Reed Hastings Had Us All Staying Home Before We Had To

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Netflix started with sending DVDs — remember them? — through the mail, but now the streaming pioneer sits atop a Hollywood it has thoroughly upended.

Does it feel good to be the man who killed Hollywood?

“No,” said Reed Hastings, who nurtured Netflix into the Godzilla of the entertainment world. “But, of course, we haven’t killed Hollywood.”

At 59, the slender, gray-haired Mr. Hastings remains a mystery in the industry he dominates. “He’s a complete cipher here,” one Hollywood macher said.

You won’t find Mr. Hastings hanging with the stars at the San Vicente Bungalows. He doesn’t bellow at the pool at the Hotel du Cap or swan around at premieres. He may show up in line at Sundance, but he’s not cutting the line.

He started a delivery system for movies, and now his company is one of the most powerful forces in movies. In the capital of drama, Mr. Hastings is, without drama, ripping out the infrastructure and replacing it with his own.

Studio bosses are toppling, agents are scrambling, golden parachutes are disappearing, Disney is reeling, Covid is wreaking havoc on theme parks and movie theaters and #MeToo is still reverberating.

Amid these tectonic plate shifts, Netflix has blotted out the sun. Streaming, resisted for so long by the old clubby powers, is now absolute king. R.I.P., Louis B. Mayer.

Ben Smith, the New York Times media columnist, wrote an obit recently for old Hollywood. And Janice Min, the former co-president of The Hollywood Reporter, agrees that Netflix is “winning the pandemic,” siphoning viewers from broadcast and cable.

“They were all asleep to it during the early ascendance of Netflix,” Barry Diller said of his fellow Hollywood moguls. “Now they’ve woken up to it, and it has slipped away from them and is never to be regained. They lost hegemony over an entire industry.”

As Mr. Diller notes, businesspeople ordinarily gravitate to Hollywood for status and glamour, but Mr. Hastings is that rarest of creatures “who will never be seduced” even though he is “playing the game there like a pitch-perfect violin virtuoso.”

So how did a self-described “math wonk” whose favorite pastimes are walking and thinking, a man who trained for a time with the Marine Corps before switching to the Peace Corps, teaching math in Swaziland, render old Hollywood irrelevant?

Mr. Hastings said that his mother was a Boston debutante from a Social Register family who married a lawyer who later worked in the Nixon administration. She was repulsed by the world of high society and taught her children to disdain it. So young Reed grew up thinking that it was a good thing to distance yourself from elites and avoid pretensions.

The new overlord of the land of artifice and playacting hates artifice and playacting.

“Probably it all comes down to, you know, your mother or your father,” he murmured.

The height of his flashiness was posing on a Porsche in 1995 on the cover of USA Today, when he was a tech executive. He said he put aside that kind of “superfun” immaturity and sold the Porsche in favor of a Toyota Avalon. (Now he drives a Tesla.)

But for all the low-key charm, there’s no doubt that Mr. Hastings — along with his more wheeling-dealing Hollywood-based partner, Ted Sarandos — is running the show.

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Maureen Dowd, winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary and author of three New York Times best sellers, became an Op-Ed columnist in 1995. @MaureenDowd Facebook

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