- Evoking the infamous Will Smith “slap” at the 94th Oscars, Netflix streamed Chris Rock’s live stand-up special, “Selective Outrage,” a week before the 95th Oscars.
- The comedy special held at the Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore marks the first live event to stream on Netflix.
- Netflix plans to invest in more live events to complement its unscripted series, specials and events.
This year’s Oscar host, Jimmy Kimmel, had an easy target to ground his opening monologue; it was of course the return to last year’s Will Smith “slap.” He didn’t need any encouragement and rightly roasted the Fresh Prince. But was it actually Chris Rock himself who had fully enabled the host with his live Netflix Selective Outrage special, which conveniently aired a week earlier.
Eight days earlier in Baltimore, you had to wait a while before Chris Rock fully exorcised his demons from that night but you could feel the outrage coming off him when he did. Netflix itself hadn’t officially made the connection between the timing of the live event and the Oscar ceremony.
Their official reason to unleash Rock in this time slot was because last year they had broadcast Netflix is a Joke: The Festival and had then started to think how great it would have been to have been able to share the great stand-up acts live with their members around the world. “So we started to explore live, it’s only fitting that a Chris Rock live show was our first live event,” said Netflix’s Jake Urbanski, finally acknowledging the perfect timing.
Rock’s live concert streamed from the Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore, which was transformed into a broadcast live studio for the night. “We basically turned the Hippodrome Theatre into a TV studio. They took out over 400 seats. It literally was like a soundstage,” Ron Legler, the president of the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center, home of the Hippodrome Theatre, told the Baltimore Fishbowl.
READ MORE: ‘A very Herculean effort’: How Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre hosted Chris Rock for Netflix’s first-ever live-streamed program. (Baltimore Fishbowl)
There were 13 sweeping cameras with production crews counting down to showtime, while out front Rock launched in to his customary rant for his special, going old-school with a pared down Comedy Store production feel, just him dressed in white against a backdrop sporting the familiar Netflix stripes.
Netflix’s vice president of stand-up and comedy, Robbie Praw, had told the Wall Street Journal that watching a comedy special “live on Netflix is a real change in the construct” it has with its 231 million global subscribers.
But it’s also one that attempts to inject Netflix into the conversation using the methods it disrupted when the company launched its streaming service in 2007.
Back then, it shifted the entire dynamic of appointment television by getting people to talk about the fact that they were binge-watching House of Cards or Orange Is the New Black on social media sites. Now that streaming has left viewers so overwhelmed with choices that every show feels like it’s at “I’ll get to it when I can” status, a live event with a comedian who hasn’t really spoken publicly since the Oscars drama feels like the best way for Netflix to dominate the group chat.
Marianne Garvey at CNN described the pre-show event, which kicked off with comedian Ronny Chieng live from Los Angeles, where he told the crowd, “We could have pre-taped this whole thing and nobody would have cared, but we are doing this for a noble cause: To finally try to kill off traditional TV and put it out of its misery. In fact, if you listen hard you can hear Baby Boomers canceling the last cable subscription packages.”
There was also a post-show special with comedians Arsenio Hall, Dana Carvey, David Spade, Yvone Orji and others.
So, does the reaction Netflix has had encourage them to invest in more live events and not just comedy specials which they’re known for? “Long term, the goal is to complement Netflix’s unscripted series, specials, and events — such as competition series, reunions, and live events,” says Urbanski.
“For example: Live comedy events, results for competition or game shows, reality show reunions, and this year’s SAG Awards, which was previously announced. We’ll have more to share soon, but again — it is meant to be a complement, not a full live slate.”
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