If you had predicted that 2023 would be the summer of “Suits” — the USA Network procedural drama that ran from 2011 to 2019 — well, I know you’d be lying. Or else you were a prescient Netflix exec who knows the algorithm so well that you saw it coming. But probably lying.
Because I doubt even Netflix saw this coming. “Suits,” which starred Patrick J. Adams, Gabriel Macht and Gina Torres as lawyers who filed suits while wearing stylish suits, was always a solid player for USA. But it wasn’t one of the bigger shows to come out of that decade’s (now decimated) basic cable boom. Yes, it did have Meghan Markle, but so did “Deal or No Deal,” and that has yet to experience a similar rebound.
More from Variety
Of course, one element fueling the “Suits”-aissance is the so-called Netflix effect. (Yes, “Suits” can also be found on Peacock, but so far that streamer has not developed a “Peacock effect.”) The sheer number of people watching television on Netflix, coupled with the power of said algorithm, can manifest a cultural phenomenon at warp speed.
There are the well-known cases of shows like AMC’s “Breaking Bad” and Pop TV’s “Schitt’s Creek,” which were critically acclaimed but little seen on basic cable — until Netflix flung open the doors, broadening their audience and making them awards darlings near the end of their runs.
Since “Suits” is no longer producing originals, we’ll never see if this Netflix explosion would have made it an Emmy contender for USA. We do know that the other hit off-net procedurals on the streamer that are still churning out originals on the broadcast networks, including CBS’ “NCIS” and ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” have experienced no Netflix effect at the Emmys.
And why is that? Well, there’s the lingering issue of ageism that comes into play when we talk about procedurals and the broadcast networks. We’ve all been guilty of it over the past 15 or so years, dismissing the traditional linear outlets as being too mainstream (and older-skewing) to churn out the kind of “elevated” content found on cable and the streamers. (It works both ways: The CW’s younger-skewing series that turned into Netflix acquired smashes also saw no boost at the Emmys.)
That divide actually harks back to the emergence of demos — and the conventional wisdom that the quality stuff was being produced for the edgy, younger audience, while older viewers dined on more vanilla fare (like procedurals, even though we know those are the kind of shows that have been the meat and potatoes of primetime TV since the very beginning). When I began writing about the business in the mid 1990s, ratings stories still mostly focused on household numbers — which averaged how many homes were watching a show but didn’t take into account individuals. Around that time, NBC led the charge to push the focus toward adults 18-49, arguing that the demo was how the networks sold ad time, so it was the important rating to track.
It was hard to argue against that at a trade publication like Variety, where it’s all about covering what’s impacting the business. And if execs were making decisions based on those adults 18-49 ratings, and not on households, we needed to adjust our focus. CBS, which at the time held the oldest audience, balked at what it called our “suffering from demo-philia.”
These days, the streamers don’t play in demos. So a show like “NCIS” on Netflix is simply seen as a “hit” — not an “older-skewing hit.” The AARP’s list of “TV for Grownups” happens to include most of the biggest shows on streamers (“The Crown,” “Only Murders in the Building,” “The White Lotus”).
It may be too late to think of the broadcast networks as anything but getting older, as that business declines. But as long as we keep moving away from the “demo-philia” that doomed the broadcasters, I’d selfishly say it’s just in time: As I turn 50 in a week, and fall out of the 18-49 demographic, I can hope that my viewership still matters. Also, does this mean I need to go watch “Suits” now?
Best of Variety