Netflix's 'Bridgerton' Heats Up Romance
By Ellen Gamerman
The new Netflix adaptation of the racy "Bridgerton" books has
put pop culture in a swoon, giving a mainstream stamp of approval
to romance novels sometimes dismissed as trash and boosting a
literary genre that has suffered setbacks in recent years.
"Bridgerton," which debuted last month, is based on bestselling
author Julia Quinn's romance series set in the Regency era. The
love story about a wayward duke and a high-society bachelorette
starring a multiracial cast is projected to stream to more than 63
million households over its first four weeks, according to Netflix.
The lavish show, which hit number one on the Netflix charts in 76
countries, has vaulted Ms. Quinn's roughly 20-year-old novels to
the top of the general fiction bestseller lists.
"Hollywood studios are full of male producers, directors,
writers," said Amy Pierpont, editor in chief of Forever and Forever
Yours, romance imprints of Grand Central Publishing. "The idea that
the same value that's applied to superhero movies would be applied
to stories that center around women's lives has just not happened
on a consistent basis."
The success of "Bridgerton" couldn't have come at a better time
for the romance industry, which has been struggling to retain its
power in the publishing world. Recent years have marked a steady
decline in print and ebook sales of romance novels, which went from
more than 98 million units sold in 2012 to 41 million in 2020,
according to NPD BookScan, whose figures do not reflect sales of
Novelists, publishing executives and literary agents point to a
range of challenges. Big retail chains have stopped putting as many
mass-market paperbacks on their shelves, they say, while the
consolidation of printing plants has complicated distribution
efforts. Others say less expensive digital self-publishing has cut
into sales by traditional publishers.
The pandemic has helped counter this decline, with an uptick in
sales over the last year. Romance novels made up more than one in
every six adult fiction print and e-book purchases in 2020, more
than any category after general fiction, according to NPD
Netflix's "Bridgerton" series is giving the romance business
another jolt of energy. Shonda Rhimes is the force behind the show,
the first scripted series to come out of her 2017 production deal
with Netflix. The "Grey's Anatomy" and "Scandal" creator known for
drawing passionate audiences is an ardent fan of the "Bridgerton"
As "Bridgerton" took off, an internet cry went out for Regé-Jean
Page, who plays "Bridgerton" heartthrob Simon, to become the next
James Bond. YouTubers raved about his good looks and spoofed the
show's period drama mannerisms. Etsy sellers started marketing
"Bridgerton" Valentine's Day cards carrying one character's molten
declaration -- "I burn for you" -- and a $700 dress inspired by
Daphne, the virgin played by Phoebe Dynevor whose cluelessness
about her own sexuality and subsequent education is central to the
Such success is noteworthy given that breakout screen hits are
rare for romances with "HEA" -- industry shorthand for Happily Ever
After. While TV and movie adaptations of young-adult love stories
abound, Hollywood has been slow to fill the opening left by the
decline of rom-coms.
"Friends who write fiction say, 'Everything I write gets
optioned and nothing gets made,' and somehow I got this one deal
and not only did it get made, it got made just beautifully," said
Ms. Quinn, whose real name is Julie Pottinger.
Interest in the genre appears to be growing. Ms. Quinn's film
agent Lucy Stille has started exploring Hollywood's appetite for
historical romances by other writers. Over the summer, the
production company led by NBC's Al Roker announced it was helping
develop a series from the "Blessings" novels by romance writer
"I don't think that media companies until 'Bridgerton' have made
use of the incredible financial power of romance," said Mary Bly,
who writes as Eloisa James. She is fielding interest in possible
adaptations of her romance novels as well.
Romance novelists include women with polished resumes. Ms.
Pottinger is a Harvard graduate who studied at Yale University's
School of Medicine before leaving early to focus on writing. Ms.
Bly is a Harvard-educated Shakespeare scholar. Vanessa Riley, whose
books include the "Advertisements for Love" series, received her
PhD in mechanical engineering from Stanford University. Heidi Bond,
who as Courtney Milan wrote the 500,000-word "Brothers Sinister"
series, clerked for the former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra
Day O'Connor. Georgia politician Stacey Abrams wrote eight romance
novels in the 2000s under the pen name Selena Montgomery.
In anxious times, such stories offer an escape. Chris Van Dusen,
creator of the eight-episode "Bridgerton" series and a protégé of
Ms. Rhimes, wanted to deliver a bright and vibrant world. "There's
a youthfulness and a joyfulness there," he said.
"Bridgerton" could take romance novels further out of the
shadows. "'Guilty pleasures' is a phrase that's used a lot -- I
don't understand why pleasure is guilty," said Betsy Beers, an
executive producer of the series. "What is wrong with actually
reading a book and enjoying it and getting transported to another
Write to Ellen Gamerman at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
January 13, 2021 14:24 ET (19:24 GMT)
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