Netflix Cindy Holland Tells Her Nebraska Story To The Nation’s TV Critics — Updated

By Dawn C. Chmielewski, Nellie Andreeva


UPDATED with details from Deadine’s interview with Holland.

Netflix’s head of original programming took her small town girl tale to the stage of the Television Critics Association press tour, where she made her inaugural appearance.

Cindy Holland opened her session with a personal confession: “I grew up a nerdy little kid in Nebraska,” she said, as she flashed an elementary school image on the projection screen behind her — as if in evidence.

The head of programing for the television industry’s $8 billion powerhouse said she searched to find role models in the TV shows of that era — perhaps Cher, minus the Bob Mackie glittery gowns.

“The first time I truly saw myself on television was Charlie’s Angels,” Holland said. “There, among the feathered hair, there she was as Sabrina Duncan.”

Kate Jackson’s character — a pantsuit- and turtle-neck-wearing, Pinto-driving detective — seemed not to care that she was different from everyone else.

“Now, too many years later, I’m very proud to work at a place where many different kinds of people can see their “me”s in our programming,” Holland said.

Fast-forward today, as Holland plays a critical role in delivering original programming to living rooms and cell phones in 190 countries around the world. Her job, she said, is to ensure enough diversity to keep 130 million subscribers returning each month.

The Economist projected that Netflix would spend $12 to $13 billion on programming this year — a figure Holland would not confirm, in an interview after her TCA remarks. But she doesn’t dispute that the streaming service’s content costs are rising.

“We want to program for all different types of audience tastes around the world,” Holland said in an interview with Deadline. “In order to do that, you can’t have a 12-title slate.”

Holland said Netflix recognized, as far back as 2010, that that Hollywood studios would eventually stop licensing their movies and television shows to the streaming service once the internet-delivered entertainment became a mainstream phenomenon. They’d want to keep the content for their own services.

“That motivated us to start thinking about, ‘Well, we’ll do original programming sometime,'” Holland said. “It was frankly only a few months later that we saw the opportunity of House of Cards. That sort of cemented our decision.”

Amid a number of announcements from the stage — including Madam C.J. Walker, the untold story of a black hair care pioneer who became the first African American female self-made millionaire, starring Octavia Spencer — Holland offered a fresh glimpse into how the 2,000 “taste communities” that help Netfix determine which shows to greenlight.

Holland said Netflix doesn’t rely on broad demographics — it’s not trying to attract advertisers, to whom this would be most relevant — but rather its algorithms identify like-minded fan communities who are connected via their entertainment preferences.

Netflix’s algorithms find the unexpected nexus between fans of stand-up comedian Dave Chappelle and The Theory of Everything, a film about physicist Stephen Hawking and his wife.

“We can look and see if we can aggregate taste communities that are big enough to justify the expense,” Holland said.

Holland arrived on Netflix stage at the moment of ascendancy. The once-upstart streaming service collected 112 nominations for the 70th annual primetime Emmy Awards, ending the premium cable service’s 17-year winning streak.

This has been a milestone year for Netflix, one in which it has aligned itself with some of the prominent creators in Hollywood and beyond. She noted that Shonda Rhimes just unveiled a slate of eight series that she has put in development at the streaming giant via her Shondaland banner. Another prominent showrunner, Ryan Murphy, is hard at work on The Politician, a new hourlong comedy series. The project, starring Tony winner Ben Platt (Dear Evan Hansen), with Oscar winners Barbra Streisand and Gwyneth Paltrow in negotiations to co-star.

Just last week, Netflix llanded ABC Studios’ most prolific comedy creator Kenya Barris, who left ABC for Netflix a little over a year into the four-year term. Holland was mum about his forthcoming projects for the streamer.

“I can’t share anything wth you today,” Holland said.

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