CARLY MAYBERRY: Is Netflix Even Capable Of Making Conservative Content?
Carly Mayberry on February 2, 2023
As Netflix enters a new chapter with its recent subscription tier offering and a major change in management, it remains to be seen if the top streamer will diverge from its mostly featured woke content to more conservative-oriented programming.
The question arises in light of the popularity of Paramount’s “Yellowstone” known to be a fan favorite of mostly a right-of-center audience, while also embraced by a hearty share of viewers on all sides of the political aisle, even if they may not admit it.
The soapy Montana-based western features modern cowboys including those of the land-owning Dutton family, a tight-knit clan struggling to hold on to its share of traditional ideals while dealing with good and bad alliances, outside political aspirations and an increasingly complicated, technology-based and globally-centered world. Woven in to the rugged scenery and slow dialog are cultural themes including Native Americans rising up to require reparations and the encroachment of pesky West Coast elites fleeing the crime-ridden cities for a simpler and safer life.
True to life, those same liberal-leaning transplants tend to stake a claim not only on land but their need to voice concerns about climate change, lack of cultural diversity and inclusion and other popular cultural talking points of the times we live in.
Regardless of what draws the loads of viewers to watch Yellowstone, the drama has somehow become mainstream viewing in America’s living rooms. The show’s ratings include a cumulative viewership of 12.1 million live-plus-same day viewers making it the top scripted series premiere of 2022.
Still the popularity of “Yellowstone” begs the question as to whether or not it will spur the top streamer to cater more to right-of-center viewers with increased conservative content.
“In a sane world, yes, but we’ve watched studios and channels either ignore heartland viewers or actively antagonize them in recent years. A few right-leaning pop culture hits like Yellowstone won’t change that,” Christian Toto, host of the Hollywood in Toto podcast told me. “They should, but they either don’t, or red-state types rarely cross their minds. The industry has done a poor job of reaching out to alienated viewers and hiring artists who appreciate their needs.”
What understanding that the execs at Netflix might have of more conservative viewers, Toto did note.
“Netflix has delivered some atypical shows in recent months, content that connects with so-called Flyover Country,” said Toto. “Think Kevin James’ short-lived sitcom The Crew. And the streamer’s support for Dave Chappelle, and willingness to hire iconoclastic comics like Tim Dillon, suggests a whiff of understanding on these issues.”
“Otherwise, there’s not a ton of content directly targeting right-leaning audiences nor an appetite to bring it to the market,” added Toto, noting that while Hollywood’s new diversity mandates have brought some welcome changes to the industry giving more people more chances to share their vision, that inclusion push doesn’t always reflect right-leaning, God-fearing views.
While Netflix declined to comment on whether the streamer plans to ever cater to conservative subscribers with more traditional content, a spokesperson instead pointed to its recently announced western “American Primeval” from director Peter Berg.
That’s while whether “Yellowstone” is considered to be a “conservative” show or not, critics have credited its creator Taylor Sheridan for his ability to reach a diverse audience, including the more rural demographic — often considered by academics and liberal elites as “less sophisticated.”
Regardless of whom his content appeals to, some critics say that such a show and its success and popularity is a product of a talented storyteller like Sheridan.
“Everything he’s involved with has a gritty realism at the center of it with characters who are very stoic with very definite views on society and good & evil thematic elements,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst for media measurement and analytics company Comscore, noting Sheridan’s episodic shows like “Mayor of Kingstown” and “Tulsa King” and films like “Hell or High Water.” “It’s very direct and hugely entertaining. Whether or not you agree with sentiments or points of view of characters of this Sheridan universe, you’re still hugely entertained. The characters are so well-developed you can’t help but get wrapped up in them no matter what ideology you have.”
Dergarabedian said from the viewer’s perspective it’s more about rooting for characters that we wouldn’t necessarily hang around with or agree with.
“It’s those more challenging characters and situations and stories that tend to be the more compelling that we want to watch,” said Dergarabedian, noting viewers’ love of watching movies and TV shows that immerse them in a world that they have no connection to. “Great movies and great shows are just that — they’re compelling because they’re well written — they resonate with audiences from all backgrounds. Something can be left, right of center, etc. but if it’s entertaining you’re going to watch it.”
“At the end of the day, it’s about the pure entertainment value of these shows and that’s what keeps people coming back for more. And that’s the beauty of filmmaking and storytelling.”
As a seasoned journalist, Carly has covered the entertainment and digital media worlds as well as local and national political news and human-interest stories. She has written for Forbes and The Hollywood Reporter most recently served as a staff writer for Newsweek covering cancel culture, religion and education.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.
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