TV, Interrupted: Why Netflix Shut Down The Baby-Sitters Club

Despite its nostalgic roots and passionate fanbase, "The Baby-Sitters Club" sadly suffered the same fate as many Netflix shows: canceled after two brief seasons. It seems cruel that such an effervescent and progressive update of the classic Ann M. Martin books should fade into Netflix obscurity. "The Baby-Sitters Club" was the first adaptation in nearly 30 years, after another short-lived television show and movie in the 1990s. The Netflix series reinvented the spirited young entrepreneurs in a fresh, amusing, and thoughtful way that appealed to Gen Z viewers and wistful adults like myself. 

For those unaware of the beloved series, "The Baby-Sitters Club" follows a group of middle school girls who run a babysitting service for their Connecticut community. Each story features a lesson on the trials and tribulations of running a business. It was immensely popular with young girls, selling over 176 million copies during its run between the years of 1986 and 2000 (via New York Times). 

Before the Netflix release, author Ann M. Martin said she was excited for the show to "inspire a new generation of readers and leaders everywhere" (via Deadline). "The Baby-Sitters Club" brought her childhood icons to the screen with such heart and innovation that the news of the cancellation was truly devastating. 

Why The Baby-Sitters Club was great

What makes the 2020 iteration of "The Baby-Sitters Club" so great is that it retains the plucky enthusiasm of the original series while forging its own contemporary identity. The show follows the same young girls we fell in love with in Martin's books: Kristy, Claudia, Mary Anne, Stacey, and Dawn. None of these preteen girls are stock characters; they all have multifaceted and individual personalities. They are artistic, tenacious, loyal, shy, quiet, fierce, goofy, and outspoken. They navigate their conflicts sensibly and compassionately. "The Baby-Sitters Club" ensemble are wonderful role models for young girls, inspiring them to help the community and develop business acumen. There are some romantic subplots, but it's all part of adolescence and their babysitting work always comes first. 

This new vision of "The Baby-Sitters Club" is also more inclusive, not only featuring Black, Latinx, and Asian characters, but also a transgender child. Mary Anne stands up for her when she is misgendered at the hospital. The series frequently engages with such urgent topics, including bullying on social media, economic disparity, anti-colonialism, and Claudia learning about her grandmother's experience at a Japanese internment camp. Another important storyline is Stacey's grapple with diabetes. It's refreshing to see preteen characters exploring weighty real world issues with empathy and intelligence.

Most importantly, "The Baby-Sitters Club" fills the gap in children's media for stories of preteen girls. Rarely are teen girls featured in stories without being infantilized or sexualized, showrunner Rachel Shukert muses in Vulture. "It seems like girls are expected to go straight from 'Doc McStuffins' to 'Euphoria,'" she observes. "The Baby-Sitters Club" was imperative for young audiences, a feminist and forward-thinking work that spoke to girls' hopes, dreams, and struggles.

Why The Baby-Sitters Club was canceled

Although the series wasn't a cultural phenomenon that attracted a massive audience like "Stranger Things," it still had a dedicated fanbase. However, the abrupt cancellation came down to average audience numbers and only ranking on Netflix's Top 10 for one week. Shukert surmises in Deadline that it was also a case of poor timing: 

"I think we had the bad luck to come out at about the same time as 'Squid Game.' 'Squid Game' premiered on September 17, 2021, and became Netflix's most-watched series ever. Season 2 of "The Baby-Sitters Club" premiered on October 11 which showed them how crazy numbers could get. Numbers that were totally respectable and successful last year were suddenly seen in a different way." 

Netflix also prioritizes shows where viewers binge and complete seasons as quickly as possible. Audiences watched "The Baby-Sitters Club" differently: 

"Parents don't necessarily let kids sit and watch six hours of television at a time — probably rightly! Or they want to save it so they can all watch together ... But at Netflix, it's more about if your show works on the platform than if the platform is working for your show. They want people to watch it a certain way, and they want shows that people will watch that way — not shows that people want to watch in their own way." 

Shukert also believes there are misogynistic reasons at play for the unexpected cancellation of "The Baby-Sitters Club"

 "I think female audiences are trained to not take their own stories as seriously. Stuff men were obsessed with when they were 9 is treated like 'Hamlet.' How many 'Spider-Man' movies are there? How many 'Star Wars?' They tell it over and over again from different perspectives. That's all fine, obviously. But what if someone treated something for girls that seriously? Even with a fraction of the money."

Unfinished business

There were several "Baby-Sitters Club" plot threads left hanging that would have been worth exploring in other seasons. Most important was the addition of junior babysitters who would become a stronger part of the core group and help grow the business. The saddest storyline of the series was the passing of Claudia's adorable grandmother Mimi. Further seasons could have addressed the family adjusting to such a devastating blow and Claudia forming a deeper bond with her sister, Janine. Other questions still linger: Would Mary Anne and Dawn finally become official stepsisters?  How would Mary Anne's romance-turned-friendship with Logan develop?

Towards the end of "The Baby-Sitters Club" season 2, Stacey revealed that her parents might be getting a divorce. The continuation of this plot could have taught younger viewers how to cope with that same situation. Kristy also dealt with the aftermath of her parents' divorce. The series ended with her realization that her biological father will always let her down and her dorky stepfather Watson — someone Kristy took a long time to warm up to — genuinely wants to be a solid father figure for her. Watson lovingly offers to adopt Kristy and her siblings. All of these familial changes and shifts in relationships would have been great to see play out. With a wealth of books to draw from, the possibilities were endless for this adaptation of "The Baby-Sitters Club," and it's sad to know they will never come to fruition. 

Will The Baby-Sitters Club ever return?

Speaking to Vulture, Rachel Shukert directly addressed whether or not "The Baby-Sitters Club" would return on another streaming platform or as a movie: 

"I think it will be complicated. The girls are getting older quickly, and we never expected this to go more than probably three seasons because we knew the girls were going to age out of those characters. Scholastic and Ann [M. Martin] have always been very clear that they don't want the characters to age. They're trapped in amber — she wrote the books for 16 years, and they never got older." 

Even if such deals were made, it would take too long to write the scripts and secure contracts and the child actors would be older teenagers or even adults. Shukert also notes that even if the series could continue with another streamer, they would likely not be allowed to host the first two seasons. Instead, Shukert leaves a final statement for the fans and loyal viewers of "The Baby-Sitters Club:" 

"I have wanted to be a part of the world Ann M. Martin created since I was 7 years old, and for two amazing seasons I actually got to be. It was a dream come true. Although I am heartbroken not to be returning to Stoneybrook for 20 more seasons, I am so proud of the incredible show our amazing cast and crew created and the way it brought joy and comfort to so many when they needed it most."

Watching "The Baby-Sitters Club" is like wrapping yourself in a warm, cozy blanket. It was so inspiring to see a program for young girls that had such a wholesome, positive energy and feminist drive. "The Baby-Sitters Club" was exactly the kind of show I would've loved growing up, and the kind I want my own kids to watch. It's disheartening to see Netflix toss these important female stories so carelessly aside.