×

Emmy Creative Arts: Netflix, Amazon Try New Approaches Without Broadcast Restrictions

From 4K to casting breakthroughs, over-the-top series are changing production

Over-the-top streaming services like Netflix and Amazon have drastically altered TV viewing habits, but their original programming is also beginning to change how shows are actually made.

Netflix’s first original series, “House of Cards,” is being shot in a non-standard 2:1 aspect ratio wider than today’s typical 16:9 TV format. “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black,” another Netflix original, are finished and streamed in 4K, as is Amazon original “Alpha House.”

That’s just the beginning of the evolution of TV crafts as programs detach from traditional “linear” networks.

“It’s much harder to bring innovation to network television because network televisiond works as a strong corporate entity where change is maybe not as easily applied,” says Igor Martinovic, cinematographer for “House of Cards” season two. “New media companies, they’re willing to experiment, they’re willing to take chances.”

(Illustration by Dan Page for Variety)

Martinovic cites the Hollywood films of the 1970s as an influence of the look of “House of Cards.” Of the wider aspect ratio, which means “House of Cards” is letterboxed on most TVs, he says: “It probably wouldn’t happen if we didn’t shoot for Netflix. It’s a new medium of presentation. They didn’t have any policy there. It’s also seen on so many different screens and on so many different devices.”

Martinovic’s last point is crucial. Streaming services go onto TVs, but also onto tablets and smartphones and there’s no fixed 16:9 aspect ratio for those screens. That frees up streaming series to use whatever ratio suits them.

Orange Is the New Black” key makeup artist Karen Reuter Fabbo says streaming services allow more creativity, as there are no corporate sponsors to insist on a specific look or impose other restrictions.

“Certain networks don’t want to see any tattoos at all on anyone and in a day and age where there are a lot of tattoos, we have to hide them,” she says.

Binge-viewing also affects the crafts on streaming shows. Because multiple episodes of the show can be watched back-to-back in a single sitting, Reuter Fabbo says the hair and makeup teams have to pay closer attention to maintaining continuity. Changes to a character’s look that viewers may not have noticed when seeing a show once a week are more likely to be caught by a binge watcher.

Casting options are also broader on streaming series. TV casting directors dread the phrase “network approvable,” as networks sometimes reject talented unknowns. Amazon’s “Betas” probably wouldn’t have found a home on a broadcast or major cable outlet because it has no big-name stars. Amazon approved the show anyway.

Streaming series also have freedom to embrace on-screen diversity. “Orange Is the New Black” features a mainstream series’ first openly transgender woman of color: Laverne Cox. And the characters don’t all look like they spend their days at the gym.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve never worked on a show that was so female-heavy,” says Reuter Fabbo. “And that’s something that happened because of Netflix’s vision. … These aren’t Victoria’s Secret models running around in prison uniforms. These are women who are different sizes and different shapes and different backgrounds and different colors.”

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Tin Star

    Sky Studios Launches U.K. Innovation Hub in Northern England

    Sky Studios is set to follow Channel 4’s move to the northern English city of Leeds with the launch of a new Innovation Hub. Sky Studios, the production arm of pay-TV giant Sky, said Wednesday that the new regional hub would focus on talent development, scripted partnerships and new content experiences, creating new original drama, [...]

  • THE BACHELORETTE - "The Bachelorette: Season

    'The Bachelor': ABC Announces Leading Man For Season 24

    ABC has cast its next leading man for Season 24 of “The Bachelor.” Peter Weber has officially been named the upcoming “Bachelor.” The announcement was made Tuesday night on ABC’s “Bachelor In Paradise” reunion special. Weber appeared on Season 15 of “The Bachelorette” with Hannah Brown, ultimately becoming the second runner-up. He was a fan-favorite [...]

  • SEAL TEAM stars David Boreanaz (left),

    Showrunner John Glenn Exits 'SEAL Team' at CBS

    CBS is cutting ties with “SEAL Team” showrunner John Glenn, Variety has confirmed. Glenn joined the show for its second season, which premiered in October of last year. Christopher Chulack, Sarah Timberman and Carl Beverly also executive produced. “Regarding ‘SEAL Team,’ I am proud of the work we did – and greatly enjoyed having the chance to [...]

  • NBC Campaign Aims to Reclaim Brand

    NBC Launches Campaign to Reclaim Brand Ownership of Hit Comedies (EXCLUSIVE)

    NBC is preparing a new salvo in the streaming-era TV branding wars. As audiences increasingly watch shows like “The Good Place” and “Superstore” on other platforms, the Peacock network has launched a new campaign to remind them that these are, first and foremost, NBC shows. And they’re even enlisting a real-life peacock to convey the [...]

  • Shane Gillis

    'SNL' Sought Conservative Appeal With Shane Gillis Hire

    “Saturday Night Live” was looking to shake things up with the casting of Shane Gillis — and it did, albeit unintentionally. According to sources, the long-running NBC comedy show and series mastermind Lorne Michaels were actively looking to cast a comedian for its new season who would appeal to more conservative viewers. This was meant [...]

  • TV News Roundup: Netflix Announces Arsenio

    TV News Roundup: Netflix Announces Arsenio Hall's Comedy Special Premiere Date

    In today’s TV news roundup, Netflix announced the premiere date for Arsenio Hall’s comedy special and a “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” duo (among others) will guest star on “Elena of Avalor.” CASTING “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” stars Rachel Brosnahan and Tony Shalhoub, as well as Auli’i Cravalho (“Moana”), John Leguizamo (“When They See Us”), Taye Diggs (“All American”), Eugenio Derbez [...]

  • How 'Save Our Show' Campaigns Affect

    From 'The OA' to 'One Day at a Time': How 'Save Our Show' Campaigns Affect Network Interest

    Organized flash mobs and mounting billboards still may not save your favorite shows, as some fan campaigns are finding out. Following Netflix’s most recent decision to stand firm on its cancellation of “The OA,” the question remains, “what will save these shows?” When networks and streamers find that smaller favorites aren’t big cash cows, fans [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content