Since 2020, television programming at Netflix has primarily been led by Bela Bajaria, who joined the streamer in 2016 and rose quickly through the company from her initial post as head of unscripted and international content. In the time she’s been at the helm, the company has had its stumbles but has also produced immensely successful series like “Squid Game” and “Wednesday.”
So what’s her method to success? According to a profile in The New Yorker, it’s making shows like “gourmet cheeseburgers.”
The profile, written by staff writer Rachel Syme, chronicled a year in Bajaria’s life as the executive traveled the world, meeting with Netflix’s development teams across multiple countries. In the profile, Bajaria explained that her ideal Netflix series is both “premium and commercial at the same time,” such as “Bridgerton,” which her vice president Jinny Howe refers to as “gourmet cheeseburgers.” The profile sees Bajaria, in various meetings, push for the teams to scale up content, telling one group in the Latin American headquarters, “It’s not a science. It’s a big creative endeavor. But it’s about recognizing that people like having more.”
Bajaria was promoted to head of TV at Netflix after CEO Reed Hastings let former TV head Cindy Holland go in 2020. The switch in the head of TV was seen as indicative of a shift in Netflix’s overall strategy in making television, as the streamer increasingly focused on developing more commercial content at greater volumes instead of developing critically acclaimed, creator-focused series.
An anonymous source in the story, credited as a former executive, said the choice was “not shocking” from a financial perspective, adding, “Some of Cindy’s shows were tough. People made them for prestige, and for their friends.” Sarandos himself was interviewed for the story, where he said Netflix’s goal was to be “equal parts HBO and FX and AMC and Lifetime and Bravo and E! and Comedy Central,” and said that Netflix’s aggressive pursuit of growth means they couldn’t afford to be “bottlenecked behind one sensibility.”
The profile also details Bajaria’s career background, as someone who came to Netflix as a veteran of CBS, where she led the movies-and-miniseries department for years, and paints a picture of her as a decisive executive focused on constant growth. One particularly blunt quote from an anonymous source (credited as a colleague to Bajaria) says that she owes her success to the fact that she’s not “an intellectual.”
“The thing is, she’s not an intellectual. She’s smart. There’s a difference,” the anonymous source said in the profile. “She’s bold, and that’s what it takes. I don’t have that gene, and that’s why my career only went so far. You need to be able to say yes and keep forging ahead.”