Netflix Originals want to keep it in the family

Netflix exec Brian Wright says the streaming service is going big on family-friendly Originals, starting with "A Series of Unfortunate Events".

Luke Lancaster
Luke Lancaster Associate Editor / Australia
Luke Lancaster is an Associate Editor with CNET, based out of Australia. He spends his time with games (both board and video) and comics (both reading and writing).
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"A Series of Unfortunate Events" premieres on Netflix on January 13.

Joe Lederer/Netflix

Netflix hasn't been shy about producing its own content. Original comedy and prestige drama made in-house by the streaming service has been raking in awards and acclaim for years now, and while we may all be waiting with bated breath for the next season of "Orange is the New Black" or "Jessica Jones," Netflix thinks it's missing something.

"There's a hole in the TV landscape" says Brian Wright, VP of Family Content at Netflix. The ex-Nickelodeon exec spoke with CNET about how he was brought on to fill that gap with all-ages, family-friendly content. With a $6 billion programming budget and a target of 1,000 hours of original content for the coming year, Netflix is working in earnest.

The aim is sophisticated, all-ages storytelling. Wright's ready to say that Netflix, and TV in general, "isn't offering a lot for families in the scripted space" right now.

Netflix's biggest push so far is the upcoming "A Series of Unfortunate Events." Based on the best-selling children's books, the 8-episode first season is set to premiere on January 13 (and you can see CNET's review here). Like most shows in Netflix's Originals stable, it's roped in some serious talent, starring Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Warburton and pairing "The Addams Family's" Barry Sonnenfeld with the series' original writer Daniel Handler behind the camera.

It's also -- like more than a few of Netflix's latest projects -- based on an existing property.

"Franchises have value, of course," says Wright, but this isn't a throwback nostalgia play. Shows like "Fuller House" and breakout hit "Stranger Things" certainly traded in an 80s-infused currency in a response to what Wright called "culture at large." The idea of family programming might hearken back to that era, but Netflix is going beyond that in chasing a young adult audience.

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Netflix's paranormal thriller "Stranger Things" premiered in July 2016.


Other all-ages shows slated for 2017 release include "Green Eggs and Ham," a 13-episode animated comedy based on the Dr. Seuss book of the same name, "13 Reasons Why," which follows a boy named Clay as he uncovers the reasons behind his late classmate's suicide and "Atypical," a coming-of-age story following an 18-year-old on the autistic spectrum as he searches for love and independence.

With aims for half of Netflix to be original content, it's rare that the streaming service moves into anything without purpose, and based on what we've seen of "A Series of Unfortunate Events," it's putting a strong foot forwards.

Is it an effort to rekindle family viewing? While the sight of the family gathered around the TV to tune in to a show together might be a lovely visual, that isn't exactly what Netflix has in mind.

"We don't care how people watch our shows at the end of the day," says Wright. "Only that they watch them. Getting parents and kids to talk about it afterwards is the real trick." The social media buzz around a Netflix hit is immeasurable. "Stranger Things" was explosive. It's impossible to find an Original that no one is talking about. The secret, says Wright, is to "make something that resonates." And he says it like it's easy. With a track record like Netflix's, you can't blame him.