×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Netflix Run Brings U.K.’s ‘Black Mirror’ Into Light for U.S. Auds

A bizarre and unsettling British sci-fi series that no traditional American TV network wanted to touch, “Black Mirror” has vaulted into the cultural zeitgeist Stateside after Netflix bought exclusive U.S. streaming rights for the show, whose two seasons originally aired on the U.K.’s Channel 4.

Netflix’s Dec. 1 domestic debut of the anthology series generated a crackle of excitement on social media — and drew renewed attention in Hollywood circles. Robert Downey Jr. was onboard back in 2013, when his Team Downey production company acquired rights to make a film at Warner Bros. based on the show’s “The Entire History of You” episode.

“Loved ‘Black Mirror,’ ” Stephen King tweeted Dec. 7. “Terrifying, funny, intelligent. It’s like ‘The Twilight Zone,’ only rated R.”

In fact, the show was conceived as a techno-paranoid 21st-century spin on the Rod Serling classic, according to exec producer Annabel Jones. “Black Mirror” — the title refers to the digital screens that pervade modern life — was created and written by Charlie Brooker (thriller “Dead Set”) and is produced by Endemol U.K.

“The thing we kept coming back to was this uncomfortable relationship we have with technology,” says Jones, managing director of Endemol’s House of Tomorrow banner. “Suddenly it’s had this global impact.”

Until now, the only way American audiences have been able to legally catch “Black Mirror” has been on DirecTV (it’s not on DVD or digital in the U.S.). The satcaster is miffed that Netflix seems to be getting credit for importing the show. “Am I happy something I have exclusively is on Netflix? No,” says Chris Long, DirecTV’s senior VP of original content and production.

Looking for a silver lining, Long is hopeful the Netflix pickup will drive awareness for the “Black Mirror: White Christmas” special, which will run exclusively on DirecTV on Dec. 25. The special, starring Jon Hamm, Rafe Spall and Oona Chaplin, comprises three interwoven stories “brimming with near-future madness,” Endemol says.

It’s not surprising U.S. cablers were initially hesitant about the series: In the first episode, a terrorist kidnaps a British princess and, via a YouTube video, says she’ll be executed unless the country’s prime minister copulates with a pig on live TV. “A lot of people were genuinely appalled,” Jones admits.

Plus, each season is only three episodes of varying length (42-60 minutes each), which makes it a challenge for a network to market. And as an anthology series with no recognizable stars, nets were concerned it might not appeal to Americans, says Endemol Worldwide Distribution CEO Cathy Payne.

“There was a lot of interest from a wide variety of (U.S.) networks,” Payne says. “But at the end of the day, everybody said ‘no’ except DirecTV.” Endemol even offered first-run rights to Netflix, which declined to take the deal.

The show has traveled well: Endemol has sold “Black Mirror” to broadcasters in more than 90 countries including China, Russia, Australia, France, Spain and Germany.

For its part, Netflix declined to make an exec available for an interview or explain why it acquired “Black Mirror.” Typically, the company doesn’t comment on individual title acquisitions, although it likes to boast about its practice of analyzing user data to inform its content strategy.

As for an American remake of “Black Mirror,” Jones says she and Brooker are not interested in licensing the format. For a U.S. adaption, Brooker would be the showrunner and House of Tomorrow would produce it. The team has resisted optioning movie rights, too, she says, with the Team Downey pact the only such deal on that front.

If there’s a third season of “Black Mirror,” DirecTV has right of first refusal. Given the reception the show has seen so far worldwide, that seems a safe bet.

More TV

  • Paula Pell

    Quibi Orders Comedic Murder Mystery From Lorne Michaels, 'SNL' Alums

    Quibi keeps shelling out cash for content: Jeffrey Katzenberg’s richly funded startup has ordered a short-form murder-mystery comedy written by and starring former “Saturday Night Live” writers Paula Pell and John Lutz, and executive produced by Lorne Michaels’ Broadway Video alongside Seth Meyers and Mike Shoemaker. In “Mapleworth Murders,” Pell (pictured above) is Abigail Mapleworth, [...]

  • Sky

    Comcast Expected to Appoint Maximo Ibarra as New Sky Italia CEO

    Colombian-Italian executive Maximo Ibarra is expected to be appointed CEO of Comcast-owned pay-TV operation Sky Italia, which has been without a chief executive for the past seven months, a source close to Sky Italia tells Variety. An announcement is believed imminent that Ibarra will be the Italian paybox’s new chief after it was announced Tuesday [...]

  • Lil Nas X arrives at the

    Lil Nas X, Young Thug, Jamie XX Highlight Adult Swim Festival Lineup

    The second annual Adult Swim Festival is set to take place on Friday, November 15 and Saturday, November 16 at Los Angeles’ Banc Of California Stadium. Music acts on the bill include Lil Nas X (pictured), Jamie xx, Vince Staples, Young Thug, Dethklok, Captain Murphy and Tierra Whack, among many others. Additional offerings include comedy [...]

  • 'Live P.D.' Host Dan Abrams Brings

    'Live P.D.' Host Dan Abrams Brings New Order to Law-Focused Media

    Each weekday at 2 p.m., Dan Abrams talks to America for an hour about the law, politics and media. He’s been working steadily to expand the conversation. Abrams hosts an afternoon show on satellite-broadcaster SiriusXM, where he holds forth on the Mueller Report (if you haven’t read it, don’t try to debate him on what [...]

  • Sky takeover. Undated file photo of

    Katie Keenan to Head Sky Cinema Acquisitions

    Katie Keenan is joining Sky as head of acquisitions at Sky Cinema, and will oversee film deals for the pay-TV giant’s channels. Keenan is a seasoned buyer. Most recently she was at Viacom’s international division and acquiring programming for its free-TV Channel 5 operation in the U.K., as well as for cable channels including Comedy [...]

  • NEW YORK, NY – JUNE, 24:

    LGBTQ Stars Honored at Variety’s Power of Pride Celebration

    New York City felt the full power of pride on Monday, as Variety celebrated its inaugural issue devoted to the annual recognition of LGBTQ people worldwide. At an intimate gathering at Mr. Purple, the rooftop bar at Hotel Indigo Lower East Side in Manhattan, Variety’s cover stars and luminaries gathered for cocktails and the unveiling [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content