Netflix’s Sarandos Celebrates 10th Anniversary of Service’s First Original Series ‘Lilyhammer’

Netflix co-CEO and chief content officer Ted Sarandos Feb. 6 celebrated the 10th anniversary of the service’s first original series.

“Our actual first original series was ‘Lilyhammer’ and today, Feb. 6, marks the 10th anniversary of its historic Netflix premiere,” Sarandos wrote in a blog. 

Sarandos recalled the history of the series’ origin in a blog and video with the show’s star Stevie Van Zandt.

“A seminal moment in Netflix history began in a recording studio by the North Sea,” he wrote in the blog. “Bergen is where Norwegian creators Eilif Skodvin and Anne Bjørnstad approached Stevie Van Zandt about a show they wrote for him set in a small Norwegian town called Lillehammer. A few months later, having heard that Netflix was looking for original content, I got a call directly from Stevie, who wanted to send us the series. I asked if we could read the scripts and Stevie said, ‘Scripts? I can send you the whole season.’

“We watched it and we loved it. I thought it was a classic fish-out-of-water story, with Stevie playing a role loved by audiences, and the interplay between his no-nonsense hitman Frank Tagliano and the gentle community around him made for some great comedy. It was a character that was so familiar in a culture that few audiences had seen. I wasn’t sure what would come from that first phone call with Stevie. I was (am) a huge fan of his music and I loved him in ‘The Sopranos,’ so I was happy just to get to talk to him for a few minutes.”

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Van Zandt wasn’t initially excited about Netflix’s release of the series all at once, Sarandos recalled.

“When I told him that we would not be showing the episodes one per week, we would deliver the entire season all at once, that stopped him in his tracks,” Sarandos wrote. “‘You labor and suffer and someone can watch a year of your work in one night? That sounds a little weird,’ he said. ‘It’s not weird,’ I told him. ‘It’s just like working on an album.’ He laughed and agreed. ”

After first airing on Norwegian broadcast TV NRK on Jan. 25, 2012, Netflix debuted “Lilyhammer” on Netflix on Feb. 6, 2012, offering all eight episodes to members in the United States, Canada and Latin America (followed by the United Kingdom, Ireland, and the Nordics later that year).

“This was the first time we streamed a show across multiple countries and languages … and it worked,” Sarandos wrote. “Looking back, ‘Lilyhammer’ was perhaps an unorthodox choice for our first show. But it worked because it was a deeply local story that we could share with the world. The jokes and references worked locally and the more universal themes of the shows traveled perfectly.” 

Sarandos noted that “Lilyhammer” paved the way for Netflix’s success with international content.

“Thank you ‘Lilyhammer’ and Stevie Van Zandt for starting this incredible 10-year journey,” Sarandos wrote.