Chances are, if you have a telly, a Wi-Fi connection and eyes in your head, you have Netflixed – it’s about time someone turned it into a verb – making you one of the 83 million of us hopelessly wedded to the on-demand streaming network and its impossibly brilliant litany of runaway hits. From House of Cards to Stranger Things, the shows it continues to produce are so good, so addictive, and so easy to binge on, that it is singlehandedly responsible for changing the way we consume TV, begging the question: is there anyone actually watching anything else anymore? The woman we have to thank – or blame, perhaps – for the irreversible dent in our sofas, is Vice President of Original Content, Cindy Holland, a Netflix veteran of 14 years who has transformed ye olde night in, and, come to think of it, ye olde night out as well. Come on, don’t tell us you’ve never discussed the evolution of Pablo Escobar’s knitwear in Narcos over a round of drinks. Cindy has helped create this global water-cooler, bonding us with our common obsessions, and often sparking important cultural conversations about everything from holes in the American criminal justice system to the modern-day relevance of the British monarchy. We spoke to the US-born visionary about being a cultural pioneer…
How does it feel to be instrumental in Netflix’s success? Did you expect it?
It’s been an immeasurable joy! We had the early ambition to be a global internet network, so in that sense, yes we expected it. But it’s been very exciting to be part of the speed at which people’s taste has evolved to embrace Netflix.
You used to be a water-skier. What skills did you transfer over?
I loved the discipline and focus of slalom water-skiing and have tried to transfer those skills. I haven’t been on the water in years, but for the past decade I’ve done charity bike rides down the coast of California, which let me turn off my work brain, but still require dedication. There’s something pure about being focused on getting to the top of a hill – and then the thrill of riding down! There are definite parallels to my role now.
Is there a secret to commissioning a hit?
If my team and I truly knew the secrets, we’d all be retired or heading to Vegas! It’s a combination of the right idea, the right people bringing it to life, and timing. I think we’ve been blessed with the ability to spot and nurture great storytellers, our culture of allowing freedom, and the fact that we’re solely beholden to bringing the best execution to our members.
The shows depict empowered women in many guises; is that considered, or is it more instinctive?
Honestly, it’s not a regular conversation we need to have. It’s only natural that they explore diverse characters and issues because we’re a diverse group providing shows for a global audience with eclectic preferences.
What have been the breakthrough moments when it comes to representing empowered women?
From our first year of original programming, both HoC and Orange Is The New Black presented milestones. I think about Claire Underwood as a worthy coconspirator and adversary to Frank, as well as Zoe Barnes as a serious force to be reckoned with. Their value as characters is comparable to Frank – not less. Many of the characters in OITNB were fresh yet relatable, helping bring cultural conversations to light as many people identified with their fundamentally human struggles.
Which female character is the most inspiring, and how important is it that she’s shown as flawed?
The characters I’ve mentioned are inspiring because they’re flawed – it’s critical that women are depicted and celebrated for all of their dimensions. Our goal is to reflect the total human experience across our programming, and strong female characters certainly have a large role within that.
What has been the most surprising success for you and why?
It’s fair to say that although I knew OITNB, Making A Murderer, and Stranger Things were really distinct and memorable, I didn’t anticipate the outsized attention that they all received. We are certainly grateful for it, and seek to live up to the expectations of those audiences. We’re only as good as the reaction of the viewers, whatever their tastes and wherever they may live.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
“Just remember, your opinion as just as important as anyone’s, no matter what title they have and what they wear.”
Photos: Courtesy of Netflix and Getty Images