Netflix getting into the medical procedural game isn't an insult to broadcast TV

The streamer will have its first original medical procedural series in Pulse starring Justina Machado, which should be celebrated by television fans.

GREYÕS ANATOMY - ÒStronger Than HateÓ Ð A dinner party is thrown at the sister house in NickÕs honor. Meanwhile, Grey Sloan Memorial receives a victim of a brutal hate crime on a new episode of ÒGreyÕs Anatomy,Ó THURSDAY, MAY 19 (9:00-10:01 p.m. EDT), on ABC. (ABC/Liliane Lathan)
GREYÕS ANATOMY - ÒStronger Than HateÓ Ð A dinner party is thrown at the sister house in NickÕs honor. Meanwhile, Grey Sloan Memorial receives a victim of a brutal hate crime on a new episode of ÒGreyÕs Anatomy,Ó THURSDAY, MAY 19 (9:00-10:01 p.m. EDT), on ABC. (ABC/Liliane Lathan) JAKE BORELLI, ELLEN POMPEO /

If all things are cyclical, then it seem as though television has made a full cycle back to where we started. The television landscape began to shift in a major way when streaming services put their foot in the door on the heels of cable's "Peak TV" takeover over a decade ago. Now, the streamers are calling on the tried-and-true tropes and genres that made TV an accessible escape.

On Feb. 29, news broke that Netflix ordered its first ever original medical procedural series. Pulse will star One Day at a Time alum Justina Machado, who herself has appeared in a number of medical dramas over the years, such as Grey's Anatomy, Strong Medicine, ER, and Three Rivers. The series comes from creator Zoe Robyn, a writer on CBS crime procedural The Equalizer, and TV vet Carlton Cuse. The first two episodes will be directed by Kate Dennis, an executive producer and director on New Amsterdam.

The DNA behind the scenes of Pulse couldn't be stronger and should give prospective viewers all the faith in the world in the series. Trading some of the drearier settings of popular medical dramas, the series will take place in a busy Miami trauma center, where a young emergency room doctor becomes the chief resident. Machado will play the chair of surgery and ER, overseeing the operations of the hospital, which is also teeming with personal relationships a la Grey's.

Regardless of how excellent and promising the series might sound on paper, there will naturally be the skeptics who will view Pulse as a means for Netflix to take a conscious step away from the binge model it helped popularize and steal a play from linear television, which streaming has had a hand in diminishing. "Procedural" is a charged word, but that doesn't mean it's a sinister act from Netflix.

Procedural is a storytelling device

Just because Netflix wasn't making procedural shows like CSI and Law & Order and ER since introducing original programming doesn't mean the streamer can't or shouldn't be allowed to branch out. After all, "procedural" is in its purest definition a genre of storytelling. All procedural means is that an episode introduces and resolves a conflict in the span of its runtime, making the viewing experience easier to pop in and out of rather than needing to watch every single week.

Procedurals can also have narrative arcs or character arcs that carry over week-to-week and throughout the season, particularly like in Grey's and 9-1-1. When Netflix started making original content, its shows were very much not this. They wanted, and still want, us to binge-watch a full season where every episode and every second connects. There were no case-of-the-week shows. Just House of Cards and Bloodline.

But "procedural" shouldn't have anything else to do with a show other than its storytelling technique. As of Pulse's announcement, all we know is its basic plot, leading star, and producers. Netflix hasn't announced an episode count, though it's unlikely to be the usual broadcast standard 22 episodes. There's no indication that the episodes won't be released all at once, and there's no confirmation on a uniform runtime or act breaks (though the latter two should be in serious consideration).

I completely understand the other side of this argument, but you can't deny that the term procedural is used as a description of genre while also attempting to attach release patterns and episode counts and other variables to the term just because those things became customary to the network television experience because network television was the only place to watch episodic content.

Netflix's long history of housing procedurals

Not to sound too in defense of streaming services (they have definitely, certainly, unquestionably changed the entertainment industry for the worse in ways that tangible data supports), but Netflix should have the opportunity to give audiences the kinds of content they want without being accused of doing so to further squash the broadcast networks. And haven't we as a collective been asking for this?

When Suits became a hit on Netflix in the summer of 2023, it's all we heard about. People were posing the question, "Why is this show so popular right now?" The easy answer was that viewers are hungry for longer series with high episode counts and characters you can emotionally invest in over time. The constant flood of six to 10-episode seasons that come and go have become more exhausting than you'd imagine watching 12 seasons with 22-episodes each would be.

Suits wasn't the first procedural series Netflix acquired, and it's certainly not the first to have major success that extends its legacy. In 2023, the top 10 acquired streaming programs list compiled by Nielsen featured seven titles on Netflix. Of those seven, four were procedurals or have procedural elements: Suits, NCIS, Grey's Anatomy, and Supernatural. You could say Netflix saw this list and decided to capitalize on this trend in-house. But is that too cynical?

Apart from those listed above, procedurals have always had a place on Netflix. Most recently, the CBS series S.W.A.T. and the NBC medical drama New Amsterdam made a huge showing in the top 10. NBC's The Blacklist, while serialized, also has procedural elements and became a Netflix hit. Chicago Med spent some time on the streamer, as did Ghost Whisperer and Charmed once upon a time. The streamer also just picked up the USA Network's Monk and Royal Pains.

Don't forget, Netflix rescued NBC's supernatural drama Manifest for a 20-episode final season. Although the series puts on the air that it's heavily serialized — and don't get me wrong, it is — it's also basically a procedural at its core. Netflix's original legal drama The Lincoln Lawyer has also paved the way for this kind of easy breezy storytelling to have a place on the streamer.

We should welcome positive changes

The examples could go on and on, but it's all just to say that Netflix might not have always been present at the party, but they have arrived late with a gift in their hands. After years of giving these shows a second home to find a broader audience (and sure, an audience that it aided the decline of in the first place!), it's testing the waters in the right way. Honestly, why not?!

When Peacock debuted its Natasha Lyonne-starring case-of-the-week (see: procedural) murder mystery series Poker Face, it was met with critical acclaim. Lyonne landed a deserved Emmy Award nomination and the series was an indicator of how traditional episodic storytelling can evolve. It's not everyone's cup of tea; it's probably too stylized to appeal to The Mentalist crowd. But Peacock and Rian Johnson managed to sneak a procedural into the streaming world. And here we are again.

Pulse's success as a medical procedural on Netflix has the ability to have a trickle-down effect, not just on the streaming service but on broadcast television, too. While shows of its kind are in no way an endangered species on the small screen, Netflix's access, reach, and visibility remains an undeniable superpower. The loaded question of the century, though: Is that superpower a friend or an enemy?

It might just be me, and hypocritically it might be a conditional thing, but I think we should applaud these positive steps forward. We should lift up the storytellers getting the chance to pioneer a new direction for a place that's become a bit stale and stuffy. At the very least, that part of this development is a win, though we'll have to wait for the material for a fair assessment. For now, focus on the good, but still keep a Scooby ear up at the (potentially) bad.

At the end of the day, Pulse just makes me feel like Netflix was finally listening to the bare minimum of what the people want from their television shows. It's about time, right?

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