Netflix has thus far found its highest-profile successes in original content by competing with award-ready premium television with Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards.
But there's more to running a network than winning awards, and the reminder of that came this morning with an announcement that Netflix has made a deal to be the exclusive home of four movies to star and be produced by Adam Sandler.
Make no mistake: There is a highbrow, or at least higher-brow, idea of Adam Sandler than the one that was best-known for years: He's in Jason Reitman's new drama Men, Women & Children, he's done Punch-Drunk Love with P.T. Anderson and Reign Over Me with Mike Binder, and Judd Apatow's dip into adult drama, Funny People.
But that isn't the Adam Sandler about whom Netflix subscribers (and, perhaps more importantly, potential subscribers) are being asked to get excited. How can you tell? In the press release, Sandler says he signed up "because Netflix rhymes with 'Wet Chicks.' " So whatever these movies wind up looking like, what they're selling is the Grown Ups Adam Sandler, the Jack and Jill Adam Sandler, the Big Daddy Adam Sandler. The Adam Sandler, that is, who wastes his entire comment on his Netflix deal on the har-har potential of "wet chicks."
We could step back and speculate about how this will affect Netflix, how it will affect Sandler, and how it will affect the streaming landscape, but you know what? Nobody knows. They're trying something. Netflix has reason to be worried about the future for a variety of reasons, from competing streaming services to the bandwidth issues that have led to the company's advocacy on the issue of net neutrality. Adam Sandler is almost 50, his non-Grown Ups live-action movies have been a little spotty at the box office in the past few years, and there are hot, shirtless guys who are perfectly happy to yell "wet chicks!" fleeing themselves upon Hollywood's doorstep every hour of every day.
What this means, more than anything, is that the more streaming services there are, the more outlets there are, the more ways to consume content there are, and the more business models there are, the more you see uncertainty lead to structural experimentation. Experimentation used to mean "a movie star tries television." Now it means "Adam Sandler is making movies in partnership with what was once a competitor of video stores." Netflix claims in the press release that its subscribers love Sandler's films and watch them over and over (most of his movies aren't available on streaming, but Happy Gilmore, Anger Management and a few others are), but they don't know whether that means they'll watch his new stuff.
For Sandler, it may be a way to do some new projects without the pressure of first-weekend box-office expectations, since if House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black are any indication, Netflix will never provide any useful data on how many people are watching unless it darn well feels like it. For an actor whose box office can be up and down, perhaps there's something tempting about experimentation without instant verdicts being handed down about commercial success and failure.
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