HINDSIGHT IS 20/20

Netflix turned down “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Transparent,” and other shows that defined its rivals

Obsession
Glass
Obsession
Glass

Even with zeitgeist-hitting series like Stranger Things, House of Cards, and Orange Is the New Black under its belt, there are still a few that got away from Netflix.

The streaming-video service turned down some iconic TV shows that went on to define other TV and streaming competitors, chief content officer Ted Sarandos revealed in an interview with Variety. “There have been many of them,” he says. “A lot of times, it’s not the reflection of the show—it’s just timing.” He mentioned three:

  • Transparent, a dark comedy about a late-in-life gender change, was one of those shows. It went on to put rival Amazon Studios on the map in 2014, and became the first online series to win the Best Series award at the Golden Globes.
  • Mr. Robot, about an anarchist hacker collective, found an unlikely home at USA Network and formed the base of the network’s rebranding. “In a weird way, it might have been a better Netflix show,” Sarandos mused.
  • And the streaming service had a shot at The Handmaid’s Tale three or four years ago, but turned it down. “It wasn’t in the creative form that it is today,” Sarandos said. The adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel of the same name is up for 13 Emmys this year, and is poised to be as pivotal for Hulu as shows like House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black were for Netflix.

Ah, what could have been.

Netflix gives all its creative executives the power to approve shows of any budget, to avoid missing out other opportunities like these, Sarandos said. A new series, Atypical, about a teen on the autism spectrum, was previously passed over by Netflix’s comedy team, but picked up by its young-adult arm, for example.


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