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Netflix is winning quarantine | Learn the phrasal verb “pull back on”

The cameras stopped rolling a while ago, and the TV industry is struggling to fill their lineups at a time when more eyeballs are glued to TVs than ever. Networks are filling prime time slots with reruns, and one station even started a “Flashback Friday” series. But one player – Netflix – is proving to have a winning strategy for a pandemic. Plus, learn the phrasal verb “pull back on.”

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  • Netflix is having a good quarantine. The rest of the TV industry? Not so much.

    Hi there, hope you’re staying safe. I’m Jeff, JR is the producer, and this is Lesson 257 of Plain English.

    Coming up today: Production of television shows has paused around the world. That has left a gaping hole in the lineups of major TV networks. And we’ll be talking about how different networks around the world are coping with this difficult situation. The expression is a phrasal verb. That is “to pull back on.” And if you’re a Plain English Plus+ member, our video lesson will show you how to describe an unfortunate coincidence. An unfortunate coincidence. That, plus all the rest of the lesson resources, is available at PlainEnglish.com/257.


    TV networks struggle to fill holes in their lineups

    We’re stuck at home every night. We’re not going out to restaurants, the movies, concerts, theaters, bars, nightclubs or friends’ houses. We can’t even watch sports. So more and more of us are using this time to watch television series. Just one problem: Filming has shut down around the world.

    Current seasons of Supernatural, Grey’s Anatomy, The Walking Dead, and The Flash will all be interrupted because they couldn’t finish filming the current season. This leaves the producers in an awkward position. Some have decided to trim the number of episodes in a season. Grey’s Anatomy, for example, will cancel four planned episodes and make an earlier one the finale for this season. The Walking Dead is doing something similar. They finished production last year, but could not finish post-production on the finale before the quarantine. They will make the second-to-last episode the finale for this season.

    Other shows are unfinished, but they haven’t started airing the current season. That’s what happened with the new season of Fargo, starring Chris Rock. Although most of the episodes are complete, a few are not—so the producers have decided to delay airing the season rather than try to craft a season finale out of a normal episode. In Britain, “EastEnders” typically airs four nights a week; the BBC has slowed that pace to two a week, to try to extend the run of episodes that have already been produced.

    South of the border, Latin America’s famous telenovelas have paused. “Mother’s Love,” a Brazilian novela about three mothers from different social classes, started airing in the fall in a popular prime-time slot. It has been replaced by reruns. That might not sound like a big deal to Americans or Europeans, but Latin American networks pride themselves on not having to re-run shows in their primetime slots. They always have fresh content of telenovelas, which air new episodes six days a week for months at a time.

    The pandemic has left big television networks in the uncomfortable position of pulling back on showing new content just as more and more eyeballs are available to watch. Large TV networks assemble their seasonal schedules well in advance; executives say it’s like putting together a huge puzzle. Now, they’re scrambling to fill the holes left by canceled or trimmed primetime series. There are a few options besides traditional reruns. One is specials that can be put together at the last minute: special concerts, fund-raisers, things like that. The American network ABC has started something called “Flashback Friday,” which features a selection of the most popular older episodes of shows.

    Televisa, a Mexican producer of telenovelas, has put thousands of episodes of classic novelas online for free—but they’re not slowing down on their regular production. New novelas like “Empire of Lies” continue to be recorded in Mexico.

    Some streaming services are able to cope better than others. The timing of the pandemic is not great for Apple’s new streaming service, AppleTV+—I couldn’t even remember the name, which is probably saying something—Apple launched its streaming service without a rich library of content. It has made some of its library free to attract attention.

    But this is all ignoring the big winner in this quarantine: Netflix. Netflix produces its own series, but they are not having to halt any of them mid-season. Do you know why? Because they produce all their shows to drop at once, so users can binge-watch an entire season. That means they do all the filming at one time—then they move the whole series into post-production. Netflix’s director of content told investors that the company’s full slate of shows for 2020 is not going to be affected by the pandemic. They said they’re well advanced on some shows scheduled for 2021, as well.

    Netflix had already decided to bet big on original content rather than acquire content from others, though they still do some of that. As competitors like Disney, NBC, and HBO all launched their own streaming services, Netflix knew that it had to rely on its own content to continue to grow. That is proving to have been a very good business decision.

    The third season of its crime series Ozark dropped recently, and its premier day was three times more popular than the first day of season two had been. Its bizarre series “Tiger King” has proved irresistible to American audiences. JR will be relieved to know that the fourth season of “The Crown” is on schedule. Netflix will add more content in 2020 than it did in 2019, all despite the pandemic.


    For the record, I’m not going to watch Tiger King. The Crown, yes. I would consider Ozark. But not Tiger King. I might be the last person left in America, but I have literally zero interest.

    On Thursday, I promised that I would share a little more about the new web site, and I’ll continue to do that in little pieces right in this spot in the program over the next few weeks. Today, I’ll tell you about why we needed it. When we started this program in December 2017, the web site was just a place to put the transcript of the audio lessons. And it looked, okay. I think we changed the look and feel once since the very beginning.

