Netflix Shares Fall Lineup of Dramas, a Musical and a Coming-of-Age Docuseries

The streamer's 2020 series are mostly unscathed by pandemic production pauses

Deaf U, which lands on Netflix Oct. 8, follows four deaf students who attend Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. - Credit by Netflix
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Unlike most broadcasters and even some streamers, Netflix has twice said that the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic hasn’t noticeably interrupted its release calendar so far. For viewers this fall, it will be (almost) as if there was no pandemic at all.

The streaming giant unveiled a number of projects coming to the service beginning in September at today’s CTAM virtual press tour, ranging from Ryan Murphy thriller Ratched, a teen musical from High School Musical’s Kenny Ortega, a docuseries following a group of deaf students and dramatic projects starring Amy Adams and Hilary Swank.

The virtual press tour is partially replacing the annual Television Critics Association’s summer press tour that was canceled this year due to the pandemic.

The wide range of projects and the genres they encompass highlights Netflix’s ongoing aim of being a streamer that aims to offer something for everyone and the lineup also seems to go head-to-head some of the biggest programming on Netflix’s rivals. Disney+, notably, is the home to Ortega’s prior projects High School Musical, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series and American Horror Story, which was originally on FX.

The first of the shows highlighted today that will arrive on Netflix is Away, a drama starring Hilary Swank that follows a group of astronauts who grapple with their choice to take a three-year mission to Mars while their loved ones remain on Earth. The series, which will premiere on Sept. 8, is executive produced by Friday Night Lights and Parenthood creator Jason Katims, who said the series has found a new relevance as Covid-19 effects relationships.

“The idea of being stuck in a tin can for month after month has suddenly resonated in a new way,” Katims said. “The show is about many things, but at its core, it’s a show about the human spirit.”

Also coming to Netflix on Sept. 8 is Julie and the Phantoms, a teen musical comedy series following high schooler Julie, played by Madison Reyes, who forms a band with the ghosts of three musicians following her mom’s death. The series is designed to pull at the heartstrings, with thematic elements centered on “moving through loss and bobbing and weaving through the turbulence of life,” Ortega said on the panel this afternoon.

Ratched, an anticipated project that follows the origin story of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest villain Nurse Ratched, will arrive on the service on Sept. 18. Starring Sarah Paulson as the titular Mildred Ratched, the series, which also stars Cynthia Nixon, Judy Davis and Sharon Stone, features Murphy’s unmistakable saturated style and is co-created by frequent Murphy collaborator Ian Brennan.

And coming Oct. 8 is Deaf U, a coming-of-age documentary series following four deaf students who attend Gallaudet University, a Washington, D.C.-based college dedicated to educating those who are deaf and hard of hearing. The series, which is executive produced in part by model and deaf activist Nyle DiMarco, builds on Netflix’s recent slate of unscripted series successes and will be one of the most high-profile series depicting the varied experiences of those in the deaf community.

“This series is a huge deal,” Cheyenna Clearbrook, one of the four main subjects of the docuseries, told reporters. “I always wanted to join the show because I wanted people to see life through our eyes.”

Netflix announced it was also working on Kings of America, a limited series starring Amy Adams that will follow three women involved in big-box retailer Walmart around the time of a major class-action lawsuit against the company, although a premiere date has not been set.

While post-production for many of Netflix’s fall projects had to be completed remotely, the relatively unscathed fall lineup underscores the benefit the streamer has in working so far in advance—the company had most filming for 2020 complete in April. The same can’t be said for WarnerMedia streamer HBO Max, which had to delay production on its anticipated Friends reunion, or for NBCUniversal streamer Peacock, which saw production delays “materially limit” launch-day originals. (Both streamers will also be present during this summer’s virtual CTAM.)

“We work really far out relative to the industry because we launch our shows with all episodes at once,” chief content officer and newly named co-CEO Ted Sarandos told investors during a quarterly earnings call in April.

The streamer, though, does expect to see some residual delays in 2021.

“For 2021, based on our current plan, we expect the paused productions will lead to a more second half-weighted content slate in terms of our big titles, although we anticipate the total number of originals for the full year will still be higher than 2020,” the company recently told investors in a quarterly shareholder letter.


@kelseymsutton kelsey.sutton@adweek.com Kelsey Sutton is the streaming editor at Adweek, where she covers the business of streaming television.