Dirt: Bridgerton is a show about newsletters

A solo author paywalling her content and causing trouble?

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Previously we here at Dirt had Industry week; the next monocultural streaming show appears to be Netflix’s Bridgerton, an anachronistic period drama produced by Shonda Rhimes as part of her overall deal with the platform. The communal real-time binge is happening right about now; the eight episodes are extremely worth it if you like historical settings, elaborate costumes, or just star-crossed lovers. (The writing, based on a series of romance novels, is not the high point of the show.) DUH SPOILERS WILL HAPPEN

The show is also a parable about the media industry. The setting is early 19th-century London; a mysterious Lady Whistledown is producing a printed pamphlet that everyone in high society reads as soon as it’s off the press. The newsletter features society gossip and reportage on all the latest parties and marriage proposals, with such a degree of accuracy that it simply must come from an insider. (The pseudonymous writer isn’t revealed until the final episode.) Of course, Lady Whistledown charges for access to her content and seems to make a good deal of money from it, whoever she is.

A solo writer venturing out on her own and connecting directly with readers who crave an intimate voice? A simple, digestible format? No ads, only subscriptions? Is this Regency England or digital media in late 2020? Bridgerton’s plot is driven primarily by what is or might be printed by Lady Whistledown; everyone in London needs to read the pamphlet, even the Queen. It’s the perfect business model.

What I’m saying is Lady Whistledown needs to start a Substack and scale up the operation, maybe launch a New York bureau. It’s exactly what we all want while we’re stuck at home: vicious rumors, salacious details, and light trolling. Gawker would be jealous. — By Kyle Chayka

The Dirt: Inside information drives subscription revenue, especially if it’s about the Duke.