Daredevil. Iron Fist. Luke Cage. All gone, newly canceled due to Netflix’s preference to only greenlight shows it actually owns. Jessica Jones and The Punisher are each too far into production on their next seasons to be outright canceled but they are clearly on borrowed time. Yet, Netflix continues to be cagey about what’s actually going on here. Don’t you wish they’d just be honest and cut through the bullshit?
In 2006, when new Disney CEO Bob Iger fired Nina Jacobson, the president of Disney’s Motion Pictures Group, less than a year after she’d renewed a lucrative contract it could have gone one of two ways: either Jacobson claim in a press release she was leaving to finally pursue her lifelong dream of being a film producer or cite a need to spend more time with her family as the cause for her departure.
She chose a third option: complete honesty. She was being fired simply because she happened to hold her job at a time of corporate restructuring enacted by Iger. 650 other poor souls were being fired along with her as part of Iger’s effort to cut $100 million in yearly costs. Her replacement got the job because he lobbied for it behind her back and agreed to work for much cheaper.
“Hollywood is agog,” wrote Deadline’s Nikki Finke at the time. Somebody chose to actually admit they’d been fired? Nobody does that in Hollywood!
Over a decade later, not much has changed in that regard. There’s what studios and networks say in the press, there’s what’s actually going on behind the scenes, and never the twain shall meet. So, please, just ignore Netflix’s bullshit press release announcing the surprise cancellation of Daredevil. They’re never going to outright admit what’s actually happening here, why they would cancel their flagship Marvel series a month after its well-received third season (I was in the minority on being down on it) which leaves us to speculate:
Is this all down to ownership?
Netflix’s original content budget this year rivals the gross domestic product of around a quarter of the countries in the world, which is an entirely unprecedented investment for any single media company. The reason is quite simple: Netflix is scrambling to replace all the content its about to lose as rival studios band together to create their own competing streaming services. This strategy is certainly vindicated when you have WarnerMedia CEO and man who’s never made a film or TV show in his life John Stankey bragging about starving Netflix of content.
As a result, Netflix wants to be its own master when it comes to content, and while its deal with Marvel Television/ABC Studios might grant it exclusive streaming rights for the Daredevil universe it does not also give them corporate ownership of the shows. This, industry analysts argued, is what led Netflix to cancel the critically beloved American Vandal (a CBS Studios product) and is likely behind the Thanos-like snappening Netflix is newly visiting on its Marvel universe.
Is Disney making a play to gets its characters back?
The only true line of intrigue in Netflix’s press release about Daredevil comes at the very end: “While the series on Netflix has ended, the three existing seasons will remain on the service for years to come, while the Daredevil character will live on in future projects for Marvel.”
The Daredevil character will live on in future projects? What, and might I add, the fuck does that mean? Is Disney taking Daredevil back and plotting a movie or TV series for its forthcoming streaming service, Disney+? Will Charlie Cox and the continuity of the Netflix Daredevil series continue? Will this be yet another reboot? Or does Netflix simply mean Daredevil is now free to appear in other Marvel shows on the streaming service, either Jessica Jones, The Punisher or something new we (and possibly they as well) don’t know about yet?
It’s most tempting to read this as a case of pay no attention to what they’re saying and more attention to what they’re doing. Because the powers that be have been telling the press for months now that Netflix is still in the driver’s seat with its Marvel shows and that if they cancel one of them it’s not because of any pressure from Disney. However, this Marvel TV show killing spree Netflix has been on in recent months is the most extreme string of cancellations in the streaming giant’s history. This isn’t normal for Netflix. They cancel shows all the time now, but it feels like they’re canceling an entire cinematic universe. Is Disney somehow behind or at least partially responsible for this?
Hard to say. We have to remember Marvel TV and Marvel Studios exist as islands unto themselves, children divided by the divorce forced on larger Marvel when Kevin Feige finally had enough of Ike Perlmutter. As a result, while Feige’s Marvel Studios is prepping its various limited series programs – the Loki, Scarlet Witch, and Falcon/Winter Soldier shows – for Disney+ that doesn’t mean Jeph Loeb’s Marvel TV is also busy at programs for Disney+. His shows, which also include the recently renewed Agents of Shield, Cloak & Dagger, and The Runaways, are scattered across the cable/streaming landscape, and they might continue to be for the foreseeable future. But is Daredevil maybe switching over to Marvel Studios?
Has the Netflix Marvel universe simply run its course?
Deadline and The Hollywood Reporter have each heard the reason Luke Cage was canceled even though half of its season 3 scripts had already been written is not due to any kind of corporate interference or ownership concerns. Instead, it was a simple creative dispute: Netflix wanted to cut the episode count down from 13 to 10. The Luke Cage/Marvel TV people didn’t agree. So, bye-bye Luke Cage.
There are various, mostly obvious financial reasons why a TV producer would reject a network demand to make fewer episodes, but on this point Netflix would actually have the critics on their side. The consistent problem with every Netflix Marvel show is the seasons are simply too long and thus stuck with obvious padding and the dreaded Netflix bloat. It’s been a complaint since the beginning and continues to be made today with Daredevil’s third season. Iron Fist only got a second season because it agreed to a ten-episode count, but it was also the show with the least amount of negotiating leverage due to the piss-poor reception to its debut season. Perhaps the bosses for the shows felt they had more leverage than they actually did.
If this was a couple of years ago, they probably would have been right. But the Marvel Netflix Universe doesn’t move the pop culture needle as much as it used to. Its narrative tricks – gritty PG-15 material, epic hallway fight scenes – aren’t as fresh anymore. The storytelling formulas have become obvious and repetitive. Various showrunners have come and gone. Jessica Jones’ Melissa Rosenberg already has her next gig lined up. And the ongoing lack of any real, meaningful connection the MCU films has effectively labeled the various Defenders as skippable, second-class citizens, even as their hardcore fans continue to advocate for more recognition.
When Infinity War arrived, it proved too complicated to integrate The Defenders into the story, and by the time Avengers 4 arrives they might be wiped out for good, be it due to a shift in Netflix’s programming strategy, a power play on Disney’s part, or the simple reality that some things just run their course.
If we are indeed witnessing the end of the Netflix Marvel universe, are you angry? Sad? Or rather unmoved? And looking back on things, what’s been your favorite part of the Netflix Marvel universe? Let me know in the comments.