Will Netflix really be able to make appointment TV? : NPR

Jon Stewart and John Mulaney.

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Jon Stewart and John Mulaney.

Ryan West/Netflix

A week of live programming on Netflix concludes tonight with the final episode of comedian John Mulaney's twisted talk show, reinvented. Everyone's in LA.

So it's worth taking a moment to consider the double-edged results of the streamer's attempt to create an avalanche of appointment television in just seven days.

On the one hand you have the juggernauts of Katt Williams' Wake up Foke live stand-up comedy special last Saturday, plus last Sunday's Roast of champion quarterback Tom Brady – humbly heralded as the Greatest Roast of All Time.

Both specials dominated Netflix's ratings this week, while Williams' viral nonsense and a cavalcade of bold names making tasteless jokes about Brady's wealth, good looks and failed marriages kept the country moving. (See below how Nikki Glaser stole the show with her barbed wire on host Kevin Hart.)

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And then there's John Mulaney.

Building an anti-talk show

Frankly, my heart is completely with Mulaney's defiantly eccentric project, which turns your back on many of the reasons why you would turn your back on a show like this live in the first place. He starts each episode and reminds viewers without delay that it is live, indicating the time and temperature.

But he doesn't really give a reason why he's providing that information, and he doesn't reference the news of the day or current events – things that can distinguish a live TV event. He answers calls with questions from viewers – which makes sense for a live show – but often ends the conversation by asking what car they drive. When they answer, he hangs up; no punch line or indication as to why he asked the question.

Everyone's in LA It actually feels like Mulaney's attempt at an anti-talk show, in the same way that David Letterman and Conan O'Brien deconstructed and ridiculed the basic tenets of television. It's often a delightful dance between genuinely funny surprises and embarrassing moments, with experts on topics like palm trees and the paranormal sitting alongside comics like Jerry Seinfeld, Jon Stewart and Sarah Silverman.

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Announcer/sidekick Richard Kind and a food delivery robot named Saymo.

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Announcer/sidekick Richard Kind and a food delivery robot named Saymo.

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But Mulaney's show runs out of gas over time and slowly becomes less entertaining every night. Mulaney has also discovered a painful truth about stand-up comics who become TV hosts; it's hard to ask questions to guests while they look entertaining.

A flex that points to the future of live streaming

Mulaney's fade experiment, along with the Brady Roast and Williams Special, are part of the Netflix is ​​a joke festival, with hundreds of comedy performances across Los Angeles – a massive flex aimed at showcasing how the streamer has become the go-to destination for veteran and emerging comics.

But these projects also felt like a test of Netflix's ability to deliver live programming without a hitch, which would also yield a lot of watch time.

Clearly, there are two types of TV programming where streamers are still struggling to match the success of traditional platforms like broadcast networks and cable channels: live spectacles, including sporting events, and current news and talk shows. So it means something to see the most successful streaming service trying to present multiple days of live programming with a similar energy.

Netflix probably considers this week a resounding success. People are still talking about the Brady roast in other corners of the media, with participants popping up on various TV shows and podcasts. And there's more live content to come, including a boxing match in July between 27-year-old Jake Paul and 57-year-old former heavyweight champion Mike Tyson, and WWE professional wrestling shows next year.

There are even rumors that Netflix might offer a solution to get an NFL pro football game or two.

Even as Netflix pioneers binge-watching TV on the viewer's schedule, it's also clear that fans want appointment television. These are shows that are so special that you have to watch them as they happen – because you can't wait, or to avoid spoilers, or to have a communal experience.

Williams, Brady and Mulaney's shows prove that Netflix can deliver more of these moments. Mapping what form that takes – and how their competitors respond – will likely be one of the biggest media stories of the coming year.

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