Back in March of this year (2022), Netflix surprisingly canceled one of its most well-received series, The Baby-Sitters Club. The Netflix original series about a group of young girls who form a Baby-Sitters Club in their hometown exceeded Netflix’s expectations and even won a few awards. So why was it canceled? Rachel Shukert, the creator of the Netflix adaptation, may have the answer to this and other mysterious cancellations. In an interview with Vulture.com, she speculated that “For whatever reason, the right people didn’t watch it at the right time for Netflix right now.”
The Baby-Sitters Club was an adaptation of the long-running Ann M. Martin book series of the same name. Both seasons currently sit at 100% on Rotten Tomatoes and some reports claim it was a hit with the internal viewing numbers. Once upon a time, Netflix used to let shows last 5-6 seasons but then it was 3 and now a show is lucky to get to 2 seasons. While Shukert doesn’t know the exact reason for the changes in Netflix’s model, she speculates that viewers only have one weekend to secure a show’s future. “Completion rates are a big deal,” she begins to say “and our show takes longer to complete because it’s for a younger audience. Parents don’t necessarily let kids sit and watch six hours of television at a time — probably rightly!” A show like The Baby-Sitters Club doesn’t reach the kind of audience that is able or willing to binge an entire season in a weekend. It appeals more to a younger audience than something like The Witcher or Locke & Key. “They want people to watch it a certain way, and they want shows that people will watch that way — not shows that people want to watch in their own way,” she continues, noting a stark change from their “wait and see approach” from years past.
This is a problem unique to Netflix as well. Most of the major streaming services have found huge success with the weekly release model. Take Peacemaker or WandaVision for example. The weekly releases of these shows created appointment TV that allowed the shows to grow and build an audience. Perhaps it’s not in the cards for Netflix to adopt that type of model right now, but a case could be made that it’s doing more harm than good at this point. “I think we had the bad luck to come out at about the same time as Squid Game, which showed them how crazy numbers could get. Numbers that were totally respectable and successful last year were suddenly seen in a different way,” she said, while also adding that The Baby-Sitters Club had better numbers than a show like Succession on HBO.
Another issue that Shukert cites is how Netflix does things internationally. “The truth is that when your show does very well in North America, as ours does, as far as Netflix is concerned, pretty much everybody who’s going to have Netflix [in North America] has it. They’re looking to drive subscriber growth in other parts of the world where this IP doesn’t have much recognition,” she continues. Basically confirming what most have theorized at this point, which is that Netflix isn’t getting new subscribers in North America and are looking for opportunities to grow in other parts of the world.
It’s really a shame that Netflix did this to The Baby-Sitters Club since it fills a specific role in entertainment that rarely gets touched on. When she was asked about whether or not it’s easier to dismiss shows about young girls, specifically citing the discussions around Pixar’s Turning Red, Shukert responded by saying “Girls are expected to go straight from Doc McStuffins to Euphoria.” She went on to note that “People are extremely uncomfortable with this period in girls’ lives,” specifically referring to the time when they aren’t a child but also not an adult. “The Baby-Sitters Club speaks to so many girls because it meets them where they are. It’s not about adults telling them who they are. It’s not really about boys, although they have crushes, which is a realistic part of life at that age.” She went on to say “There’s something about stories geared to this age that always felt like hindsight from adults, as opposed to what it actually feels like to be that age. What we could do with The Baby-Sitters Club was make the girls as smart and interesting and mature as girls are without making it all about how other people see them. It’s about how they see themselves.”
From an outside perspective, Netflix’s practices seem erratic. Where once stood a place for creatives to make the projects they want with the idea that Netflix will let the audience find them, now stands a slaughterhouse where two-season critical darlings go to die. Due to some weird numbers in the algorithm, many didn’t even know a second season of the series was released. Having worked on a number of Netflix projects, Rachel Shukert can only speculate what practice Netflix is using now. But with Netflix looking to lose two million subscribers and other streaming services finding great success with their original programming, perhaps it’s time for Netflix to overhaul its model.