Does Netflix Truly Best HBO in TV Programming?

Does Netflix really top the cable giant HBO in TV programming content? Clarence thinks not.

Within a week of this posting, someone will call me an elitist snob. I guarantee. And that’s fine, but you’ll never make me believe that Netflix holds superior TV programming over HBO.

As posted in today’s Variety, a Morgan Stanley polled just over 2,500 Americans on the subject of which premium TV or Internet streaming service had the best original content. For the first time since the origination of the survey six years ago, Netflix led the pack and beat perennial champ HBO 29 percent to 18 percent. 34 percent of the respondents answered with “I don’t know.”

This shift is more damaging to HBO than rewarding to Netflix, ultimately. HBO’s 13-point drop in the poll (down from 31% a year ago) comes at a time when HBO’s original content lineup has been plagued with setback after setback. It’s new Martin Scorsese-produced Vinyl disappointed in its premiere and has already seen showrunner Terence Winter leave the series. Then, there’s the problem of Westworld, a reportedly very experience sci-fi series which recently stopped production due to unresolved script concerns. No premiere date has been established for the Anthony Hopkins starrer.

Effectively, the cable giant has been unable to reliably replicate its highly successful programming block of Emmy winners Game of Thrones and Veep as well as critic darling Silicon Valley.

Netflix, on the other hand, may have yet to fully hit a home run with Emmy-winning comedy or drama series, but they’ve hit a hell of a lot of solid doubles. The uptick in popular opinion does come at a great time for the streaming service as it recently announced its first subscription price increase in years.

But looking head to head at HBO and Netflix’s programming, I find it very hard to crown Netflix the champion over HBO. No Netflix drama can even try touching the epic scale, dramatic thrills, and emotional depth of Game of Thrones. Sure, I like the Marvel block of Daredevil and Jessica Jones as much as the next guy. House of Cards has always been a guilty pleasure of mine, but Orange is the New Black is already wearing out its welcome after a mixed third season. The closest thing stylistically to Game of Thrones has to be Marco Polo, but there’s no comparison – Thrones wins that game hands down. And while everybody (rightly) hated True Detective season two, let’s not forget how much you all wet yourselves over season one.

On the comedy side, Netflix runs a little more competitive thanks to everybody’s favorite Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. HBO rules the Emmy house with Veep, but Veep isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. Sure, Emmy drinks it in heavily, but the “average Joe” (here come the emails) doesn’t gravitate to the series’ more European mixture of the absurd and the cerebral. I would also posit that Silicon Valley and Girls (currently in a shockingly great renaissance) are also better than anything Netflix has to offer outside of Kimmy Schmidt, which I do love too. HBO’s comedy duds include Ballers and the cancelled Togetherness and The Brink.

Netflix, though, just throws anything against the wall to see what sticks. Kimmy Schmidt only landed there because NBC is literally the worst network running right now. But Grace and FrankieLoveFuller HouseFlaked, and The Ranch are all at best very mediocre and at worst outright duds. Only Master of None has that “HBO quality” to it, thanks to the wit and perspective of star Aziz Ansari.

Bottom line: I would place HBO far above Netflix simply because it mostly swings for the fences every time its at bat. It may not always hit Game of Thrones-level TV programming, but you have to appreciate the bold vision for its programming. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy Netflix series. There’s a lot of solid programming on the streaming content provider, but they’ve yet to prove to me that they’re capable of producing the Really Great Television that HBO has time and time again.

Netflix lives on a steady diet of fast food TV programming, and America really prefers its McDonald’s.

What’s really going on right now is Game of Thrones isn’t in season, so it’s not as buzzy right now despite the whole “Is Jon Snow Dead?” campaign. Nothing else on the schedule really appeals to a broad audience, which we did discuss during the last Emmy season. HBO is serving up a feast of niche programming. Niche programming doesn’t appeal to the “Average Joe.”

However, its upcoming slate is likely to engender a great deal of popular good will. Shows like Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects (starring Amy Adams), The Night Of (the buzzy drama starring John Turturro), and Big Little Lies (featuring a bevy of fantastic actresses like Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, and Laura Dern).

So, no, I don’t think Netflix is better than HBO. You can have your McDonald’s programming.

I’ll take my HBO-branded filet mignon any day.

What is your take on HBO versus Netflix TV programming? Sound off in the comments section below.

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