nearly doubling their 2016 total of 54. That’s the second-most of any network, behind HBO (which nabbed 111), and Netflix came in second in wins, too. It took home 20 trophies, behind HBO’s 29.

That being said, only four of those wins were Primetime Emmys: John Lithgow won Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for “The Crown,” Lena Waithe and Aziz Ansari won the comedy writing award for “Master of None,” and “Black Mirror” won two trophies after sneaking into the TV Movie categories. That’s not bad, but Hulu became the first streaming service to win Outstanding Drama Series with “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Netflix has been nominated in the category every year since 2013.

A similar pattern emerged at the Golden Globes. Netflix snagged the second-most nods with nine (again behind HBO), but only won one. (Aziz Ansari took home the Best Actor in a Comedy Series award.) Worse yet, rival streaming networks Hulu and Amazon won the top prizes: Best Drama and Best Comedy Series, respectively.

But if you set pride aside, an interesting questions arises: Does Netflix need to win? Obviously, the streaming giant doesn’t want to be perceived as second to anyone, especially its direct competitors that offer binge-able original programming, but as long as the network keeps pumping out high-quality goods in high quantities, its brand will always be in the awards conversation.

Earlier in 2017, IndieWire examined Netflix’s declining drama series, noting how the streaming network is making more mediocre dramas than ever and their best dramas aren’t as well-reviewed as they used to be. With “Dear White People,” “GLOW,” and “American Vandal” — not to mention superb new seasons of “Master of None” and “Grace and Frankie” — its comedies, arguably, are only getting better. If  the nomination count remains high, odds are Netflix will land a winner sooner rather than later. So there’s no real reason to panic — yet.

Key Programming in 2018

Coen Brothers

As noted above, Netflix is spending more than ever on original programming in 2018, and IndieWire already detailed 18 of the year’s most exciting new series. Here are a few to keep an eye on:

  • “Altered Carbon”: A big, bold sci-fi series based on Richard K. Morgan’s novel and starring Netflix favorite Joel Kinnamon (“The Killing,” “House of Cards”), this tech-focused hourlong series is expected to be as graphic as it is daring.
  • “Disenchantment”: “Simpsons” creator Matt Groening makes his Netflix debut with just his third animated program ever. Following up “Futurama,” Groening’s 10-episode half-hour comedy is set in medieval times and stars “Broad City’s” Abbi Jacobson.
  • “Maniac”: It’s hard to tell if TV fans are more excited to see Cary Fukunaga direct another TV show after “True Detective” or to see Jonah Hill and Emma Stone make their series debuts. (Or, you know, perhaps they’re just jacked up to see Justin Theroux back so soon after “The Leftovers” ended.)
  • “The Umbrella Academy”: Gerard Way’s graphic novels get the series treatment, expanding Netflix’s superhero genre beyond the Marvel universe.
  • “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”: The Coen brothers’ first TV series is… well, it’s the Coen brothers’ first TV series. What else do you need to know?

But perhaps the most important original series hitting Netflix in 2018 isn’t a new series at all, but its oldest…

Aftermath of 2017 Scandals

House Of Cards

We’ve reached the most public problem facing Netflix in 2018: How does the streaming giant handle “House of Cards”?

Once the allegations against Kevin Spacey spread, the network took (relatively) quick action to cut ties with the actor and producer, not only eliminating him from the flagship drama series but it scrapped his Gore Vidal biopic, as well. The new season will be the series’ final entry, and it will focus on Robin Wright’s character, Claire Underwood, but few other details have been released.

The big question: How will fans react? “House of Cards” has been on a qualitative decline, most notably seen last season, but its fanbase still felt secure. The series remained a focal point in Netflix marketing (until recently) and a version of Frank Underwood’s trademark knock can still be heard when the Netflix logo pops up before new episodes of original content. People will undoubtedly tune in (or read) how the series handles Spacey’s termination, and many will likely be curious to see how the show ends overall.

But even if it’s great, will Emmy voters support the show again? Even perennial nominee Robin Wright was shut out of the Golden Globes this year. Beyond voters, many might be skittish to show any support toward a show that’s always been linked with Kevin Spacey. Netflix may not need “House of Cards” anymore when it comes to awards credibility, but the general response to the final season will prove a tricky public relations issue: There will be so many questions thrown toward the cast and crew about Spacey, the production environment, what was known, and how it was handled.

But “House of Cards” isn’t alone in facing fallout from 2017 sexual harassment allegations: “The Ranch” will be moving forward without series star Danny Masterson, who was fired from the show after multiple rape and sexual assault allegations were levied against the actor. It’s unclear how he’ll be written out of the multicam sitcom co-starring Ashton Kutcher and Sam Elliott, but Masterson’s character wasn’t given a clean opportunity to exit at the end of the latest season.

Even more eyes will likely be watching how Netflix handles “Arrested Development” Season 5 after Jeffrey Tambor faced multiple accusations of sexual harassment in 2017. Co-star David Cross also faced accusations of racism from Charline Yi. Both are reportedly back for Season 5, and filming began on August 8, approximately three months before the harassment allegations came out. Netflix has not commented on what will happen with the new episodes.

One more note: Given how many programs Netflix has — and thus how many people it employs — the streaming service could have a higher probability than other networks of seeing more sexual harassment-related issues crop up in 2018.

The Outlook

The goal at Netflix, in concept, remains simple: Make 50 percent of the entire streaming library consist of original content. With a slew of high-profile original series, films, documentaries, stand-up specials, and more, it’s well on its way.

The coming year will see a number of big risks: Netflix hasn’t yet wedged a foothold in the “late-night” talk show realm (“Chelsea” was one of its more notable 2017 cancellations), but bringing back David Letterman for monthly event specials is an expensive gamble that could pay off. Most of their in-house movies have been ravaged by critics — including “War Machine,” most of Adam Sandler’s movies, and, even more so, “Bright” — but the latter, at least, seemed to hit or exceed the service’s viewership expectations and is helping put Netflix films on the map.

And that major Emmy victory, well, it will come. At the very least, the Netflix brand isn’t what’s holding them back — which is especially clear the more it comes up on TV. “Will & Grace” today, “The Handmaid’s Tale” tomorrow? Now that would be a mark of global domination.

2017 Subscribers: 104 million (globally)

2017 Emmys: 91 nominations, 20 wins

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