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All hail Netflix, the master of disastrous press tours

What explains Netflix’s boneheaded gaffes as it’s tried to drum up excitement for “Norm Macdonald Has a Show,” “Insatiable,” “Arrested Development,” and other shows?

All hail Netflix, the master of disastrous press tours
[Photo: Flickr user Jørn Eriksson]

Netflix prides itself on doing things differently than the rest of the entertainment industry, and in that light, the recent press rollout for Norm Macdonald Has a Show isn’t a train wreck or an unforced error: It’s a revelation.

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Why should the streaming giant follow the same tired path that Hollywood has followed for decades, trotting out the stars of a new project to offer bland pleasantries about how excited they are about their new show and how great everyone is to work with, and there was that one time when we ran out of M&Ms at the craft-services table, and hoo boy, that was a rough day, Jimmy!

No, let’s burn that house down.

How else to explain not just the Macdonald introduction but also the bold press fusillades for Insatiable, 13 Reasons Why, Arrested Development, and House of Cards star Robin Wright’s winning appearance on Today? Those are all just this summer!

Kevin who? I don’t know any Kevins. Yeah, there was that one guy who’d be on set the last five years . . . 

Only a disruptor would seize the opportunity to distance itself from its original franchise star, now a disgraced sexual predator, while stoking excitement for the last season of House of Cards. Only a disruptor would kind of clean up the mess made by its latest would-be late-night star with a mumbly apology–but then keep his Howard Stern booking after even Jimmy Fallon cancelled his appearance. How else to make sure Macdonald showcases how chastened he is by telling Stern, “You’d have to have Down syndrome to not feel sorry” for harassment victims? Just think of the mess Netflix avoided with Fallon: He might have reprised the old SNL Jeopardy sketch!

Only a disruptor showcases the fat shaming in the trailer for its new teen series to create an outrage that’s a clever cover for the rest of the show’s significant problems. Only a disruptor assembles a large ensemble of a show’s cast so that one of them can be broken down and reduced to tears in front of a New York Times reporter, prompting another apology. Frankly, it’s a bit sad that none of Netflix’s rivals have figured out that it’s virtually impossible to break through the clutter of Peak TV unless the star of your latest show has to issue a public statement regarding earlier comments on the press tour. You know what I do, and this is totally a Netflix thing, but I binge all the sorry-not-sorrys at once.

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Netflix has said that it plans to spend $2 billion on marketing in 2018, and more than 80% of that outlay would be on “title brands,” meaning individual shows. Can Netflix seriously be expected to spend $2 billion just on Sunset Boulevard billboards and the art director who makes Every. Single. One. of its posters look the same? Comedian Bill Burr, who has done three Netflix standup specials, can start in a hole with an audience and then dig himself out. Netflix has clearly learned from that kind of data that it’s just more exhilarating to succeed after you have alienated a portion of your audience. I once learned that the first rule of holes is that when you’re in one, stop digging, but what’s fun about that? Nah, keep digging! (Be sure to watch Macdonald on The View today.) Don’t stop until you’re at the molten core of public fury. That’s where the subscribers are. That’s the innovator’s way.

Maybe it is the algorithm. The company is using machine learning to improve streaming quality around the world; What if the AI is now running the way it gets attention for its new shows? It actually would explain a lot.

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