It’s apt that yesterday, the day Damages creators Todd A. Kessler, Daniel Zelman and Glenn Kessler sold their new thriller series to Netflix, the fifth and final season of Damages was made available for streaming on Netflix.
Damages, for those who don’t know, has an interesting backstory — the dark legal drama originally premiered on FX in 2007, and thanks to an all-star cast lead by Glenn Close and Rose Byrne, racked up 20 Emmy nominations and four wins over its run. However, while it was a critical success, it was never a ratings juggernaut, and in 2010, FX canceled the series.
Well, it wasn’t so much canceled as it was given over to the DirecTV channel Audience Network, where the following two seasons aired. It’s a similar deal to what kept Friday Night Lights on the air for an extra three years, but dropped the show’s audience to a fraction of potential viewers. At least until it ended up on Netflix.
Netflix’s deal with Zelman and the Kesslers reinforces several aspects of its business practices, such as working with major studios as a distributor rather than owning content in its entirety (like Damages, the new, currently untitled series will be produced by Sony Pictures TelevIsion).
In addition, the Damages deal is another example of the site looking carefully at its algorithms to drive decisions about new original content. Similar to how the show Hemlock Grove was renewed for a second season after Netflix’s internal data determined it to be a success, Damages‘s popularity on the streaming site helped bright about the deal.
“It’s safe to say it was one of the factors that went into green-lighting the series,” said a Netflix spokesperson via email.
What’s actually kind of amazing about Damages is that despite never being commissioned by Netflix, it represents the Platonic ideal of what Netflix original series are evolving into.
Tonally, it’s incredibly close to House of Cards. It’s a mature hour-long drama, which Netflix has definitely shown a leaning towards (okay, with the occasional exception of mermaids). It’s got an all-star cast: Recurring actors include Ted Danson, William Hurt, Timothy Olyphant, Marcia Gay Harden, Martin Short, Lily Tomlin and John Goodman.
Plus, it’s highly serialized with an emphasis on cliffhangers — making it too serialized for actual television, according to FX executive John Landgraf: “What we made with Damages was a show that was better watched in bouts of two, three and four episodes than one episode,” Landgraf told the Hollywood Reporter in 2011.
Most importantly, the show’s structure leans heavily on flashbacks and flashforwards — a key component of Netflix originals like Arrested Development and Orange is the New Black, and a structural device that plays really well in making each season of the show feel like a complete whole. And it’s easier for viewers to put the pieces together when they control the pace of their viewing.
In retrospect, the Damages creators working with Netflix on a new series almost feels like an inevitability — as well as karmic justice for the show’s time as a DirecTV exclusive. Not only does Netflix currently have more subscribers (nearly 30 million, compared to DirecTV’s 20 million) — but the Emmys take it a lot more seriously.