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Netflix tries more live programming with standup specials and Tom Brady roast

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Netflix has been doing live events all week. A talk show hosted by comic John Mulaney wraps up its six-night run tonight.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "EVERYBODY'S IN LA")

JOHN MULANEY: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to "Everybody's In LA." We are live on Netflix right now around the world with no delay. It is 7:01 p.m. in Los Angeles. It is 70 degrees.

FADEL: The streamer's experiment with live programming also included a stand-up special from comedian Katt Williams and a roast of retired NFL quarterback Tom Brady. So are subscribers into it? Here to fill us in is NPR's TV critic, Eric Deggans. Good morning.

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Hi.

FADEL: OK. So what I love about Netflix and other streamers is that I can watch whenever, but now Netflix live? Why?

DEGGANS: (Laughter) Well, you know, traditional TV platforms still seem to have this advantage over streaming in live spectacles, like sporting events and topical programming like news and talk shows, so it means something to see the most successful streaming service to try and get in that space. Now, these live events were part of the Netflix Is A Joke Festival, which is this huge event, literally hundreds of stand-up comedy performances across Los Angeles, and as part of that festival, Netflix had something they called "The Greatest Roast Of All Time." It's a bunch of celebrities and comics who made fun of Tom Brady without bleeps, without filters and without editing. So let's listen to a joke from comic Nikki Glaser about Brady's divorce.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE GREATEST ROAST OF ALL TIME: TOM BRADY ")

NIKKI GLASER: Tom Brady: five-time Super Bowl MVP; most career wins; most career touchdowns. You have seven rings - well, eight now that Gisele gave hers back, but...

DEGGANS: Ouch.

(LAUGHTER)

DEGGANS: So the Brady roast debuted on Sunday, but it was still No. 1 on Netflix's top 10 list of TV shows yesterday.

FADEL: I mean, I guess that's the real question. I mean, we heard John Mulaney there say - give proof that it was live, right? Seventy degrees, 7:01 p.m.

DEGGANS: (Laughter)

FADEL: Are these live events working, though, for Netflix?

DEGGANS: Well, I think Netflix has had some mixed success there. I mean, the Katt Williams and Tom Brady events were huge. They had a little less success with a glitchy live reunion show for its popular reality series "Love Is Blind" last year.

FADEL: Right.

DEGGANS: And John Mulaney's show, it looked like it might reinvent the talk show format, but I think every episode has been a little less entertaining. I think there, Netflix is learning that sometimes editing and infrastructure can make a big difference in making talk shows consistently compelling.

FADEL: OK. So some things working, some things not working. Any idea what else Netflix is considering adding to its content?

DEGGANS: Well, there's always that speculation that Netflix is testing the waters for some new, major sports deal. I mean, in July, they're going to present a live boxing match between 27-year-old Jake Paul and 57-year-old former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson. They cut a multibillion-dollar deal for WWE pro wrestling next year, and there's always these rumblings that they might get an NFL pro football game.

Now, as much as Netflix has defined and pioneered this idea of binge watching that you talked about, you know, there's also this need among viewers for appointment television. There are shows that are so special, you want to watch them as they're happening, either because you can't wait or you want to avoid spoilers or you want to have a communal experience. Now, these successful live shows indicate Netflix can do more. What form that takes and how their competitors react, that's going to be one of the most important media stories of the next year.

FADEL: That's NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Thanks, Eric.

DEGGANS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.