I remember seeing a billboard for a new TV show called “You” last fall. It was the first I’d heard of it, so I was basing my opinion strictly on the artwork.
The title sounded like a romantic comedy, and it starred that guy from Gossip Girl. Yet the slashes through the typeface gave off a serial killer vibe. I then noticed that it was on Lifetime, and it all sort of clicked: maybe it was a romantic murder show.
My hunch was right; that’s basically what You is. I never watched it on Lifetime, and neither did anyone else. It tanked, with around 650,000 viewers per episode. They didn’t order a second season.
And then it went to Netflix:
Last week, Netflix declared “You” had drawn the sort of audience to make it a “huge hit.” The streaming service said that “You” was on track to be watched by 40 million households within its first four weeks on the service.
You can’t directly compare Netflix’s numbers to Nielsen ratings, but it’s not hard to gauge the cultural moment happening on social media. For most viewers, You is a Netflix show, just like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Queer Eye. And they dig it.
I think the bigger story is that for a lot of people, Netflix is television. They don’t think about channels and networks anymore. They just expect all of the shows to be available at every moment. The streamers make this possible, and Netflix is by far the biggest player.
While it’s good news for You, I wonder if it’s bad news for Us as creators. This feels like a tipping point where one outlet is so dominant that not being on its main screen is akin to invisibility, and not being in its catalog is a death sentence. I have friends working on great shows that no one notices because they’re on cable. As writers, we want the most venues possible for our work, and I don’t know how some of these networks are going to survive the transition to streaming.
Ultimately, I did watch the pilot for You, on Netflix. It’s really well done.