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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Netflix Canceled 'GLOW.' What's Next?

The Monitor is a weekly column devoted to everything happening in the WIRED world of culture, from movies to memes, TV to Twitter.

The lights have dimmed at GLOW. After three fan-beloved seasons on the streaming service, Netflix pulled the plug on a promised fourth installment this week, citing Covid-19’s impact on production. For fans, who had been promised a final season back in August 2019, it was a blow. (A GLOW blow? Sure.) It was also, in the grand scheme, a small loss. “Covid has killed actual humans. It’s a national tragedy and should be our focus,” series creators Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch told Deadline in a statement. “There’s a lot of sh*tty things happening in the world that are much bigger than this right now. But it still sucks that we don’t get to see these 15 women in a frame together again.”


Of course, bluntly speaking, having 15 women together in one frame is part of the reason producing GLOW is nearly impossible right now. It’s a show about female wrestlers and there’s no real way actors can wrestle, or do wrestling-adjacent things, while an infectious, deadly disease is circulating around the globe. And the precautions required, if they were to attempt to film such a show, would likely be rather expensive. No doubt it should be safe to resume filming the show one day, but Netflix, it seems, thought it easier to cut ties rather than wait it out. Fair enough, but there’s something very disheartening about the idea of only watching TV shows that can be affordably shot at a safe distance.

But there was something else about Flahive and Mensch’s statement that hit hard. “We were handed the creative freedom to make a complicated comedy about women and their stories,” they wrote. “And now that’s gone.” For years, Netflix has been the home of weirdo stuff that a network probably wouldn’t take a chance on. As the coronavirus, and all of its very real impacts on Hollywood, take their toll, it’s hard not to worry that it could be the shows on the margins—the sci-fi/fantasy shows, the shows featuring women, LGBTQ+ characters, and people of color—that feel the most pain.

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Before I get arrested by the Hypocrisy Police, a note of clarification: I’m on the record as being a proponent of canceling shows early and often. Some things are perfect as a single season; there’s no need to drag them out. I May Destroy You will likely live on as the best thing to hit TV in all of 2020, and I don’t require any more of it. Audiences would be much better served if creator and star Michaela Coel saw her time freed up to create the next best thing any of us has ever seen.

And frankly, canceling shows after a season or two is Netflix’s traditional MO. Look no further than the recent cancellation of Altered Carbon for proof of that. Shows get more expensive to produce the longer they’re around, and often it’s better for a streaming service to move on and find another great show to roll the dice on. But there’s something about Netflix canceling a season that was already greenlit that makes it hard not to wonder if the streaming service is rethinking how it does things.

In his recent Buffering newsletter, Vulture writer Josef Adalian noted that Netflix’s decision to cancel GLOW rather than just postpone it was an odd one, especially considering the gaps between new seasons of shows like The Crown can sometimes span years. “Fans of GLOW aren’t going to suddenly grow disinterested in something because its return is delayed six or nine months,” Adalian wrote. But the streaming service might just have different budget and programming needs now than it did a year ago when it renewed the show. Perhaps Netflix looked at the new numbers and realized they just didn’t pan out in a pandemic. “If Netflix has something else that can service those viewers,” Adalain continued, “it may have decided it was safe to move on.”

"Safe" is an interesting choice of words. Because playing it safe isn’t something Netflix generally does. In this case, there’s two kinds of safe—the creative kind, and the protecting TV crews from Covid-19 kind—but it’s worrisome to think of those two notions of safety being considered in the same breath. If Covid has to be the first consideration made when deciding whether or not to produce a show or film, the pot of possibilities becomes drastically smaller. And that’s not Netflix’s fault. No one wants to endanger people to make art, but the longer the pandemic lasts, the longer Hollywood is going to have to face decisions like this, and the longer it will be before funding swaths of brazen, niche shows will look feasible again.

In her RIP letter to GLOW, actress Betty Gilpin wrote, “It’s a pandemic and Rome is burning, and bet you that while Rome fell, someone had a great stone-tablet nice magazine that got canceled. Honestly? It’s OK. Apparently numbers-wise, GLOW really only appealed to men in kimonos and women in cat hair, who, as far as I’m concerned, are the beating heart of the arts and the reason I keep waking up. It should be noted that [series executive producer] Jenji Kohan writing love letters to these very misfits is what took Netflix from scrappy DVD Postmates to towering Versailles Studios. All. Hall. Jenji.” Kohan’s new show is Social Distance, an anthology series about human connection shot entirely in isolation. It looks great, but hopefully she’ll be cramming 15 women in a frame again very soon.

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