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Tales from a Dystopian Future

Posted 6th August 2019

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Netflix headquarters, 15th September 2031. Despite people’s doom-laden predictions, the company is doing very nicely, thank you. But it’s doing nicely because they’ve finally started making smart financial decisions.

Across the road is where all those smart financial decisions are made. Right next to programme development, in fact. We’re not in the cool section of the place, though. We’re in a nondescript office block. Overspill, where all the boring projects go. It’s surprising it hasn’t been knocked down, and all these people just work from home. In a couple of years, exactly this will happen.

Until then, boring meetings take place here. And today’s boring meeting is about what to do with the latest selection of legacy content, where the rights are running out. David Smith presides over a room of greyness.

“Morning everyone. Let’s get this over with, we all have other things to do. What’s coming up next month, Mary?”

All eyes turn to Mary. She speaks, though it’s clearly an effort to give a flying fuck. “OK. We have Survivor, but the new rules kick in with this season – we only had the rights for this season for a year anyway, due to the new right-to-be-forgotten ruling….”

David rolls his eyes. That one had been a fucker for every company making programmes involving the general public.

Mary continued. “The Price is Right we won’t bother with – that hologram of Bob Barker was a disaster. And then there’s this thing called Black Mirror.”

David frowns. “What? Should I recognise that?”

“I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t. It was a show we commissioned years back. Science fiction, all very dated now, of course. The main problem is the music rights – they run out next month.”

“Worth bothering with? How many views do we get on that show now, anyway?”

Mary consults her iPad Lisa. She looks up. “It actually gets a fair few streams a month, but the cost of those rights… take a look.”

She hands him the iPad. David glances at it. “Hell, no.”

*   *   *

The Hollywood Reporter, 3rd September 2017.

Charlie Brooker and Annabel Jones let THR in on their creative process, previewing a relevant yet timeless upcoming season of their Netflix series.

Brooker: When we did “San Junipero,” Owen Harris had directed a previous episode for us, “Be Right Back,” the other tender episode of the series. So that’s why we thought he’d be a good fit. And he loves ‘80s movies and music. The musical debates we would have on that show. The only song we couldn’t clear on that playlist was a Prince track. You have to clear the songs for 15 years or so because of Netflix and I remember at some point “Girlfriend in a Coma” by The Smiths plays as a little joke for about five seconds before she switches it off and it was an outrageous amount of money! It was like shoveling bank notes into a fire.

Jones: It was indulgent but at the same time, it was so important that we set up that era so it felt different. We felt like we had to do this properly.

Brooker: That was one of the things that was a happy accident. I picked 1987 fairly arbitrarily. In the original draft of the script when Yorkie [Davis] was walking in, there were very specific movie posters that she would see that I specified in the script and I was obsessed with the fact that it would be specific weeks of 1987 on the news. So I was looking at the charts and while I was doing that I made a Spotify 1987 playlist and that Belinda Carlisle track, “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” came up while I was running. I thought, “This is the perfect song to the whole thing!” Then I got panicky in case we couldn’t clear it. I didn’t know what I would have done.

*   *   *

4th December 2061, at various places across Britain. Everyone who works for Network Streaming is on a shared conference call. A man with the misfortune to be named Jack Regan is chairing the call.

“We’re nearly there. In an hour’s time, Black Mirror will be officially streaming again, after not being available properly for 30 years. We should be proud, everyone. Look excited.”

Most people are. But there are a few scowls, and a certain scowl called Richard pipes up. “Not all of it. I still can’t believe we could only afford to clear a few episodes. What’s the point?”

Jack sighs. They’d been through this countless times. “Look, I know it’s not ideal. But we really couldn’t afford to clear all of them. One episode a season was the best we could do, and you know it. The National Anthem, White Bear, San Junipero, US-”

Richard interrupts. “San Junipero? And what was the point of that, when we couldn’t even clear Belinda fucking Carlisle? It ruins the entire show.”

Jack has had enough of this. “What would you prefer? That we did nothing? That 50 years of the show just went unmarked, and continued into obscurity? We’ve done our absolute best with this. The show is as close to its original version as it’s going to be, and there’s nothing else we could do. Now, can you just try being constructive, for once in your fucking life?”

There is a long silence. Everyone examines their shoes. Eventually, Richard responds.

“I do have one question. It’s not about Black Mirror. It’s about our other release, next week.”

Jack eyes him warily. “Game of Thrones? What about it?”

“Well, there’s this scene with a coffee cup…”

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