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The seven-episode drama about a chess prodigy (Anya Taylor-Joy) who rises to the top of her field while battling addiction and emotional issues, is the top scripted limited series ever for Netflix. The streamer says 62 million member accounts worldwide have watched at least a couple minutes of the show over its first four weeks. (Netflix counts views by measuring whether a member account watches at least two minutes of a series or movie.)
“I am both delighted and dazed by the response. It’s just all way beyond what any of us could have imagined,” said co-creator, showrunner and director Scott Frank. “But speaking for my fellow producers and the entire cast and crew of the show, every one of whom made me look better than I actually am, we are most grateful that so many took the time to watch our show. And we all look forward to bringing you our Yahtzee limited series next.”
Among limited series at Netflix, only the breakout docuseries Tiger King (64 million views in its first 28 days) has drawn more eyeballs than The Queen’s Gambit. The latter’s popularity has also been widespread: It has made Netflix’s top 10 list in 92 different countries since its release, and spent at least one day at No. 1 in 63 of those, including the United States, Argentina, Israel and Russia.
In the United States, the series has also made Nielsen’s streaming top 10, with Netflix users watching 551 million minutes of the show over its first three days of release. (Netflix and other streamers take issue with Nielsen’s measurement, saying the ratings service doesn’t measure viewing across all devices.)
While there’s no set pattern for how Netflix viewership is distributed, sources say the global reach for The Queen’s Gambit is somewhat unusual. Peter Friedlander, the Netflix executive who shepherded the series, attributes the show’s hold on viewers to themes that cut across cultures and languages.
“What Scott executed was phenomenal in terms of the precision of the craft, and yet at the heart of it all is this incredible character, played by the incomparable Anya Taylor-Joy,” Friedlander, vp original series at Netflix, told The Hollywood Reporter. “Her underdog journey is what I think people are really connecting with. She had challenges every step of the way, and yet she’s this incredibly determined, unique and unapologetic in approaching life and who she is and who she wants to be. I think people responded to rooting for her against all these odds. There were also other elements — the nostalgic feeling of traveling back in time and the escapist quality of that. At the same time it’s a real sports story too. You’re rooting for someone to win.”
Friedlander and Frank also worked together on Godless, which won three Emmys in 2018 and helped establish Netflix as a player in the limited series field. Frank then brought the 1983 novel The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis to the streamer, and as development began, Friedlander said they talked a lot about making a story centering on chess cinematic.
“We had a lot of conversations about the challenges of that, but there was also a lot of trust in him,” Friedlander said of Frank. “We also used a lot of the same really talented craftspeople from Godless as well — the same DP [Steven Meizler] and the same editor [Michelle Tesoro], for instance. They all work so well together as a team.”
With the breakout performance of The Queen’s Gambit, Netflix is likely to give the show a serious awards push in the coming season — and not just for Taylor-Joy’s lead performance and Frank’s writing and directing.
“We certainly want to celebrate the work of Scott Frank, and Anya Taylor-Joy, and the composer Carlos [Rafael Rivera] and [Uli Hanisch], the production designer, and the costume designer [Gabriele Binder],” said Friedlander. “The production design — people are fascinated by the wallpaper. There’s this whole obsession with the wallpaper in the Wheatley household. But I do think it’s a pretty stunning achievement in terms of craft, and I hope there’s a lot of recognition for that team. They’ve certainly earned it.”
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