‘Queen Charlotte’ Shows How to Successfully Expand a TV Universe

Netflix and Shondaland deliver another hit, and others could soon follow suit.
A young king and queen in the Regency era smile at each other adoringly; still from "Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story"
"Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story"

Netflix’s decision to create an entire prequel about “Bridgerton” breakout Queen Charlotte (Golda Rosheuvel) may have initially surprised audiences — but the series’ smash-hit success might stir things up as much as its royal protagonist.

In the week since its May 4 premiere, “Queen Charlotte” was watched for 148.28 million hours, becoming the top English-language series on the platform in the U.S. (and entering the top 10 in 91 countries). It scored high with audiences and critics, and the six episodes (including a feature-length finale) were devoured by “Bridgerton” fans around the world, proving the steamy, semi-fictional Regency world to be even more fruitful than expected.

While the initial “Queen Charlotte” announcement surprised many, Netflix made clear from the jump that this was no ordinary spinoff but a top priority, written by “Bridgerton” executive producer Shonda Rhimes. Rhimes’ name is almost inextricable from the televised “Bridgerton” brand, where Chris Van Dusen served as showrunner and led the writers room. By getting directly involved in “Queen Charlotte” — more involved than she is with “Bridgerton” — Rhimes sent a message about how important it was — the first “Bridgerton” property led by a Black woman that would speak to this colorblind ton’s origins. That kind of explicit investment tells viewers that they should also care, watch, post, and share.

OTS shot of two women in Regency formalwear; still from "Queen Charlotte"
Arsema Thomas in “Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton StoryNetflix

Countless films and shows are now in the business of expanding worlds to expand profit, but without any known formula for success. “Queen Charlotte” comes close: it’s driven by a powerful, proven creative force, one of the biggest names in “Bridgerton” and television at large. It has something close to a formula; every “Bridgerton” season is about a courtship, and “Queen Charlotte” just takes that outside of the Bridgerton family itself. The show implements its predecessor’s romantic atmosphere, titillating sex scenes, lush costumes, and signature soundtrack. It wraps viewers in a cozy “Bridgerton” blanket while building out a new story. Charlotte (India Amarteifio) and George (Corey Mylchreest) now join existing, treasured “Bridgerton” couples Simon (Regé-Jean Page) and Daphne and Anthony (Jonathan Bailey) and Kate (Simone Ashley).

And then there’s the work, which Rhimes’ team executes so smoothly and confidently that it should embarrass her peers who bemoan the difficulties of inclusion. “Queen Charlotte” introduces new actors to Netflix’s massive global audience, with Amarteifio and Arsema Thomas at the forefront. On May 8, Netflix and Shondaland shared an orchestral cover of Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You” performed entirely by women of color to celebrate the song’s anniversary. Though not central, the love between Brimsley (Sam Clemmett) and Reynolds (Freddie Dennis) is the rare queer romance in the “Bridgerton” universe, which has been criticized in the past for mainly heteronormative romance.

So what’s next? “Queen Charlotte” was originally slated as a one-off limited series, but Netflix executives are undoubtedly looking for a way at this very moment to continue Charlotte and George’s story. There are still decades between “Queen Charlotte” and “Bridgerton,” historical hurdles for the young royals, and even opportunities to switch up casting “The Crown”-style, highlighting even more new talent. “Queen Charlotte” offers a smart template for sustaining hit properties, whether that’s the upcoming “Penguin” series, franchised storytelling of “Citadel,” or Netflix’s own “Stranger Things” (which has an animated series in the works). Find something the audience cares about more than expected, find a showrunner willing to invest emotionally, and keep what makes the original recognizable, beloved, and popular (it paid off in spades for a little show called “House of the Dragon”). The audience will follow, and stay hungry for more.

“Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story” is now streaming on Netflix.

Daily Headlines
Daily Headlines covering Film, TV and more.

By subscribing, I agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

PMC Logo
IndieWire is a part of Penske Media Corporation. © 2023 IndieWire Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved.