Netflix’s Most Popular Show Is an Overnight Success that Took 30 Years to Make
The Queen’s Gambit has been a huge hit for Netflix. In the first 28 days it was available on the streaming giant, it set a record for the most viewers ever for a scripted limited-run series, with more than 62 million accounts watching at least part of an episode.
Only The Witcher and Tiger King had more viewers during that window. That means that not only is The Queen’s Gambit one of Netflix’s biggest hits right now, it’s one of its most popular shows ever. I don’t know that anyone could have predicted that a scripted limited series about chess would become the most popular show on the world’s largest streaming service, but, hey, it’s 2020.
More interesting, however, is the fact that it took producer Allan Scott more than 30 years, eight different directors, and nine rewrites before getting the show on TV. In an interview with The Saturday Post, Scott described how he originally purchased an option in 1989 for the novel by Walter Tevis about an orphan in the 1950’s who learns to play chess. In 1993 he acquired the exclusive rights to turn the book into a movie.
Walter wouldn’t name all of the directors he tried to convince to help make the film, but it wasn’t until he connected with Scott Frank, who wrote the screenplay for Minority Report and Logan, that things started to fall into place. In 2017, Netflix agreed to produce the seven-episode series.
It isn’t like Scott is a newcomer to film production. Scott has written, or co-written a dozen films, the most well-known of which is probably The Preacher’s Wife, which starred Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston. Still, there’s no question he’ll be most remembered for an overnight success that took 30 years to make.
It isn’t hyperbole to say The Queen’s Gambit is a huge success. Since its release at the end of October, the show has topped Netflix’s most-popular originals and earned rave reviews from critics and audiences, including a 97 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
There is an obvious lesson here: almost nothing that appears to be an overnight success actually is. In most cases, like The Queen’s Gambit, things that seem to appear from nowhere and rise to immediate success actually take a lot of hard work over a long period of time.
That should be encouraging. Imagine if Scott had given up a decade or two ago. It’s not an entirely unreasonable notion. It’s not hard to think about the number of times he must have considered giving up entirely. The lowest point came in 2008, when Heath Ledger had agreed to direct a film version that ultimately never happened due to the Australian actor’s untimely death.
It would have been easy to walk away and forget the entire idea. That’s normal under far less complicated circumstances than waiting three decades to see something you believe in finally come to life.
It’s easy to think “my moment has passed,” or “it just wasn’t meant to be.” I suppose it’s possible that’s true, but I think it’s equally as likely that whatever moment it was that just passed wasn’t yours, and that yours is still to come.
Also, just to be clear, nothing is “meant to be.” If it was, it would all be easy, and it’s almost never easy. It only looks that way as an observer because you only see the finished product. It can easily make you doubt your own goals or dreams because they don’t look like success–yet.
Of course, if you convince yourself it wasn’t meant to be–if you give up–it’ll never look like success. If you quit, that’s it. It’s over. That doesn’t mean it won’t be hard–even devastating sometimes. It does mean that the hard work is worth it, even if it takes a few decades longer than you expected.