    But the web site is basically a blog-style web site. And the only thing it was designed to do is hold the transcripts. But as the years went by, we started to pile more and more stuff on top of it. We added the membership. We added multiple versions of the same transcript—the ones that have the translations into other languages. We added a video lesson. We added a set of flash cards. We added some mini-courses for Plain English Plus+ members, as well.

    And as I was thinking about the future, I realized there was a lot more I wanted to do. I wanted to incorporate more and better exercises to help you with pronunciation and listening. I wanted a better social component. And now we’re doing live events, so we need a way to host live events.

    What all this adds up to is, the site, the way it’s currently constituted, is just not up for the challenge. It’s already creaking under the weight of what we’ve put on it—we can’t add any more. So in December, I decided that I didn’t want to expand the web site anymore: I had to start from scratch.

    What we’re going to release in June is the result of five months of work and a lot of careful planning. The new site is a lot more flexible. I’ve structured it in a way that we can add lots of different types of content—from live events to group chats to forums to webinars to videos, online courses, all kinds of stuff. And it’s really coming together nicely.

    There is probably one big, huge difference to how the way the site is organized, the way you’ll navigate around it. And I’ll tell you more about that on Monday. But now it’s time for our expression.

    Pull back on

    Here’s a good phrasal verb for you: to pull back on. What does it mean to pull back on something? It means to do less of it. Let’s review how you heard “pull back on” in this lesson.

    Television networks around the world are having to pull back on showing original content just as more eyeballs are available to watch their shows. Talk about a bad situation! There are a lot more people able to watch TV now—and TV networks have to reduce the amount of new programming they show, just because it’s not available. They have to pull back on airing original content because there’s just not enough of it. They’re pulling back; they’re doing less of it.

    We usually use an -ing verb after “pull back on,” but you can also just put a noun, like this: Networks have to pull back on showing, on airing new content. Or, networks have to pull back on original content. Here are a few other ways you can use “pull back on”:

    Employers are pulling back on hiring during these uncertain times. They are doing less hiring. Big companies may be pulling back on new investments, as well. That means they are not going forward with as many new investments in factories, machinery, or research, as they previously had planned.

    A lot of companies have had to pull back on advertising during this crisis. All of a sudden, KFC’s “finger-lickin’ good” fried chicken ads are not exactly appropriate for this new normal. Other brands are pulling back on ads that show people in large crowds or doing fun leisure activities. Instead, a lot of ads show people thoughtfully looking out a window!

    New tests for COVID-19 are in short supply. Some places have started to administer a lot of tests every day—but if they don’t pull back, they’ll run out of tests. That’s what happened in Connecticut. They had to pull back on testing because they simply didn’t have enough equipment to continue doing as many tests per day.

    After this health crisis passes, many people will be left with an economic crisis, as they try to replenish their savings. Many people have pulled back on spending during the crisis—we have nowhere to really spend any money. But even after things start opening up, I think we’ll see a lot of people pull back on their typical level of spending, as they try to build up savings after this crisis.

    I’m still amazed that you can get a lot of stuff delivered to your house, even in this crisis. But Amazon has had to pull back on delivery of non-essential goods. JR has been waiting for a new cable to connect his computer to a monitor for weeks. Amazon decided to pull back on delivering things like cords and cables, to focus on delivering essentials.

    JR’s song of the week

    Speaking of JR, he has selected a song of the week. This week it is “Don’t Break My Heart” by Dua Lipa. It’s one of the singles from her second album and it just came out a few weeks ago. It was featured on Big Brother Brazil, which, incidentally is one of the television series not to be interrupted by the coronavirus. In fact, the contestants on Big Brother Brazil are sequestered in a house—meaning, they have no contact with the outside world. Someone had to go into the house and tell them about the coronavirus—that’s how isolated they all were. And of course everyone watched their reactions on TV.

    Anyway, back to the song of the week. Here’s what Dua Lipa said about it in an interview. She said: “It’s about finally being in a happy place and knowing this new person is amazing. But then thinking: ‘Nothing else compares to this, and what if this ends and it breaks my heart?’ It’s the whole thing of being scared to be too happy.”

    So there you have it. “Don’t Break My Heart” by Dua Lipa is the song of the week, courtesy of JR.


    And that is it for today. Remember that if you’d like the chance to get a sneak-peek of our new web site features, you can sign up to get all the best news in your inbox at PlainEnglish.com/new . The first message you’ll get will be about the new tagline. Then, you’ll get one about the new logo, new colors. And more and more about all the great things we have planned for you. So remember to get that at PlainEnglish.com/new.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

  • Note to listeners: The interactive transcripts are now part of our Plain English Plus+ membership. Not ready to join Plus+ just yet? You can access only the interactive translations with a membership to Plain English Lite. If you’re curious what the transcripts look like, see a sample episode here. Already a member? Log in now.

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