Netflix announced Thursday that it wouldn’t renew the sitcom “One Day at a Time” for a fourth season. Just minutes later, co-creator Gloria Calderón Kellett tweeted, “This happens. This is part of the gig.”
She’s right, as it isn’t unusual for critical darlings to be canceled because of poor ratings. But something felt different about the online response to this particular cancellation: Fans weren’t just frustrated; they were angry.
“One Day at a Time,” a reboot of Norman Lear’s CBS series, explored social issues through the lens of the Cuban American Alvarez family and served as an example of Netflix’s expressed commitment to highlighting diverse stories. The streamer has positioned itself as a progressive company through such campaigns, along with its first-person Twitter presence, which made fans only angrier when it got rid of an acclaimed source of Latino representation and, while doing so, tried to leverage that past achievement to endear itself to subscribers.
“The choice did not come easily — we spent several weeks trying to find a way to make another season work but in the end simply not enough people watched to justify another season,” the Netflix account tweeted.
This logic isn’t unusual, but for fans, it was frustrating to hear coming from Netflix because, unlike traditional TV networks, streaming services’ ratings and viewership statistics aren’t readily available to the public. Netflix rarely shares such numbers, except to brag about how many people are watching movies such as “Bird Box” or acquired series such as “You.” And even then, as FX chief John Landgraf has pointed out, there is no way to determine whether those numbers are true or how they were measured.
Fans don’t know what it really means that “simply not enough people watched.” What sort of audiences did Netflix hope to reach? How did the show’s numbers compare with those of shows that did get renewed? It’s hard to say goodbye with unanswered questions.
Netflix, of course, is under no obligation to share such figures. But adding to the upset, the company tried to mask the business decision with what many considered to be performative hand-wringing. After tweeting thanks to Kellett and co-creator Mike Royce for “always making us laugh and never shying away from bravely and beautifully tackling tough subject matter in a meaningful way,” Netflix thanked the cast for “inviting us into your family” and making the show feel “like home.”
Then it addressed the public.
“And to anyone who felt seen or represented — possibly for the first time — by ODAAT, please don’t take this as an indication your story is not important,” Netflix tweeted. “The outpouring of love for this show is a firm reminder to us that we must continue finding ways to tell these stories.”
Critics have previously pointed to the Netflix account’s use of first person and detached fandom as a way for the company to try to relate to fans, including those disheartened by the “One Day at a Time” cancellation. But it struck many as an odd way to relay this announcement, given that the company itself made the decision. Netflix, which is worth billions of dollars, just months ago spent $100 million to keep “Friends” on its service. Sure, the popular NBC series might be a better business investment. But with such deep pockets, fans felt that Netflix could afford to continue to tell the Alvarez family’s story.
“I can’t thank Netflix and our partners at Sony enough for the three seasons, but I wish I could understand Netflix’s decision to not pick us up for a fourth,” Lear, an executive producer, said in a tweeted statement. “Is there really so little room in business for love and laughter?"
Netflix chief Ted Sarandos, as if anticipating the negative response, issued a rare cancellation statement that seems to place the blame on subscribers: “While it’s disappointing that more viewers didn’t discover ‘One Day at a Time,’ I believe the series will stand the test of time,” he stated. (The company declined to comment on the backlash.)
“One Day a Time” follows Cuban American nurse and Afghanistan veteran Penelope (Justina Machado), a single mother raising her teenage children, Elena (Isabella Gomez) and Alex (Marcel Ruiz), with the help of their meddling grandmother Lydia (Rita Moreno). Such a family dynamic is ripe for storytelling, but Kellett and Royce went further by tastefully incorporating a number of social issues: Elena, for instance, comes out as a lesbian to her father in the first season’s finale and must deal with his stinging rejection.
Before the show’s release, as The Washington Post’s Hank Stuever noted in his review, it had been years since a multicamera sitcom seemed “so instinctively comfortable in its own skin. It doesn’t try to subvert or improve on the sitcom format; it simply exhibits faith that the sitcom genre can still work in a refreshing and relevant way.” The sentiment that revived the “Roseanne” sitcom applies here, too: The “One Day at a Time” team has previously pointed out that the Alvarezes are as interesting and authentic a working-class American family as the Conners.
Others have taken notice, as well. Lin-Manuel Miranda, who previously lobbied for another network to pick up “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” after Fox canceled it, is among the fans who have shared the #SaveODAAT hashtag in an effort to get the show picked up by another network. Kellett and Royce expressed in a joint statement that they would be joining producer Sony Pictures Television in looking for another home, and Lear’s producing partner, Brent Miller, told The Post that while they probably wouldn’t take the show to a competing streamer, they would be open to discussing a future with broadcast networks.
“I understand that unless we’re the evening news, eventually everything has to end, but I wish it could end in a way that we all planned for,” Miller said. “The stories need to live on. The family isn’t done.”