Netflix's Ted Sarandos on Plans for Chelsea Handler's Show and Passing on 'Transparent'
The company's chief content officer — set to be honored Friday by the Publicists of the International Cinematographers Guild — reflects on a monster two-year run, passing on Amazon’s breakout hit and why "creative freedom" still is the streaming service's calling card.
This story first appeared in the Feb. 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Two years ago, Ted Sarandos elbowed his way into TV's insular circles with the Beltway drama House of Cards. Other high-profile efforts followed — a revival of Arrested Development, the Emmy-nominated prison dramedy Orange Is the New Black — solidifying Sarandos' stature as a top industry player. In that time, he has made some brash comments about the industry (he once blasted theater owners for trying to "strangle innovation"), kept famously — and often frustratingly — mum on his series' ratings and watched his subscriber base soar to more than 57 million around the globe.
On Feb. 20, Sarandos, 50, will be crowned Television Showman of the Year by the Publicists of the International Cinematographers Guild, alongside fellow honorees Bob and Harvey Weinstein. The man whose lofty plans include having 20 original series on his service a year reveals the one thing he wishes the press would stop asking him, his late-night plans for Chelsea Handler and which Netflix character he'd let give his guild speech.
You launched House of Cards in 2013. What has most surprised you in the past two years about how the business works?
The rate of change after being stagnant since the birth of cable has surprised me. Don't get me wrong — it's great — but there was almost no change in TV for 35 years. Now there's an interesting shift in the disappearance of the fall season, SVOD being the center of discussions in the media and the two-year period of a pilot slips from relevance.
What do you wish people better understood about what you're doing?
That we're making the entire ecosystem of creating, distributing and watching content bigger and healthier. Our growth is not a zero-sum game for the industry.
What irks you most about how the media covers Netflix?
Questions about our ratings. But as more networks announce they're moving away from reporting on overnights, hopefully it will become less of an issue.
Amazon is garnering its first real dose of attention for Transparent, which Netflix — along with the other premium and top basic cable outlets — passed on. Any regrets?
Transparent is a great show. That's sometimes how TV works: the right show, at the right time, in the right place. It's a magic formula.
What can you tell us about the format for Chelsea Handler's upcoming late-night talk show, particularly since your platform has been about on-demand rather than live?
Our current commitment is that the format is funny! What we're already seeing is that most late-night TV is happening on-demand anyway — people watching YouTube, online channels — so little late-night viewing is actually happening at 11:30 p.m. anymore.
Studios and talent reps have been vocal about their lack of leverage in negotiating with you because they don't have hard metrics that illustrate their value. How do you respond?
Because we don't do development and pilots or decide on shows midseason, they get what they're trying to negotiate for: full seasons and renewal rates. We're not going to cancel a successful show without public data.
The field is becoming increasingly competitive. What's the pitch today for 'Why Netflix?'
Our diverse slate — we're not looking to program to one demographic or have a narrow sensibility; our ability to help a show find a global audience and get into the social dialogue beyond viewership; and creative freedom for the filmmakers we're working with.
Which Netflix character would you tap to give your acceptance speech?
[Arrested Development's] George Bluth Sr. He'd probably say, "There's always money in the banana stand."