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Hoping to shake its derisive "rerun TV" tag, Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX ) is starting to promote the first original series for its streaming service.
Netflix uploaded a trailer for Lilyhammer on a new NetflixOriginals channel on YouTube this week. The series stars Steven Van Zandt -- Bruce Springsteen's former guitarist, who earned accolades on The Sopranos -- as a mobster sent to Lillehammer, Norway, as part of the witness protection program after ratting out a mob boss.
If you don't want to check out the trailer, let's call this The Sopranos meets Northern Exposure. The first season will play out over eight original episodes starting on Feb. 6, 2012. Let's hope that premiering the day after the Super Bowl doesn't mean that Netflix will be springing for a costly commercial to promote the series during the big game. Netflix isn't exactly made out of money these days.
Lilyhammer is just the beginning. House of Cards -- the ballyhooed project headed up by David Fincher and Kevin Spacey -- will debut on Netflix later this year. The revival of cult favorite Arrested Development should come next year.
Original programming, or at least shows that originate on Netflix before being made available anywhere else, will go a long way toward justifying Netflix streaming subscriptions. Instead of relying on reruns of past seasons -- Netflix's typical licensing strategy when it comes to television shows -- it will be ahead of the pack.
Clearly this is a risky strategy. If a show's a dud, Netflix is stuck until the next series comes around for a shot at redemption. However, piece by piece, Netflix is becoming HBO and Showtime for thinking couch potatoes.
There's nothing wrong with Time Warner's popular premium movie channel, and it's not fair to compare Netflix's first-run shows to the success that HBO has had with Curb Your Enthusiasm and Game of Thrones. CBS' Showtime has introduced us to Dexter and Weeds, while Netflix is still weeks away from its first true test.
However, HBO and Showtime are only available as premium services on top of already chunky cable and satellite television services. There's no way to get HBO or Showtime without paying a lot of money first. Netflix is a stand-alone offering at a fair $7.99 a month price.
If Lilyhammer is able to generate positive buzz when it debuts next month, how long will it take for those who swore off Neflix this past summer to come back? It's going to be a long road back to redemption for Netflix after all that's transpired in recent months, but that road apparently runs through Norway.
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