Orange is the New Black crossed my radar very close to its release, less than three days before its entire season premiered on Netflix, and for somebody whose job it is to keep tabs on this kind of thing, that was unusual and spoke of a lackluster PR campaign. It sounded like the beginning of an old story: a creator determined to bring the diverse stories of a group of black, brown, gay, trans*, old (and other adjectives that make them a hard sell to studios) women to the small screen, manages to get a show into production at an unorthodox outlet, show is great but due to lack of confidence in the concept nobody ever hears about it except folks who are starving for those stories in the first place for very personal reasons.
So imagine my surprise when Netflix announces that in the “opening week” of Orange is the New Black the show accrued more viewers, for more hours, than the fourth season of Arrested Development.
That’s right, a show with barely any marketing push behind it, and featuring a groundbreakingly diverse cast, has managed to get an edge over one of the most anticipated television events of the summer. From All Things D, summarizing an official Netflix earnings call:
Every time Netflix has rolled out a new show this year, its first-week ratings improved on the previous show.
That is: “Arrested Development” did better in its first week than “House of Cards” did in its first week, both in terms of viewer numbers and hours viewed. That isn’t a huge surprise, because “House of Cards” was a new show, and “Arrested Development” was a reboot of a series with a big fan base.
But “Orange Is the New Black,” which debuted earlier this month, did better than any other show Netflix has released.
If you’re a regular reader of the site you should know this already, but I think it deserves clarifying: this is not surprising to me because I believe that women’s stories are inherently less successful than otherwise. It’s surprising to me because a lack of confidence in the ability of stories about women to draw an audience often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that prevents them from receiving the same kind of advertising push, which in turn leads them to reach a smaller audience, which in turn leads to a lack of confidence in the ability of stories about wo – you get the idea. It’s a very pleasant surprise.
I’ve only watched three episodes of Orange is the New Black, and while I have at least one problem with the show so far… I’ve also only watched three episodes. And it might just be because I have a long standing obsession with stories about the Russian mob and happen to be in the middle of watching Star Trek: Voyager for the first time, but I simply cannot get enough of Kate Mulgrew‘s hardened Russian lifer who runs the kitchen and therefore the entirety of the inmate culture and attempts to starve the main character for the crime of insulting her cooking. Not to mention Laverne Cox‘s Sophia Burset, the rare trans* character who is not a one episode wonder, or Laura Prepon‘s lesbian international drug cartel runner Alex Vause.
And now that I’ve gotten through this entire article without accidentally calling the show Orphan is the New Black, have you checked out Orange is the New Black?