Is everyone watching ‘Suits’? Yes. Here’s how the USA drama became Netflix’s latest hit.

(Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: NBCUniversal via Getty Images)
Suits — yes, Suits — is a streaming hit this summer, years after its finale aired. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: NBCUniversal via Getty Images)

Suits, the legal drama that starred an ensemble cast including Meghan Markle, is suddenly setting viewing records, years after it ended.

The cable series, which ended in 2019 after nine seasons, is streaming on Netflix and Peacock and has found a whole new audience. It has topped Nielsen’s weekly streaming rankings for weeks and is the most-watched title ever acquired by a streaming service.

This has been building since June 17, when the show debuted on Netflix. Two weeks later, it set a record for the most streamed acquired title, with over 3 billion minutes of viewing in a week. And it’s gone up from there. It’s now the No. 13 most-watched show in terms of total viewing for a streaming title in a week.

So … what is Suits?

The show, created and written by Aaron Korsh, ran on USA Network from 2011 to 2019. It was set in a New York City law firm, where Mike Ross (played by Patrick J. Adams) uses his photographic memory to talk his way into a job as an associate alongside a seasoned attorney, Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht), even though he has no law degree. Louis Litt (Rick Hoffman) played an unscrupulous partner, Jessica Pearson (Gina Torres) a managing partner, while Markle played a no-nonsense paralegal turned lawyer named Rachel Zane (who later married Mike), and Sarah Rafferty was legal secretary turned firm partner Donna Paulsen (who later married Harvey). Wendell Pierce, Dulé Hill and Katherine Heigl also had runs on the show, which had 130 episodes in total, dealing with legal cases but also corporate politics and personal drama.

When it debuted, Variety noted that Suits, shot in Canada, was “slightly darker than most USA fare.” It described Adams’s Mike as a “brilliant protagonist whose beautiful mind emboldens him to try faking his way through an associate’s position at a major law firm,” but the outlet felt the show had “shortcomings.” However, it was largely liked, per Metacritic, based on 29 “generally favorable reviews.” It has a 90% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. At the start, it averaged 4.28 million viewers and ended with just under a million loyal fans. By then, Adams’s and Markle’s characters had departed (in Season 7). A spin-off, Pearson, which came out after Season 7 and centered on Torres’s character, was canceled in 2019. (Another one was also considered around Hoffman’s Louis.)

Patrick J. Adams expresses dismay, as Meghan Markle, also in distress, stands by his side.
Patrick J. Adams as Mike Ross and Meghan Markle as Rachel Zane in Suits. (Shane Mahood/USA Network/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)

Why does it seem like everyone is watching it?

Well, a lot of people are. In a very weird summer in Hollywood — with WGA screenwriters and SAG-AFTRA actors striking — the show found its way to Netflix. By the week of June 26 to July 2 it set its first record, per Deadline, for the most-streamed acquired title — with 3.1 billion minutes of viewing in a week. Between July 10 and 16 it broke its own record, earning 3.69 billion minutes viewed on streaming services.

According to the outlet, Suits logged over 12.8 billion minutes of viewing across Netflix and Peacock in four weeks, from June 19 to July 16. (Only streaming originals — including Stranger Things, Wednesday and Ozark — have had weeks with better numbers.) The first four seasons of the show each rank among Netflix’s 10 most-watched TV and films in countries around the world.

Peacock — which, like USA, is owned by NBCUniversal — has the exclusive rights to Season 9, and meanwhile, the pilot available on Netflix is several minutes longer than the one airing on Peacock.

Its writers and producers are just as shocked as everyone else

Gene Klein, who produced the show’s nine seasons, admitted to TVLine that he was “surprised” by the ratings boom, admitting to exchanging texts with the show’s creator, Korsh, saying, “Holy shit!” He said, “I, obviously, had a sense when I found out it was coming to Netflix [that] it would probably get another burst of viewing and that kind of thing, but I did not think this would happen.” Klein, who credits the combination of a great show and “the power of Netflix,” said it was delightful that “people are sticking with it,” with the viewership growing. As for whether there might be a possible reboot or reunion, he said, “So far, nothing that I’m aware of,” but added he’s “expecting a call at some point,” at a time when everything seems to be revisited or remade.

The streaming success of Suits comes at the time of the Hollywood strikes

Among the things writers and actors are fighting for are better streaming residuals, because streamers — like Netflix — have boomed since the last contract negotiation. To reiterate: In four weeks, people streamed 12.8 billion minutes of this one show.

One former Suits writer, Ethan Drogin, wrote an opinion piece for the L.A. Times in which he talked about how even though his former show has become “an unprecedented success,” he has seen no “windfall.” He was paid $259.71 last quarter in streaming residuals for “Identity Crisis,” the Suits episode he wrote. Drogin said NBCUniversal paid the six original Suits writers less than $3,000 last quarter to stream the episode they wrote on two platforms.

Members hold pickets saying for example: SAG-AFTRA on Strike! and Writers Guild 100 Days Stronger.
Members of the Writers Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild walk the picket line outside Netflix in Hollywood on Thursday. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

“Yes, it’s gratifying that the show has found a new and bigger audience this summer on Netflix,” he wrote. “Every writer and actor hopes their work will endure. And yes, I’m grateful to have been in the engine room of ‘Suits’ for eight of its nine seasons. But $259.71 for writing a show with an audience so massive? This is why writers and actors are on strike. Entertainment executives argue that they are offering writers historic raises. The thing is, even a 100% increase on a $259.71 check doesn’t come close to paying most people’s rent.”

The sisters Nora and Lilla Zuckerman, who were producers and writers for Seasons 4 and 5, echoed the sentiment. For writing Suits‘ “Blowback” episode, Lilla received $12,568.57 in residuals in 2016 when it aired on USA, in reruns on the cable show and internationally. This year, with the show’s historic viewership, she’s received $414.26 for that episode, per Decider.

What does this say about what people want to watch?

Suits is one of those shows that was just ripe for people to discover,” Syracuse University professor Robert Thompson, the founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture and a trustee professor at Newhouse School of Public Communication, tells Yahoo Entertainment. “Like a vintage wine, maybe Suits’ time has come.”

While he notes the show is not at the level of The Wire, Sopranos or Breaking Bad — although he points out that Netflix helped make Breaking Bad a hit after the AMC drug drama started streaming on the platform — he says it was an “interesting, compelling, fun-to-watch program” in its original run.

“It’s amusing, not overexposed — and many people didn’t watch it before,” Thompson says. “It’s one of those things where — now there’s a strike, there’s no late-night TV — there’s a lot of older stuff that people haven’t seen. For many people, it shows up on this Netflix service, and it’s all these episodes, like a little treasure trove.”

As for Markle’s role in its success, she doesn’t get a lot of the credit, but some.

“I’m not sure exactly what portion of the recipe for a streaming success she’s responsible for, but she’s certainly an ingredient in that,” Thompson says. “I think the fact that one of the stars of Suits has subsequently become an enormous presence in the culture outside of the show certainly didn’t hurt it. But I think the easy viewing of it, the multiple seasons on Netflix, could have had a big boost even without Meghan Markle, but she’s obviously brought some branding to it that it wouldn’t have otherwise had.”

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