Let’s paint a picture. It’s Saturday night at Skeeps. Your $12 Moscow Mule pitcher is running dry. “Down” by Jay Sean is blasting on the speakers. Everyone’s losing it. Luckily, you lock eyes with that special someone from across the muddied dance floor. You find your way through the crowd and begin to hit the basics: Name, major, hometown, your least favorite President of the University whose last name starts with an “S.” Next thing you know, you’re in a Lyft back to their place. The two of you are violently making out in the back seat while your driver tries to politely tune you out.
Once you get back and crash on their couch, they suggest watching something on Netflix. Perfect idea. You both scroll around aimlessly through titles, hoping to find something agreeable. Now’s a great opportunity for you to suggest a show that demonstrates just how cultured and cool you really are.
“How about ‘The Office’?”
Just then, thunderclaps emerge from outside. The glass in the windows shatters as the eyes of the person you arrived with begin to glow bright red. Thunder strikes and the wind howls throughout the room as you watch in horror as their head does a full 360-degree revolution.
“THE OFFICE ENDED IN 2013!” they reply in a demonic intonation.
“The Office” has become a symbol of stale viewership. In 2018, Netflix dished out $80 million just to keep the ’90s sitcom “Friends” on its platform for another year. And why wouldn’t they? The show is rewatched constantly and remains one of the most popular titles streamed. These shows have become a staple of entertainment for boring people. Just think of all of the new ideas that aren’t being funded as a result of continued audience lethargy. By comparison, in 2016, it only took $6 million to fund the first season of “Stranger Things,” a Netflix original that also remains one of the platform’s most talked about titles to date. Netflix has shown it has the potential to create engaging storylines. However, the disparity in funding used to rehash the past is remarkable. Netflix’s corporate strategy works best when audiences gain dependence on their supply of comfort and nostalgia. If the only thing you watch in 2020 happens to be “Parks and Recreation,” you’ll eventually become so trapped by the pattern of watching a single show that you’ll pay anything to keep viewing it. As users fall victim to a cycle of repetitive viewing, services like Netflix will continue to allocate a sliver of funding to new content.
While “The Office” and “Friends” are both hilarious shows (maybe not “Friends,” but I digress), we’ve seemed to reach a stalemate in a television culture where our fascinations are dominated by nostalgia. Look at the countless remakes and sequels that are currently dominating the film industry. Why bother creating new things if what they already have will still make more money? Our collective fixation with the past is killing not only TV but also entertainment in general. In order for any media to succeed there have to be new attempts at artistry, both good and bad. Leaving no room for creative growth has resulted in audiences feeling like we’re stuck in a job we hate, mindlessly selling paper and aimlessly hitting on the receptionist with a fiancé.
Fortunately, there might be some light at the end of the tunnel. As of 2020, “Friends” has been removed from Netflix and will be heading straight to the new streaming service HBOMax in May. “The Office” will be departing from Netflix in 2021 and is expected to draw a huge wave of new subscribers for NBC’s online service “Peacock,” which is set to launch on April 15th. What will these new streaming services mean for continued watchability? While it’s too early to tell, I’m sure viewers will find some way to pay an extra ten bucks a month in order to justify the Michael Scott sticker from Redbubble stuck to their laptop.
In the meantime, use the absence of some familiar titles to watch something new. Television has literally never been better and more diverse. Take some time to get a suggestion from The Daily. If you hate it — so what? At least you tried. Maybe the next time you’re hitting on someone at Skeeps you’ll have something new to talk about besides how much Greek life sucks.