Netflix 2.0 officially kicked off on February 6, 2012, when “Lilyhammer” debuted on the nascent streaming service. That show, a fish-out-of-water mob drama starring Steven Van Zandt, is leaving Netflix next month, IndieWire has confirmed.
While “Lilyhammer” is considered Netflix’s very first original series, it was actually a licensed show that had began airing just 12 days earlier on Norwegian broadcast channel TV NRK. Netflix streams actually lapped the Norway telecast due to the Los Gatos, California streaming service’s episode-dump strategy, which was revolutionary at the time. (Then again, so was the streaming thing itself and a strict no-commercials pledge, one of which has since gone the way of “Lilyhammer.”)
Netflix’s 10-year license to stream the show in the U.S. expires in November and the deal is not being extended, a person with knowledge of the plans told us. Much has changed over the decade of “Lilyhammer” in the library: Netflix now has 223 million global paid subscribers. Back in “Lilyhammer’s” day, the streamer had 23 million subs — or a full 200 million fewer.
This past February, Netflix threw a big bash to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the show that started it all. Without “Lilyhammer,” there may not have been a “House of Cards” or an “Orange Is the New Black,” which are the two original series that probably come to mind when thinking about Netflix’s early days.
In a February 6, 2022 blog post, Netflix co-CEO and chief content officer Ted Sarandos recalled his initial phone call from Van Zandt pitching the show for the platform. “I asked if we could read the scripts and Stevie said, “Scripts? I can send you the whole season,” Sarandos wrote. “We watched it and we loved it.” It sure helped that Ted was “a huge fan of his music.” (In addition to a solo career, Little Steven plays guitar and mandolin in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.)
And Sarandos, like so many others, really liked Van Zandt as Silvio Dante on “The Sopranos.” At the time, Netflix’s HBO-like aspirations were a pipe dream; where better to begin? On “Lilyhammer,” Van Zandt again plays a mobster. This one, hitman Frank Tagliano, enters the FBI’s Witness Protection program and ships out to live the simple life in Norway. Turns out, it’s not so simple.
But perhaps even more directly, without “Lilyhammer,” there may not have been a “Squid Game,” the South-Korean import that is still — by far — Netflix’s biggest smash hit to-date. While “Lilyhammer” was “an unorthodox choice for our first show,” Sarandos wrote, “it worked because it was a deeply local story that we could share with the world.”
“The jokes and references worked locally and the more universal themes of the shows traveled perfectly,” he continued. “Since then, we’ve seen so many great local stories resonate with people in other countries and from other cultures: shows and films set anywhere and told in any language.”
One of them amassed 1.35 billion hours viewed within its first 28 days of availability. Thank you, “Lilyhammer.” Oh wait, we took the words right out of Ted’s mouth.
“Thank you ‘Lilyhammer’ and Stevie Van Zandt for starting this incredible ten-year journey,” Sarandos concluded his blog post. “It’s always hard to predict what’s to come in the next ten but one thing is certain: we’ll have many more great stories from anywhere that can be loved everywhere.”
You know, just not “Lilyhammer” — not for much longer. Binge a bit of history while you still can: all 24 episodes of the two-season series are available on Netflix until next month.
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