Why Doesn’t Netflix Carry Season 4 of The Twilight Zone?
It’s a question I hear fairly often from Twilight Zone fans: Why doesn’t Netflix stream Season 4 of The Twilight Zone?
You click the drop-down menu, and you see Seasons 1, 2, and 3 listed … and then 5. What gives?
I’ve seen a lot of guesses on Facebook and head-scratching on Twitter, so let’s just cut to the real reason. It’s not because Netflix couldn’t get the rights to Season 4 or anything like that. It’s simply that they don’t want to pay for what is arguably TZ’s least-popular season.
Season 4, for those who aren’t already aware, is when The Twilight Zone began producing hour-long episodes. Eighteen of them (about half the length of a typical season back then) aired between January 3, 1963 and May 23, 1963. For Season 5, TZ reverted to the half-hour format that had served it so well during its first three seasons.
Whether you’re a fan of Season 4 or not (opinions vary widely in the Zone community), even those who like at least some of the hour-long episodes can’t deny that TZ was best-suited to the shorter-running time. It’s the 30-minute tales that are seared in our memory. So that’s what Netflix has decided to pay for.
For that to make sense, it’s important to know that streaming providers who want to carry a particular series have to pay a licensing fee to the owners of that series in order to do so. In the case of The Twilight Zone, the owner is CBS. So if Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime want to stream TZ, they must pay what is, in essence, a rental fee to CBS. Both sides negotiate a price and a time frame. When that time is up, they can extend it or end it.
Seems simple, but you have to keep a couple things in mind. One is that, depending on the show, the price can be quite expensive. It can even run into the millions of dollars. So you can see why streamers like Netflix want to keep costs down. Otherwise they’ll have to jack up subscriber fees — and subscribers don’t like that.
Small wonder, then, that the streamers prefer to create their own original content. Then they own it outright. Everything is much easier and more financially rewarding that way.
Still, popular “non-original” shows like The Office can help a streamer get and keep subscribers. So they try their best to hold on to them — as long as those shows keep performing well and attracting a lot of eyeballs.
Even then, however, a show may leave. The Office left Netflix once its contract was up not because it wasn’t popular, but because its owner, NBC, wanted fans to follow the show to their Peacock option.
So if you’re a streamer who wants to hold onto a show like The Twilight Zone, and yet you hope to save money to funnel to your award-winning and prestige-attracting originals, what’s your best option? Don’t bother streaming those relatively unknown hour-long episodes in Season 4. Stick to the famous stuff.
As I’ve noted in a previous post, we’re lucky to have Twilight Zone so widely available. Many vintage shows — and I don’t mean obscure stuff, but shows that were hugely popular back in their day and later in seemingly endless reruns — are gone from streamers like Netflix. In some cases, that’s the owner’s doing (as with The Office), but in others, it’s because the streamer is trying to cut costs.
How long will The Twilight Zone be streaming on Netflix? I wish I knew. I hope it’s a good long time, however. Yes, I’m well aware that it’s on disc, and believe me, I love my extras-laden DVDs and Blu-rays. And yes, I know I can catch reruns on Syfy and MeTV (with cut scenes and obnoxious ads). But even if you don’t watch TZ on Netflix, it’s good for the show that it’s there, I can assure you.
Why? It’s a great way for the series to gain new fans, for one thing. We have to remember, few people will seek out TZ (or any retro show, even a seminal one like TZ) elsewhere. As I’ve said before, convenience rules. If it’s not handy, it’s dead — or at least dying. And for now, Netflix is the king of the streamers. So it’s good for everyone that you can cue up an episode easily, at any time, on any device.
With luck, The Twilight Zone will last longer than Pamela Morris in TZ’s “Queen of the Nile.” I just hope it can do so without resorting to homicidal Egyptian scarabs.
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Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!