When my wife was young, she once asked her father — who was in the commercial real estate business — why a certain local store had gone out of business. He replied sarcastically, “Because they were making too much money.”
I thought of his wise words this week after seeing the outpouring of disbelief over Netflix not renewing its “One Day At A Time” reboot after three seasons. They ask, how and why would such a great show be cancelled? If he were alive today, my father-in-law would answer, “Because too many people were watching.”
As teenagers, Martha and I were fans of the original “One Day At A Time” with Bonnie Franklin, Valerie Bertinelli, Mackenzie Phillips, and Pat Harrington Jr. Like most of Norman Lear’s other sitcoms, it was ahead of its time with its primetime portrayal of a single mother with two teenage daughters. But as the series dragged on, like so many shows, its uniqueness wore off and we moved on to other things. I don’t ever remember seeing it in syndication, and if I did, it wasn’t compelling enough to make me stick around.
When Netflix and Lear brought the concept back, we gave it a chance, mostly out of nostalgia, but also because the cast included Rita Moreno. After watching the first episode, I turned to Martha and asked what she thought. She paused for a half-second before paraphrasing Joe Pesci’s “My Cousin Vinny” line while dismissing a witness: “I’m done with this show.” She was right. After all these years, one episode was enough.
Meanwhile, the show got a lot of attention and press because it centered on a Cuban-American family, a demographic not well-represented on television outside of Telemundo and Univision. It also picked up plenty of support from celebrities and influencers like Lin-Manuel Miranda, who talked it up on social media. Then, when it was cancelled this week, the backlash began.
But I’d bet that most (not all, but a majority) of those speaking out against Netflix’s decision forgot to do their part in keeping “One Day At A Time” on the air. In other words, they weren’t watching the show. Netflix, which is notoriously closed-mouthed about the viewership for its various offerings, issued a statement explaining that “not enough people watched to justify another season.” But that’s not good enough for the outrage class, who predictably see some racist or anti-Latino agenda at work here.
If a restaurant no longer carries your favorite menu item, it’s because not enough other people ordered it. GM stopped producing its Volt hybrid for the same reason. Microsoft quit making its Zune mp3 players because you (and everyone else) preferred the iPod.
I’ve had several shows I loved get yanked off the air (all prematurely as far as I was concerned), including “Sports Night,” “WKRP In Cincinnati,” and “Good Girls Revolt.” I wasn’t happy about it, but never took their dismissals as a personal insult or the results of something nefarious. The simple fact was that, despite my enjoying them, not enough other people shared my enthusiasm, and that’s how business works.
Now “One Day At A Time” fans are appealing to other networks or syndicators to pick it up and resume production. That’s happened before (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Cougar Town,” and even “Taxi” several decades ago) and could happen again, but there’s only one way to ensure that, if it returns, it stays on the air. The fanatics — and a whole lot of others — will have to actually watch the damn thing.
One person at a time.