In recent years, as studios and networks have all made the move toward streaming to take on the current undisputed leader, Netflix, the streaming service has continued to add to its own original catalogue by luring away showrunning talent from other networks, like Kenya Barris (Black-ish), Ryan Murphy (American Horror Story), and Shonda Rhimes. Shondaland’s first series hasn’t arrived to Netflix yet, but Kenya Barris has found some success with #blackaf, and Ryan Murphy has done well, so far, with The Politician and Hollywood. Netflix has also poached David Benioff and D.B. Weiss and Michelle and Barack Obama, too.
However, in the last 13 months, Netflix has released three series worldwide, all from the same moderately well known New Jersey mystery novelist. His name is Harlan Coben, and he may be the current King of Netflix. Coben has a five-year deal with the streaming network, in which he has agreed to 14 movie and television adaptations. The deal likely came about after Netflix discovered how popular The Five — a British adaptation of a Harlen Coben novel for Sky1 — did after it was licensed by the streamer.
Since then, we have seen Safe, starring Michael C. Hall; The Stranger, starring Richard Armitage; and The Woods, starring Grzegorz Damięcki. While the three series are not connected, they all share some common DNA: Someone goes missing or is murdered, there’s lots of twists, and the leading men are the strong, quiet, and brooding types. All three series are also insanely bingeable: It’s never taken me more than two days to watch an entire season. Each of the television series, in fact, share similar qualities with a good mystery novel: They’re bleak, but not too bleak, and each episode feels like a chapter ending. They are such good page-turners, moreover, that it’s impossible to put down the remote.
What’s interesting is that Coben is U.S.-based, and all of his novels are set in New Jersey or New York, but Netflix is plugging the same stories into other settings, which makes them more friendly to the streaming service’s international audiences. The Safe and The Stranger were set in Britain (and it’s strange to hear Michael C. Hall with a British accent), while The Woods is only the second original Polish series ever on Netflix. Meanwhile, Coben’s next one, The Innocent, will be set in Madrid. It really speaks to the universal appeal of Coben’s stories (in fact, the first film adaptation of a Coben novel, Tell No One, was French). It’s also why Coben is so popular on the streaming network: While Barris and Murphy’s series are more American-centered, Coben’s series can literally be set anywhere in the world where there is a city for the investigation and woods outside of it to bury the bodies.
He’s not a huge name, and his series are not splashy, nor do they feature huge celebrities, but Harlan Coben may be the most successful creative associated with Netflix over the last 13 months. With another 11 adaptations coming over the next few years, signing the mystery novelist may end up being a one of the biggest steals for Netflix of the streaming era.