×
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

  • Friends From College

    'Friends From College' Canceled by Netflix

    Netflix has canceled comedy series “Friends From College” after two seasons. “Friends from College will not return for a third season,” a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement Monday. “We’re grateful to creators Nick Stoller and Francesca Delbanco for creating a wise, funny and supremely relatable show. We also want to thank the hard-working crew, [...]

  • Mandy Moore

    Mandy Moore Opens Up About Her Marriage to Ryan Adams: ‘I Was So Sad’

    Mandy Moore opened up about her marriage to Ryan Adams on Monday’s episode of Marc Maron’s “WTF” podcast. While the interview was taped before the publication of the Feb. 13 New York Times report in which multiple women, including Moore, accuse Adams of sexual misconduct or emotionally abusive behavior, she speaks freely about the “unhealthy dynamic” in [...]

  • Lisa Borders Time's Up

    Time's Up President Lisa Borders Resigns

    Lisa Borders has resigned as president of Time’s Up, she and the organization announced on Monday. Borders is resigning due to family issues, she said in a statement. Time’s Up COO Rebecca Goldman will now serve as interim CEO. “As Time’s Up continues to grow, I am proud of the work I have done to [...]

  • Alfonso Cuaron71st Annual Writers Guild Awards,

    Alfonso Cuarón on Academy's 'Inevitable' Reversal on Televised Oscar Categories

    Alfonso Cuarón isn’t exactly surprised that the Academy reversed its decision and will now air all the Oscar categories during the live show on Sunday. Feb. 24. Calling the decision “inevitable,”Cuarón tells Variety that he thinks the Academy should take things even further. “Let’s stop calling them technical categories!” he told Variety on Sunday night [...]

  • Desus Nice The Kid Mero

    TV Shows to Watch the Week of Feb. 18, 2019: Academy Awards, 'Desus & Mero'

    Welcome back to Tune In: our weekly newsletter offering a guide to the best of the week’s TV. Each week, Variety’s TV team combs through the week’s schedule, selecting our picks of what to watch and when/how to watch them. This week, the Academy Awards air and Desus & Mero make their debut on Showtime. [...]

  • WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01

    BBC Takes Stake in New Company Set Up by ‘Luther,’ ‘Bodyguard’ Exec

    BBC Studios has taken a minority stake in Firebird Pictures, the new drama indie being set up by BBC execs Elizabeth Kilgarriff and Craig Holleworth. Kilgarriff’s credits include “Luther,” “Poldark,” “McMafia” and upcoming Richard Gere-starrer “MotherFatherSon.” She commissioned breakout drama hit “Bodyguard.” Holleworth will be the new company’s COO, having run business and operations for [...]

  • Punisher Jessica Jones

    Marvel's 'The Punisher,' 'Jessica Jones' Canceled at Netflix

    The last of Netflix’s Marvel shows are officially ending. “The Punisher” has been canceled after its second season, and the upcoming third season of “Jessica Jones” will be its last, Netflix confirmed on Monday. The announcement comes after Netflix gave the ax to its other Marvel series: “Daredevil,” “Iron First,” and “Luke Cage.” “Marvel’s ‘The Punisher’ will [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content