David Harbour Thought Stranger Things Would Get Canceled After One Season

Rewatching the "Stranger Things" season 1 trailer in 2022 offers a helpful reminder of just how far the Duffer Brothers' series has come since its early days. One of the first things that jumps out is the look. Where season 4 had a budget to rival that of an "Avengers" film, season 1 hews closer aesthetically to the far more modestly-budgeted 1980s classics that inspired it. The show was also marketed much more heavily on its Amblin influences than its horror aspects. For as much as the series borrows equally from the works of Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, and Stephen King, Netflix clearly felt it was better off being sold as a riff on "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" (but with a super-powered girl instead of an alien) than a story in the vein of "It."

The other thing that jumps out is how much the season 1 trailer posits Jim Hopper (David Harbour) and Joyce Byers (Winona Ryder) as the series' leads. With the show's young stars being unknowns at the time, it's not surprising Netflix banked more on the adults to appeal to viewers old enough to be nostalgic for the '80s — an era when Ryder starred in movies like "Beetlejuice" and "Heathers." As for Harbour, he was a lesser-known character actor at the time, hoping for his shot at making it big. Just two years before "Stranger Things" premiered, he was still playing roles like — checks notes – Bad Guy Who Denzel Washington Tortures in "The Equalizer."

At the time of filming, however, Harbour wasn't at all convinced "Stranger Things" would be a hit. In fact, as he admitted on a recent interview on the BBC's "The One Show" (via Insider), he figured it wouldn't even last beyond a single season.

'We thought no one would watch it'

By the time "Stranger Things" season 4 came around, the show was able to afford everything from the costly licensing rights for its many needle-drops to the heavy amounts of CGI needed to realize the Upside Down as more than just a blue-tinted version of its sets for the show's real-world. That wasn't at all the case back in season 1, though. "I remember when we were shooting the first season. We were down in Atlanta, Netflix had given us a budget of about $20," David Harbour half-jokingly told "The One Show." He added:

"Halfway through I remember my hair person coming up to me, like about episode four we were shooting, and she was like, 'I don't think it's gonna work.' By the time we finished, we wrapped, I thought we wouldn't get a second season, we'd be the first Netflix show kind of ever to never get a second season. We thought no one would watch it, it was going to be a disaster."

Harbour's comments are also a reminder of just how different things are at Netflix now, so far as the longevity of its series go. Would the streamer even pick up an original show like "Stranger Things" these days, much less give it the time to grow its audience through word of mouth before pulling the plug? At a time when Netflix and other streaming services are much more concerned with trying to keep their shareholders happy than investing in up-and-coming artists, one suspects the Duffer Brothers' series might've well become the "disaster" Harbour feared it would be. Perhaps the Duffers can pay it forward by using their production shingle to support new storytellers themselves.

"Stranger Things" will (eventually) return for its fifth and final season on Netflix.