Netflix CEO Shows Off ...


Ted Sarandos is co-CEO of Netflix.

He’s the one greenlighting Stranger Things, The Queen’s Gambit and Bridgerton. He had better get the concepts of story construction.

Does he?

For the answer, we turn to his recent interview with the New York Times. Asked about how his interest in TV and movies came about, the 81-second response is worth putting in the vice for dissection.

Here’s the full answer.


Let’s take it piece by piece. Where are my gloves?


“My grandfather came from Samos, Greece.”

Immediately softens the audience by letting us know he’s the grandson of immigrants.

Be specific. He doesn’t say his grandfather came from Europe or from Greece. He came from Samos, Greece.

As for why Ted sidelines the grandmother, who must have made the journey as well, I don’t know.


“He used to read cowboy novels. He came to America thinking he could be a trail cook. He found out quickly there were no trail cook jobs in New Jersey.”

Now comes the levity. The grandfather escaped into books and the world of cowboys in Greece. He arrives in Jersey and checks out the want ads only to discover no one is hiring trail cooks.


“He took one vacation in his lifetime to Arizona to see a rodeo. From that day forward, he wore a bolo tie every day and he talked about that vacation until the day he died.”

Nothing says “I love cowboys” like attending a rodeo (watching City Slickers on Netflix is a close second).


“In tribute to him after he passed away, all eight of his kids moved to Arizona, including my father. My parents had four kids in their 20’s. These were kids raising kids. Our house was always chaos. My only escape from that chaos was that little box. I watched a lot of television.”

The chaos described by Ted calls for an escape, though unlike his grandfather and books, it’s TV.


“My mom, in her own reckless way, when we couldn’t afford it, would always buy gadgets. We were the first people I knew to have a VCR. It was a very unaffordable luxury at that time. For most of my upbringing, we never had all of the utilities on at the same time. The gas would be cut off, the phone would be cut off, the electricity would be cut off but never simultaneously. But for some reason, we had a VCR.”

Enter small “f” failure. We learn Ted’s mom was a little kooky, prioritizing buying stuff like a VCR over paying the monthly bill for utilities.


“Total happenstance, the second video store in the state of Arizona opened two blocks from my house.”

Talk about a prescient anecdote. What were the odds?


We can rest easy knowing Ted absolutely commands storytelling techniques.

Which is different than delivering the classic story arc with a beginning, an end and bad stuff happening in between.

Graph depicting the phases of a good story

Ted isn’t trying to channel Spielberg.

Instead, he’s injecting “oxygen” into the vignettes to sound more interesting.

Take-aways for those who toil in communications:

  • No one pummeled Ted into submission to stay on message. While his answer is somewhat disjointed, it’s real, and yes, interesting (inspired to research whether there are any jobs today for trail cooks).
  • The details matter. They add color to the story.
  • Smooth rides bore. Bring something into the picture that didn’t go according to plan..

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