Netflix’s hard decision to cancel “The Get Down” shows it’s evolving

Mic flop.
Mic flop.
Image: Netflix
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For the first time in its history, Netflix has canceled an original series after just one season. The victim: Baz Luhrmann’s The Get Down, the ambitious, troubled series about 1970s hip-hop that ultimately proved too costly for even the deep-pocketed Netflix to continue producing.

Launched in 2016, The Get Down was dogged by production issues from the beginning. At the time, it was the most expensive Netflix show ever produced (later surpassed by the royal drama The Crown), costing the streaming service $120 million for its debut season. Scripts were routinely rewritten, and production was halted so many times that writers jokingly referred to the show as “The Shut Down,” Variety reported last year.

Although audience reaction to the series was lukewarm at best, according to analytics firms that try to track Netflix viewing data, critics were more receptive to it. They praised the show’s scope, its musical creativity, and Luhrmann’s signature cinematography. Despite the trouble behind the scenes, The Get Down was a diverse, energetic period piece, filling a niche in Netflix’s ever-growing library of content.

But that alone is no longer enough to keep a Netflix show on the air.

Because Netflix is in perpetual growth mode, and isn’t beholden to advertisers or the pressures of traditional TV ratings, the streaming service rarely cancels its shows. Last year, it renewed the critically panned comedy Flaked for a second season. It did the same for controversial teen-suicide drama 13 Reasons Whydespite the show exhausting its source material. And it revived 1990s sitcom Full House and then promptly renewed the revival twice over. Netflix wants to be the chameleon of TV networks, appealing to a wide variety of consumers based on their personal preferences. Renewing everything allows the streaming giant to do that.

The Get Down‘s cancelation, though, signals a shift in this strategy. Now that Netflix’s subscriber growth has slowed, it makes sense that the company would begin acting more judicious in its renewal decisions. And it has canceled more shows in the last six months than it did in the three years prior.

Netflix canceled the Emmy-winning drama Bloodline last year after three seasons (its final season will be released on May 26). It also scrapped the historical drama Marco Polo and recently ended Longmire, a crime Western it acquired after the show was canceled by A&E.

As long as Netflix remains ad-free and values cultural buzz over sheer viewing numbers, it will remain reluctant—more so, at least, than traditional TV networks—to cancel shows. But we now know there’s a limit to what the big-spending streaming giant is willing to squander.