September 26, 2023
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5 Producing Lessons from the Surprising Success of Suits

Loring Weisenberger
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Suits is officially the undisputed streaming champion of summer. Yes, you’re reading that right. A broadcast legal drama that went off the air back in 2019 is dominating ratings in 2023. Verified Suits Netflix and Peacock streaming numbers are breaking records and begging one gigantic question:

How?

To find out, this post aims to dissect all the secrets behind Suits’ belated breakout success. We’ll distill real-world producing lessons from the factors that built Suits’ Netflix ratings and talk about how you might apply them to your next project. 

Let’s start with the big picture.

Why is Suits so popular in 2023?

To understand Suits’ streaming numbers, we’ll have to go back to the beginning. While you can find Suits on Netflix today, it didn’t start there. 

Suits was born as an original series on the USA Network back in 2011. The series kicks off when a brilliant young man lands a job at a high-profile law firm without actually being a lawyer. 

Episodes follow the young man as he works cases and forms relationships with the legal professionals around him, matters complicated by the show’s central conceit.

Suits enjoyed an impressive nine-year run. During that time, it generated strong ratings for USA but never quite matched the buzz sparked by prestige contemporaries like Games of Thrones, Justified, or Homeland

After its cancellation in 2019, Suits found its first streaming homes on Amazon Prime and Peacock, but it only drew modest numbers on both platforms. Suits’ streaming traction didn’t pick up until it made its leap to Netflix.  

When did Suits come on Netflix?

Suits’ Netflix debut was on June 17, 2023, just three days after SAG-AFTRA joined the WGA for a dual-strike summer. While the timing was a coincidence, it set the stage for the surprising nature of Suits’ Netflix success. With the industry in a state of uncertainty, it seemed like anything could happen. 

And it did. Since Suits’ Netflix launch, the show has put up massive numbers. According to Nielsen, Suits has set a new record by drawing over three billion minutes of watch time per week for seven weeks straight.

Over an eight-week period, Nielsen says the series’ total watch time currently exceeds 25 billion minutes. Those ratings suggest that Suits is the most watched show that’s been acquired by a streaming service ever and the second most watched show on a streaming platform, period. 

Currently, its numbers are only bested by Season 4 of Stranger Things

Yes, THAT Stranger Things.

In the following sections, we’re going to pop the hood and dig into the surprising success of Suits on Netflix. We’ll check out five answers to a single question - Why is Suits popular on Netflix? – and explore lessons that producers can apply to their next project.  

1. There’s still a big market for comfort TV

The combination of broad appeal and easy watchability is a major component of Suits’ streaming success. It’s the television equivalent of “comfort food”: warm, friendly, and easy on the stomach. 

Episode to episode, the stakes are relatively low. Characters are clear and relatable. Plots are relatively straightforward and minimally serialized. 

In other words, Suits is the kind of show you can turn on and leave on with or without paying strict attention under almost any circumstance.

Streaming platforms enable audiences to watch what they want when they want it. This on-demand programming has helped to usher in a golden age of prestige TV. However, it hasn’t completely altered audience expectations. There’s still clear demand for the casual viewing experiences often associated with old-school broadcast titles. 

Suits’ streaming performance demonstrates that audiences are still very interested in what we might call “comfort TV”.

Of course, Suits isn’t alone. The presence of Suits on Netflix places it in a well-established niche alongside blockbuster classics like The Office and Seinfeld. The ongoing success of contemporary titles like Abbott Elementary, Ted Lasso, and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds further supports the niche. 

There’s clearly still a market for shows that feel like a friend hanging out in your living room.

But modern TV is still a balancing act

As a counterpoint to the above, it’s important to note that audiences don’t necessarily want shows that they can tune out of completely. Complex characters, interesting twists, and meaningful conflict are now par for the course, even for comfort TV. 

Suits’ streaming performance reflects this principle. While Suits might be casual viewing, it is not empty viewing. 

The show instead strikes a compelling middle ground through flawed characters, serialized storylines, and a compelling hook that gives sustained weight to case-of-the-week episodes. 

Suits strives to be comfort food that leaves its audience with something to chew on.

5 Producing Lessons from the Surprising Success of Suits - Wrapbook - Pizza
Quality ingredients can elevate any dish. SOURCE

Suits’ Netflix success makes a compelling case for content that lies somewhere between Breaking Bad and The Brady Bunch. Audiences don’t always want the moral complexity of The Wire or Under the Banner of Heaven, but they do want to care, at least a little bit. 

According to Suits’ streaming numbers, it turns out that audiences might want to care a little bit a lot.

2. Quantity is its own quality

Suits’ Netflix performance is heavily supported by the show’s bingeability, the phenomenon in which viewers watch multiple episodes of a show back to back. To back.

It’s an audience behavior directly enabled by the structure of streaming platforms, and it has fundamentally changed the nature of television distribution. 

For a viewer to binge a show, there must first be enough show for them to binge. That’s why platforms like Netflix often forego the traditional weekly release schedule and instead drop entire seasons of their original shows all at once. 

The theory is that viewers will watch more minutes of a show if there are more total minutes of the show to watch.

That’s why bingeability is one of Suits’ streaming strengths. A full nine seasons of Suits were produced during the show’s original run. All but two seasons contain 16 episodes, a significantly higher number than you’ll find on an average TV drama today. In total, there are 134 episodes of Suits streaming online. 

