We're all familiar with the Netflix cancellation curse, where shows don't hit Netflix's targets and end up in the broadcasting bin. But the news around Samara Weaving's new comedy Little Sky suggests that Netflix may have a solution – and it's one we've seen with plenty of TV before.
According to TV and cinema trade title Deadline, Netflix hasn't done its usual and commissioned Little Sky for a whole series. Instead, it's doing what many terrestrial broadcasters have long done: it's making a pilot episode first.
I'm excited by this news, because I think doing a pilot gives new shows the opportunity to find and fix the kind of flaws that might otherwise mean they don't get the chance to live up to their potential. It's a lot easier to tweak a TV show based on a single pilot episode than rescue it after a season that didn't make the money people happy.
It's important to note, as Deadline does, that right now this is currently the only pilot Netflix has commissioned: it's still very much wedded to commissioning entire series. But if this succeeds – this pilot of making pilots – then we could see more in the future, which would hopefully mean fewer shows getting yanked just as we were getting into them.
Why is Netflix making a pilot this time?
Little Sky is a comedy show, and an ensemble comedy too – a genre that can be quite difficult to get right because the magic comes from getting its very many ingredients – the casting, the writing, the tone and the timing – just-so. Get it right and you've got a Glass Onion, a Community or a The Office (US); get it wrong and you've put a lot of development money into a dud.
Pilots reduce that financial risk, of course, but they also give the programme makers an opportunity to test their show in the wild without filming an entire series – and an opportunity to fix any problems that might otherwise result in Netflix wielding the axe at the end of the first season.
The current Netflix model – and that of many of the other best streaming services too – is to treat a show's entire first season as a pilot. That inevitably means a lot of shows get people invested over the course of a season, only for it to hit a brick wall – and that's a shame, because there are countless series that didn't really hit their stride until after their first season. The US version of The Office springs immediately to mind, but there are many more.
As Deadline points out, many current Netflix hits started life as a pilot including Arrested Development, Lucifer and Manifest, and its current comedy hit That 90's Show wouldn't exist if there hadn't been a successful pilot of its predecessor That 70s Show. And of course, the show that got many of us to subscribe to Netflix in the first place started with a pilot too: Breaking Bad's pilot episode reassured unconvinced executives that this was a show worth making.