The beat stops here; it appears now not even Netflix is a surefire bastion for original content. On Wednesday, Baz Luhrmann’s (Moulin Rouge!, The Great Gatsby) The Get Down had the dubious honor of being the first Netflix show to be canceled after just one season. The announcement came nearly two months after the second half of the ambitious mythic hip-hop saga’s first season debuted in April.
Originally announced in February 2015, The Get Down did not have an auspicious beginning. The show had a lengthy and difficult pre-production and production process. The show’s original showrunner Shawn Ryan (The Shield, Timeless) stepped down, with Luhrmann himself coming in to become the hands on showrunner. The production delays led to the decision to air the first season in two halves, with the first half airing way back in August 2016. The show faced further unpleasantness in 2017 when in March SAG-AFTRA accused Sony Pictures Television, who produced the show, of holding the show’s actors under option for too long, and demanded arbitration.
The Get Down was Luhrmann’s first foray into television and one of Netflix’s most expensive shows, with the eleven episode first season, two episodes short of the original thirteen episode order commissioned in 2015, costing about $120 million (which Luhrmann has refuted). Netflix is no stranger to expensive productions; The Crown is also stated to be one of the streaming behemoth’s most expensive series. However, the British royal family drama paid back its investment with warm reviews and awards nominations and accolades while The Get Down received mixed reviews and low-level coverage by the pop culture and entertainment industry. The split release of the season did not do them any favors in attempting to leave a mark in the awareness of entertainment and cultural consumers.
In this world of Peak TV (now Post TV?), there is a veil of opacity over the ratings of streaming/VOD platforms’ series, promoting a halo of continuous success and critical reception. Netflix has renewed the bulk of its original series, since its dominating foray into scripted original content, but even their magnanimous approach has its limits. There are a handful of series that ended up on its chopping block. Expensive period drama Marco Polo was canceled after two seasons, series Lilyhammer, Hemlock Grove, and Bloodline were canceled after three seasons, and the upcoming sixth season of Western crime drama Longmire will be its last.
Whether or not Netflix’s axing of The Get Down marks a new harder edged approach to their series is up for debate. My take is, for the most part Netflix is very willing to invest in their original series and give them the space and time to develop. However, when it becomes clear to them a series is not working and if there are larger extenuating circumstances at play (ie. expensive costs, particularly messy behind-the-scenes drama), they either cut their losses or put out the call to their series’ creators to wrap things up. I can understand Netflix’s decision behind cancelling The Get Down, but I also feel sympathy for Luhrmann. Hopefully he will get back on the saddle soon enough, although I have a feeling he will be staying away from television.