Stranger Things emerged in 2016 as one of the hottest originals on TV, garnering acclaim for its winning blend of sci-fi, horror and 80s homage, to name a few of the assets critics lauded. Hindsight is always applied after the fact though, and it’s easy to think success is an inevitability. For those on set before a production has entered the public domain, things can look very different, and star David Harbour has become the latest person to describe this phenomenon.
Speaking on The Late Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Harbour described his fears for the show during filming of the first season:
“I was sure it was gonna be a complete disaster and a big failure, because, before it came out” he mused on the show’s outlook. “Before it came out, you normally see things on buses. I live in New York, I’m wandering around, buses, phone booths, there are ads for shows. Not a single ad”.
Harbour went further, going on to say Netflix were so discouraged by what they had on their hands that they practically gave up on it.
“Three weeks before the show, a week before the show, and I was doing a play with a friend of mine who’s on a very successful television program, and I said to him, ‘No ads, no ads. I guess they’re doing some kind of new campaign.’
“He said, ‘No, they’re burying the show.’ And I said, ‘What does that mean, burying the show? I don’t understand your television lingo.’ And he said, ‘They hate the show, they’re trying to make sure no one watches it”.
Now, one would be advised to take Harbour’s claims on the extent to which Netflix tried “burying” a now wildly successful IP with a pinch of salt (it’s a great soundbite to be sure). This is doubled down when he quotes a friend’s hyperbolic postulation that Netflix “hated” the fledgling production.
Having said that, it’s hardly unlikely the studio had doubts about Stranger Things’s commercial prospects. Original projects without star-studded cast lists are always a risk, and even the most prosperous success stories were once flops in the making. Luckily for Harbour, and for Netflix, this potential flop turned out to be a knockout.