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‘The Prom’ Puts Ryan Murphy’s Netflix Appeal to the Test

Cheyne Gateley/VIP

With splashy musical set to launch Friday, Netflix has to be hoping its latest collaboration with producer Ryan Murphy hits a higher note than the previous output from their $300 million overall pact. 

The first fruits of Murphy’s megadeal, the one Netflix signed back in February 2018, have not delivered the kind of series draws that rank among the streaming service’s reigning hits. But with strong reviews that have largely eluded those of his early Netflix efforts and a star-studded cast, “The Prom” could well be the one that will do more than anything else to make that $300 million worth it.

New data provided exclusively to Variety Intelligence Platform by 7Park Data suggests “The Prom” doesn’t have too tough an act to follow.   

Take “The Politician,” which, though produced under his former Fox banner, marked Murphy’s first streaming original. S1 of the series reached 3.8% of Netflix viewers in 7Park Data’s panel during the month of October 2019, which started three days after the season premiered on September 27.  

However, “Hollywood,” which is technically Murphy’s first series created under his Netflix megadeal, reached 4.5% of Netflix viewers measured by 7Park in May, the month it debuted. That figure tops the 7Park-measured Netflix reach of either season of “The Politician” in the month following their debuts.  

And most recently, Ryan Murphy’s “Ratched” nabbed an impressive 10.8% of Netflix viewers measured by 7Park Data in its debut month of September. That signal(by 7Park’s count) “Ratched was the third biggest show on Netflix that month and the most successful Ryan Murphy Netflix original by launch month reach to date.  

Ratched” is the only Murphy show for which Netflix has touted viewership figures during its quarterly Netflix earnings call to date. 

Each has launched as top 10 shows for Netflix, suggesting the name recognition that comes with Murphy gets subscriber attention — no small feat on a streaming service that boasts a very crowded lineup. And each launch has done slightly better the next.

But while “Ratched” is showing decent staying power so far, the first two efforts sank more quicklyA troubling sign for “The Politician” is that S2 debuted to reach just over 2% of 7Park Data panel viewers when it debuted in June 2020, lower than the amount of viewers S1 reached in the month following its bow. 

One thing that’s noticeable in these audience-share charts is the quick drop-off of audience share percentages to <1% in the months following debut. But it’s quite typical for the audience share of Netflix originals to exhibit this type of trajectory via 7Park Data 

Still, even with seemingly improving series debuts, Murphy’s overall track record looks more lukewarm when his debuts are compared with the splashes of other series that Netflix itself has suggested are successful. 

For example, while “Ratched” debuted big, Netflix has had plenty of bigger-debuting series, like “The Witcher” and hit docuseries “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.”   

Sure, “The Witcher” and “Tiger King” may be outliers and overperformers in the Netflix universe, but Murphy is on a nine-figure deal, which would suggest he’s expected to create more overperformers and outliers than shows that debut pretty well but fade away rather quickly like most other Netflix originals. 

Keep in mind the value of Murphy to Netflix can’t be measured by ratings alone. Critical acclaim and cultural cachet also must be factored, plus the cachet that comes with being in business with him helped pave the way for other big producers to work with the streaming service. 

It’s also possible that viewers initially driven to Netflix to watch a Murphy series become super fans of another Netflix original like “The Crown” after quickly trying out something like “Hollywood” or “Ratched.” And that signals further Murphy value to Netflix that ratings alone may not capture. 

Luckily, Murphy has more than a few swings left to create a Netflix superstarUp next for him includes S2 of “Ratched” and a limited series called “Halston,” featuring Ewan McGregor, both of which are due sometime in 2021. A docuseries about Andy Warhol, a series adaption of “A Chorus Line” and a limited series following Jeffrey Dahmer are also in the works, though release dates on those projects are unclear.