Netflix saved Longmire

Netflix saved Longmire

LongmireI’m a fan of the television series Longmire. Based on the Walt Longmire Mysteries crime drama series by Craig Johnson, the stories feature a cast of interesting characters, very human crimes, and the breathtaking landscape of Wyoming (played in the show by New Mexico).

The first 2 seasons did, anyway. The 3rd season jumped the shark in a big way.

The camera angles got all funky, and the lighting went weird, and the music became overbearing, and the characters were trying very hard to be themselves but the storylines were so odd, and in some cases outrageous, that only the dread big C (coincidence) could bail them out.

A&E abruptly dropped the show, and Netflix picked it up for Season 4.

What happened?

From a writer’s perspective, I sniffed immediately the hand of a controlling executive producer who decided the show needed to be juiced up. Maybe he (and it was probably a “he”) had read some reviews on IMDB. Maybe he’d run into a Chicago Tribune critic at a cocktail party. Maybe he just decided that, with the ongoing success of slick, jump-cut, high-drama shows with loud, meaningful music, Longmire needed to be more like those rather than more like itself.

Because in its best self, this show is as much a character study as a crime drama. It cares about the crimes, yes, but the human story sitting behind the crime of passion, or the crime of mercy, or the crime of selfishness is the real focus of the show. It cares about the sometimes-ambiguous line that sometimes separates the good from the bad, the just from the unjust. It delights in surprising us by revealing another dimension to a character we think we’ve pegged. It has damn funny understated jokes and wonderful secondary characters. At least in Seasons 1 and 2.

As Dear Him and I were slogging our way through the un-Longmire-like Season 3, we talked a lot about how badly the show was going off the rails — and we wondered whether we’d bother to even look at Season 4. Yes, it was that bad.

But we’re now 4 episodes into Season 4, and it’s clear that the Controlling Hand of the Juiced-Up Executive Producer has gone. The show has recaptured its original groove with its easy pacing, lingering landscape shots, and the gradual revelation of detail that also functions to further the development of the main characters. The sense of the town residing in a larger, diverse community — not separate from that community like an island, but deeply embedded in it — is back.

I like to think this is because Netflix famously has a hands-off approach to creative. It’s not beholden to ratings or trying to beat another big network for viewership. So when Netflix thinks a series is promising, it orders an entire season of shows and then leaves the production alone, allowing the creative folks to do what they feel needs to be done to create a quality product.

If you’re seeing an analogy here with self-publishing, you’re seeing what I’m seeing. As writers working outside traditional publishing houses, we’re no longer beholden to someone else’s creative vision and bottom line. We’re able to tell our stories the way we see fit — a luxury ultimately afforded (as I understand) to the top selling authors in the trad world, but not so much to the midlist authors. Everyone else has to either compromise and coordinate their storytelling with the expectations of the major publishing house, or pull the book.

Don’t think for an instant that I’m saying the trad houses are unreasonable — I had only great experiences with my editor at Silhouette — but the purpose of the trad house is to increase profits. The Why?, as Simon Sinek would say, of the general publishing industry has become primarily financial. It has to. Most of the trad houses are huge. They have bills to pay, and employees to feed, and stockholders to appease.

And when the focus of the business is set that firmly on revenue, there’s a natural shift from “we want to bring great books to readers” to “we want to make more money to stay solvent in a rapidly changing world.”

We authors aren’t islands, and we need support groups of fellow authors, critique partners, beta readers, cover artists, publicists, and all the rest. But we continue to have a great opportunity to create and fulfill our own vision for our stories — with hard work, humility, and a dedication to the long-haul.

No Controlling Hand of the Juiced-Up Executive Producer required.

Sandra K. Moore

Sandra K. Moore has been writing one thing or another since she could scribble on a Big Chief tablet. A former Silhouette Bombshell author, Sandra has given up (temporarily) the kickass heroine and is now writing from her softer side for the self-published Promise House series. This novella quartet explores the journeys of four young women finding their way — and remaining true to themselves — through the social expectations and turmoil of 1950’s Houston.

7 thoughts on “Netflix saved Longmire

  1. Sandra, I love this analogy! And now I want to find Longmire on Netflix! Something to keep me occupied while I’m recuperating.

    Amazon has changed the world of publishing and is bringing us a plethora of quality stories that would have never made it in the traditional world. I celebrate that Netflix can do the same for television! Of course, just like self publishing, there will be gems and the opposite of gems – but the reader, and now the viewer, benefits from the opportunity to judge for themselves! Exciting days! Changing times!

    1. I think you’ll enjoy the Longmire storytelling, Terri.

      What amazes me most about the Netflix approach is that it’s an all-or-nothing gamble: they order the entire season and then launch the entire season at once. In most of the Netflix productions I’ve seen, the creatives have wisely chosen to err on the side of less rather than more — they tend not to drag stories out forever or go over the top dramatically.

      It’s a calculated risk, and I’m not sure what the business model really is, but I do know that when Steve and I are poking around for something to watch, we start with Netflix…

  2. I’m a huge fan of Longmire, and felt as you did that season three started getting . . . well weird. Over the top. I lamented, and not just on this show, why they (whoever “they” we’re talking about) often deviates from a winning formula. Sheriff Longmire had a code and he was a good man, but every now and then, means justified the ends. And seeing how he rationalized that was fun. And juxtaposed against the emotional and personal stories was a crime to be solved. All that being said, my little three book stories that I planned to pop out there quick-like has (as is my wont) morphed into so much more. And now the question of who my target audience is has become fuzzy. So while on the one hand I can see the value of traditional publishing and what they bring in terms of focus and marketing, on the other hand I LOVE the freedom to write what I want to write. Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

    1. I love a complex character, and Walt Longmire is definitely one. He can be a horse’s ass sometimes, but I like him all the same because his motivation for being an ass is clear and, most importantly, easy to relate to.

      Your three stories have a lot of promise, I think. Your characters are also complex and I don’t mind being challenged by that as a reader as long as I understand why said characters are doing what they’re doing. As we discussed the other night, there’s a lot going on between LeAnn and Jack on several levels, so you have plenty to play with there.

      So… When will we see pages from you again? Hmm???? 🙂

  3. Never heard of this series, but sounds like a good one.

    The deal here goes back to your writing goals. If your goal is to write the story YOU want to write for the joy it brings you — and any pennies it might earn you along the way — then Amazon is your salvation. But if your goal is SELL books, even at Amazon, you have to play the publishing game — Minor League rules and payouts, for sure, but you have to play all the same.

  4. You make it sound like it’s either/or. It can be both, and I suspect many authors are clear-eyed about that.

    Either way, a heavy editorial hand can tank a book or a series in a hurry. I’m just glad Longmire found its way to Netflix so its creative team could return to the vision that made it a popular series to begin with.

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