Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) has ramped up its children's programming, but the company's choice of shows to launch suggests it's not just targeting kids.
The streaming-video leader's slate of already-launched and announced is heavy on remakes of titles that adults are likely to have fond memories of. That's a smart strategy that should push parents to sample some of these programs alongside their children. That creates multigenerational ties to Netflix, which makes a decision to cancel the service a family debate rather than just mom and dad deciding they don't use it enough to justify the cost.
Jumping on this nostalgia train Netflix has announced plans to revive Danger Mouse and Inspector Gadget, two 1980s favorites that have had long lives in syndication. Both cartoons will return in series form, joining the already-airing Richie Rich, a live action show based on the classic cartoon character. And, in perhaps the company's largest nod to nostalgia, Netflix is also bringing back Paul Reubens' Pee-wee Herman for a new live-action film, Pee-wee's Big Holiday, produced by Judd Apatow.
"We didn't hesitate for a moment knowing that Pee-wee's Big Holiday was such a passion project for Paul and Judd and we are delighted by the opportunity to introduce such a beloved character to a new generation," said Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos. "We are thrilled to bring our viewers around the world the wonder of Pee-wee Herman."
Those viewers will almost certainly include adults attempting to introduce their children to Herman's unique antics (perhaps while attempting to stop them from Googling the actor wearing the bow-tie).
Familiarity makes marketing easier
Of course, relaunching familiar titles also offers advantages in brand awareness. Parents already know Inspector Gadget, Danger Mouse, Richie Rich, and Pee-wee Herman, which makes it easy for them to decide if the shows are appropriate for their children.
Rebooting classic shows and movies has been a Hollywood tactic that has only worked with mixed success. The classic television show Charlie's Angels was rebooted for two successful movies (but failed fast in a 2011 television remake) and a remake of Hawaii Five-0 has been airing on CBS since 2010, a success, but still a long way to go before it equals the 12-year run of the original Jack Lord version.
In more cases than not, though, reviving classic programs brings big sampling, but little long-term traction because the new programs can't live up to the original. That's likely what's happening now with the Matthew Perry-front remake of The Odd Couple airing on CBS. In recent years remakes of Melrose Place, Knight Rider, Bionic Woman, and Ironside all failed quickly.
But those shows all had to live up to originals that were loved in their own ways. The Netflix slate of remakes brings back classic characters with high recognition levels, which adults may feel warmly toward, but aside from Pee-wee, none of them carry the baggage that a new Odd Couple does.
I fondly remember Inspector Gadget and would watch new episodes with my son (who at 11 is likely a little older than the target demographic), but I would not say Gadget was a favorite of mine where new episodes could not possibly trump the old. Netflix may well have discovered the perfect mix of brand recognition, nostalgia, and fuzzy memories to launch these shows.
Cartoons are more durable
While live action shows have proven difficult to remake, cartoons have been more versatile. Scooby Doo has starred in a number of TV series, multiple movies, and numerous videos since debuting in 1969 on Scooby Doo, Where Are You? Similarly The Flintstones have been brought back numerous time -- for movies, television shows, videos, and commercials -- since their debut in 1960.
The same can be said for the Looney Tunes characters, as well as Mickey Mouse and his gang.
Inspector Gadget and Danger Mouse may not be quite as loved as Fred Flintstone or Scooby and the gang in the Mystery Machine, but they are well-remembered brands that should bring eyeballs to their new Netflix shows -- parents and children. Pee-wee Herman is a tad different, because he's not a cartoon, but his successful Broadway live show suggests that demand still exists for the character.
Netflix is smartly going after kids with programs that come with a built-in seal of approval. It's a strategy that could lead to new signups and which should keep wavering families on board.