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With ‘Stranger Things,’ Netflix Is Turning TV Into Movies

The Season 2 trailer shows Netflix has figured out how to market its shows

The Upside Down will return this Halloween, as we found out during Sunday’s Super Bowl. The prime-time trailer spot for Stranger Things proves what a hit the show is — and that Netflix knows how to leverage its moneymakers. In this episode of The Watch, Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald talk about the trailer and how Netflix has evolved.

Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.

‘Stranger Things’ Is a Huge Hit

Chris Ryan: The Stranger Things ad was awesome. First of all, it’s just crazy that now we’re in a place where this Netflix show, which came out of nowhere last summer … feels like one of the two or three biggest shows on television.

Andy Greenwald: Shouts to Netflix’s marketing department for that. They are using the complete information blackout [on what is happening in Season 2] to their advantage. Now, I truly do think, from conversations with people in the industry, that Stranger Things is one of the biggest hits that they have. No question about it.

Ryan: I mean, Fuller House is probably a bigger hit.

Greenwald: It’s possible. By putting the show on the same stage as the other enormous productions, that is making a big, bold statement of intent.

No One Uses Word of Mouth Better Than Netflix

Ryan: Yeah, to have this go next to Pirates of the Caribbean, Logan, and Fate of the Furious is a huge statement.

[Shows like Breaking Bad] would be critical sensations or cult hits, and then there would be these periods where they would just get binged by people and word of mouth would spread.

Well, what Netflix has done is essentially internalize that process. Stranger Things came out, it actually was one of the rare binge shows that was able to produce a Westworld-like content factory around it, in terms of getting its voice out there. You usually find that those first seasons work out pretty well, like you’ll get a lot of stuff about the Daredevil fight scene or some of the stuff that happens in the first or second seasons of Orange Is the New Black.

(Netflix)
(Netflix)

But when you allow people to consume things at their own pace, you disrupt the way they also would read about that stuff. We basically have recaps of entire seasons going up on the first day of its availability. Stranger Things was sort of an outlier for that. And now, because the word of mouth, much like Breaking Bad, on Stranger Things has gotten so good I couldn’t even tell you a casual conversation I’ve had with somebody about television where Stranger Things hasn’t come up in the last year. This [trailer] is a huge anticipation builder. I mean, Halloween is far away. But I definitely think this is one of the most anticipated shows, save Game of Thrones, this year.

Greenwald: Let’s take it a step further. [Netflix is] turning TV into the new movies. They are saying, the way that the ad was framed, Stranger Things 2, that’s what it said, is dropping on Halloween. It’s an event. It’s around a holiday. It’s now a date that’s associated with a show and it’s well-suited to that show. It’s a very logical way to promote it because, as you said, it’s all going to be available then.

The Trailer Is Just Flat-Out Good

Ryan: It’s a very quick ad, but they did three really smart things in it. One, they threw the L’Eggo My Eggo ad in there, to put you in the time, but also to ramp up the nostalgia factor, or even the faux-nostalgia factor, because a lot of the people who are watching Stranger Things weren’t alive back when that was.

And then there’s the kids dressed up as the Ghostbusters. Which completely [ramps] up this sort of fan service idea that these kids are avatars for our own nostalgia and our own childhood in pop culture.

And then the final shot of that horizon. If the only problem with the first season of Stranger Things was the idea that this sort of evil that was unseeable for most of the season was kind of vague or undefined, that gives it a huge carrot for people. Because now there’s a giant alien on a red horizon. There’s something bigger coming in this season.

Greenwald: I think that was a very smart play. I should say, and there are months for me to walk this back, I’m very dubious about their ability to pull this off. I think that in general, even the people who enjoy the first season are like, "I don’t know how [the Duffer brothers] did this." I don’t know how they pulled this off, I don’t know how they made it work. Despite some creaky things, it really, really worked. I think a lot of people, myself included, felt … [they should] basically let this lie. Because if you go back and try to just strike gold twice with young performers [and] with the same story, it might be challenging. Second seasons are always hard. Especially when expectations are this high.

But the first season was effective because it was about a creepy infiltration of a few kids in a small town and now it’s going to widescreen. Now the monsters are big. Now they’re on horizon. That seems like a smart play. If nothing else, and I don’t mean this as a backhanded compliment, these guys know how entertainment works, or how it worked in an era when a lot of us were really, really beguiled by it in the ’80s.

Ryan: If [the Duffer brothers] are as savvy as they seem to be, I am excited for the second part of the trilogy, because there’s got to be a third coming. They have to squeeze all of the cuteness out of these kids while they can. I just think that typically, and especially with guys that are as obsessed with [Steven] Spielberg and [George] Lucas as these two, the second [season] has the potential to be sort of dark. Not that the first one wasn’t. But they’ll get a little Empire going.