If‌ each episode lasts about 42 minutes, that means there are nearly 94 hours of quality Suits action available for your viewing pleasure. 

No producer can guarantee that any project will enjoy a production run like Suits. However, the observation does demonstrate an important production lesson. Suits’ Netflix performance demonstrates that there is real-world value in high-volume content. 

3. Star power still matters

Movie stars are the oldest marketing tool in Hollywood. For nearly a century, casting a well-known celebrity has been the fastest way to raise a film’s profile and draw audiences to the theater. 

While some say the star system’s power has dimmed, the rise of Suits on Netflix tells a different story. One of the most frequently cited attractions for new Suits viewers is the on-screen presence of Meghan Markle.

Back in 2011, Suits’ Meghan Markle casting wasn’t a particularly bold marketing move. She was cast as a series regular because she was a talented, capable actress.

Then Meghan Markle joined the royal family in 2018. Today, Suits’ Meghan Markle casting takes on a completely different meaning.

5 Producing Lessons from the Surprising Success of Suits - Wrapbook - Meghan Markle
Suits’ Meghan Markle casting is a new twist on a classic Hollywood story. SOURCE

With her name recognition now through the roof, Suits’ Meghan Markle character is a powerful draw for new viewers. Her presence on the cast gives many unsuspecting Netflix users a compelling reason to check out Suits, even if they’ve never heard of the show before.

The impact of Meghan Markle on Suits’ Netflix performance is proof positive that stars still wield considerable power in the streaming age.

However, the influence of star power specifically on Suits’ streaming success might also demonstrate a less obvious lesson. From a purely promotional perspective, Suits’ Meghan Markle casting works because it places a now familiar face in an unfamiliar context. 

Audiences aren’t watching Suits on Netflix just because they like Meghan Markle. They’re also watching because her presence piques their curiosity

4. Interface is everything

Many factors divide Suits’ Netflix performance from its broadcast history, but none more directly than the Netflix interface itself. Suits’ streaming success is supported and amplified by the very design of Netflix’s streaming platform. 

While they’re easy to overlook, there are many design choices that help make or break a title’s performance on any platform. In the case of Suits on Netflix, two specific characteristics have helped propel the show throughout its record-breaking streaming run. 

First, Netflix’s autoplay feature is an essential ingredient for Suits’ streaming bingeability. When the next episode always plays automatically, a nine-season show is bound to rack up viewing time. 

Second, Suits’ Netflix performance has benefited immensely from the show’s visual position on the “home” interface. For most of its record-breaking run, the show has been “featured” in one way or another. 

This led millions of users to encounter Suits on Netflix as soon as they logged onto their account. Increased visibility leads to more viewers, which leads to further increased visibility.

5 Producing Lessons from the Surprising Success of Suits - Wrapbook - Netflix
Why is Suits popular on Netflix? High visibility on the Netflix interface certainly doesn’t hurt. SOURCE

The impact of user interfaces on a title’s performance is a relatively new topic for producers, but it may become more important as time goes on. When a platform decides to feature a given movie or TV show, it provides a distinct boost to viewing performance. 

Suits’ Netflix numbers and their relationship with the platform’s interface highlight new questions for the future of film marketing and distribution.    

5. Nothing can replace word of mouth

The secret sauce to Suits’ Netflix success is a modern update on traditional word-of-mouth. The growing conversation around the show and its performance has sustained and supercharged the surge in Suits' Netflix numbers. 

Note that the debut of Suits on Netflix did not benefit from any traditional marketing campaign. The show had been off the air for nearly four years before it entered the Netflix library. 

Naturally, Netflix didn’t rent billboards, edit trailers, or conduct press junkets to support the series’ platform release. It rarely does that for its hit original programming, much less for a show they licensed from USA.

Instead, the promotion of Suits was driven entirely by organic buzz from social media, blogs, and – yes – even Wrapbook now. We are the zeitgeist.

The importance of social media is a well-worn topic at this point, but the Suits phenomenon highlights the interconnectedness of word of mouth. 

The performance of Suits on Netflix sparked articles in digital publications, which in turn inspired social media posts, which in turn drove an even stronger performance on streaming platforms. 

The result is a surprisingly loud conversation about a show that continues to defy the odds. 

Wrapping up

The breakout success of Suits on Netflix is an unusual event caused by a perfect storm of individual factors. It gives producers a rare glimpse beyond typical notions of project strategy and development. By studying the forces behind this unique situation, we can mine valuable lessons about producing content for modern audiences in modern environments. 

To learn more about navigating the world of streaming and digital distribution, check out our guide to getting a movie on Netflix or our breakdown of what content Shudder is buying.

Disclaimer

At Wrapbook, we pride ourselves on providing outstanding free resources to producers and their crews, but this post is for informational purposes only as of the date above. The content on our website is not intended to provide and should not be relied on for legal, accounting, or tax advice.  You should consult with your own legal, accounting, or tax advisors to determine how this general information may apply to your specific circumstances.

About the author
Loring Weisenberger

Loring is a Los Angeles-based writer, director, and creative producer. His work has been commissioned by a diverse range of clients- from Havas Worldwide to Wisecrack, inc.- and has been screened around the world. Through a background that blends project development with physical production across multiple formats, Loring has developed a uniquely eclectic skillset as a visual storyteller.

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