Big-budget fantasy series premiering Friday is a notable exception to the streaming service’s strategy
Netflix launches “The Witcher,” its Henry Cavill-led TV adaptation of the best-selling fantasy book series on Friday, and the streaming service is betting that the big-budget show will be a proportionally big hit, seeing as it’s already been renewed for a second season.
The streaming service’s freshman shows — including fan-favorites and critically acclaimed programs — are typically left in limbo, often for a few months, while Netflix waits for viewership data to roll in before it makes a call on a second season. But in November, more than a month out from “The Witcher’s” Season 1 launch, Netflix ordered a second batch of eight episodes for the fantasy series, which are set to go into production in London in early 2020 for a planned debut in 2021.
So why is “The Witcher” the exception to this rule?
There are a few reasons behind this decision. While Netflix declined TheWrap’s request for comment, an individual with knowledge of the company’s strategy tells TheWrap that the answer mostly boils down to a leap of faith, not only on the beloved IP created by author Andrzej Sapkowski, but the team that’s adapting it and the cast.
Created by Lauren Schmidt Hissrich,”The Witcher” TV series tells the story of Geralt of Rivia (Cavill), a solitary monster hunter whom destiny brings together with the powerful sorceress Yennefer (Anya Chalotra) and Ciri (Freya Allan), a young princess with a dangerous secret, with the three joining forces to navigate the Continent and its many evils.
The first season of the show doesn’t even cover the entire plot of the first book in the series, so Netflix believes there is plenty of story left to tell. The same can be said for other titles that are based on known IP (just look at “Game of Thrones”), making it somewhat less of a risk to make an early investment in Season 2 than it would be for something that’s totally unknown, the insider said.
According to the individual, though Netflix doesn’t know how “The Witcher” will take off — especially given how passionate fans of the books are — they do know enough story is there to work with and have confidence in their creative team’s direction.
Another factor that was on “The Witcher’s” side when it came to that second-season pickup was time. Netflix needed to get into production on Season 2 as soon as possible — due to talent and creative’s schedules, the availability of shooting locations and the time it takes to put in visual effects in post production — and decided to announce the renewal ahead of the series premiere because otherwise the news could have leaked when filming began, the insider said.
While “The Witcher” is Netflix’s only early Season 2 renewal in recent history, it’s one of several streaming shows to get its second season ahead of its initial premiere in 2019:
- Amazon Prime Video renewed both superhero series “The Boys” and fantasy drama “Carnival Row” before they dropped their first seasons this summer, and announced a fifth season for “The Expanse” long before the December launch of the show’s fourth season — its first on Amazon. It has also ordered a second season of its “Lord of the Rings” TV series before its even announced the cast for Season 1.
- Disney+ picked up another year of “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” before it debuted with the platform’s launch Nov. 12 and, though it hasn’t formally been renewed, “The Mandalorian” is already in production on Season 2. and
- Apple TV+ renewed space-race drama “For All Mankind,” M. Night Shyamalan thriller “Servant,” and anthology series “Little America” ahead of their respective premieres, with comedy “Dickinson” and sci-fi epic “See” being picked up for second seasons just a few days after they dropped with the launch of the streaming service on Nov. 1. (Note: Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon’s “The Morning Show” received an initial two-season order from Apple in 2017.)
With all of those early pickups coming in this year, it’s hard not to see a trend developing in streaming service’s doubling down before they know if you’re even going to watch their new shows. But it’s a bit more complicated than that.
First off, it’s mainly these big-budget shows that need to get back into production to avoid wasting time — and thus money — that are getting the early pickups, most notably “Lord of the Rings,” “The Mandalorian,” “See” and, of course, “The Witcher.” And not every streaming series comes with as big a price tag as these, so the platforms can afford to wait it out, as they know waiting won’t cost them a bundle.
Secondly, in the case of Apple TV+ and Disney+’s early orders, they are new streaming services trying to build their original slates from scratch. And though Disney has an extensive library of nostalgia content among its platform’s offerings and Apple, well, doesn’t, they are both going about their Season 2 pickups in a similar fashion to what Netflix did when it decided to break into original content by placing an initial two-season order for “House of Cards” in 2011. So it’s less unusual for a new platform to be ordering additional seasons of its launch shows than it is for Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, who already have multiple seasons of originals available for streaming and don’t need to take a risk in picking up more of something brand new before they know how you’ll respond to it.
And that brings us back to “The Witcher,” a series that proves there’s an exception to Netflix’s rule. And while we can’t predict whether or not this gamble will pay off for Netflix, if it does, it could mean more future exceptions.