This strategy, of course, is not just a creative one: On the business end, dedicating money to these projects means Netflix can invest in more, newer voices, while also catering to an increasingly mobile audience. Netflix's VP of original programming Cindy Holland made it clear that she was aware of the complaints when speaking to reporters last year; perhaps swinging their shows in the opposite direction was the logical conclusion. (While Netflix PR facilitated interviews with creators for this piece, it would not provide comment from the company's corporate arm.)
Shorter content also tends to be cheaper to produce. "The reason they're testing the [short-form] format is that you're still looking at a premium level of storytelling, but at a lot more affordable price," Perrin Chiles, co-founder of content producer Adaptive Studios, told Digiday last year.
Still, we don't even have a great word to describe what these shows are. If they existed on a platform with less legitimacy than Netflix, they might be dubbed "web series," but here they slide seamlessly into a feed alongside big-budget or prestige-leaning productions like Stranger Things and Russian Doll, respectively.
Production house Stage 13 -- which is behind Special, It's Bruno!, and two nonfiction short series on Netflix -- saw an opening in this void. "We felt there was a wide space, between YouTube on one end, if you will, and Netflix on the other," senior entertainment executive Diana Mogollon tells Thrillist. "So there was an opportunity to tell these really unique stories that maybe didn't need 13 one-hour [episodes] to tell the story, and do it with very high quality production value and high quality storytelling value way."
Special, which is executive produced by The Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons, was being shopped as a more traditional, 30-minute package before it landed at Stage 13, according to Mogollon. "You have Jim, you have Ryan [O'Connell], you have the whole industry who had heard the story and the pitch, but it wasn't quite the right timing," she says. "It just didn't get off the ground. Then we came and said, 'Okay, well, let's look at it. Is there a short-form version? Could we do it in a different way? Could we think out-of-the-box?' And luckily everybody was game to do that so we did, and now we're here to tell a story."
Not long after, Netflix acquired Special, no changes required. "I'm actually really glad that Netflix bought it as is, because if they wanted to do a half hour, I'd have to rewrite the entire series and that would not be fun," O'Connell told Vulture. "But for Season 2, mama wants a half hour!"
A half hour still conveys legitimacy for a show, and, indeed, there's a separate Emmy category for "short form" where an 11-minute Adult Swim offering like Children's Hospital can compete alongside web-exclusive offshoots of network series. For Rightor Doyle, there simply isn't the "language" to describe what these pieces are trying to accomplish in the awards space.