Is the TV world finally ready to live in a House of Cards? Netflix hopes so.

by Colin McGuire. 0 Comments

Oh, June 2011. How you were sizzling with the beginnings of my first summer south of the Mason-Dixon line. You offered up my sixth month at this newspaper. A Pizza Blitz outlet still existed at Westview. I was hundreds of pounds lighter. Craig Ferguson was still doing his thing. Rick Perry mattered. And it wasn’t negative-83 degrees outside.

Again. It wasn’t negative-83 degrees outside.

Oh … and I wrote this after reading that Robin Wright was in talks to sign up for some brand new web series no one knew much about:

Finally, some news on the one thing I’ve been waiting for to make news so I could write about it on this particular blog. Robin Wright (or, as some may most recently remember her, Robin Wright Penn) is officially partaking in negotiations to play the lead female role opposite Kevin Spacey in something called “House Of Cards.” There you go. That’s about the only news I could come up with that broke within the last few days.

It’s groundbreaking, isn’t it?

Well, unless you happen to be the treasurer of the Robin Wright fan club (or Sean Penn hate club, for that matter), I suppose such news isn’t all that important to you, the fabulously astute blog reader. And you’re right. What’s so important about the recently-divorced actress signing on to appear in some political thriller based on a BBC mini-series from the 1990s, you ask? Absolutely nothing.

But what is important is the fact that it finally allows me to babble about one of the more anticipated moves Internet-based television watching has taken over the last six months (unfortunately in March, before this blog existed). You see, “House Of Cards” is set to be the first Netflix-exclusive television program the company plans to stream. The show will begin airing in late 2012 and will feature the aforementioned Spacey as its star and the always-intriguing David Fincher as the program’s driving force.

OK. So “late” 2012″ really means “Feb. 1, 2013,” a revisionist now says. I know, I know. Silly 2011 news stories with their silly made-up dates for silly television programming.

In any case, the whole thing is set to debut one week from tomorrow on Netflix. All the first season’s episodes will be released at once. And, most importantly, we’ll leave the whole “Is Robin Wright going to be in it” question suspended in the air for you to find out when the series begins. You can also, by the way, thank me later.

Naturally, The Associated Press’s Jake Coyle wrote a lengthy piece on the ballyhooed project today. And it is from that very item that I will now pull the following …

“In Netflix’s bid for a flagship original drama of its own — a ‘Sopranos’ to its HBO — the subscription streaming service is presenting a high-class adaptation of a British political thriller offered up all at once, with its first season immediately ready for TV-viewing gluttony,” Coyle wrote. “The show, ‘House of Cards,’ is a bold attempt to remake the television landscape with the kind of prestige project cable channels like HBO, AMC and Showtime have used to define themselves. But ‘House of Cards,’ produced by David Fincher and starring Kevin Spacey, won’t be on the dial of that refuge of quality dramas — cable television — but streamed online to laptops and beamed directly to flat-screens through set-top boxes and Internet-enabled devices. … The show is no low-budget Web series, but an HBO-style production for which Netflix reportedly paid in the neighborhood of $100 million for two seasons.”

All right. Two things to note:

1) Beau Willimon’s name is now attached to it, which was something that escaped me a couple years ago. This is important, why, the well-rounded disembodied voice asks? Well, he was on the writing team that concocted the screen adaptation for what I still believe was 2011’s best film, “The Ides Of March.” So, in other words, the dude knows his way around a political thriller. Add that to Kevin Spacey being his usual angry Kevin Spacey self, and you should have an awfully intriguing product more or less tailor-made for anyone who likes sarcastic dialogue and mean powerful people.

And 2) As Coyle points out in his piece, what kind of impact will releasing all the episodes at once have on the success of the series? In a world filled with people who enjoy bingeing on their favorite television seasons during lazy Sundays, you have to think that this may actually help the sustainability of the product, right? Five years ago, you couldn’t have said that. Part of television’s lure has traditionally been the week-to-week wait between episodes, giving everybody ample time to dissect plot lines with anybody who dare approach a water cooler. These days? Not so much. It’s gotten to the point where people deliberately fill their DVRs with entire seasons of episodes before sitting down one day to knock all of them out at once. Case in point: In the first 24 hours Netflix had the second season of “The Walking Dead” available to stream, about 200,000 people watched the entire season. And that, friends, is a lot of zombies.

One thing that had escaped me until Coyle pointed it out, though, was the notion of how this thing is aiming to become a watershed moment for original Internet series. Or, as he put it, like “The Sopranos” was for HBO, or like “Mad Men” was for AMC. Such is an awfully provocative concept when you look at it beyond a first glance.

All of our zeitgeist moments in television throughout recent years have come from programs that have served as conduits for single networks to become respected TV-ratings contenders. AMC has Don Draper to thank for “Breaking Bad.” HBO has Tony Soprano to thank for “Game of Thrones.” Showtime has Dexter Morgan to thank for “Californication.”

Netflix has …

… nothing yet. I’ll still contend that my first love affair with Web-specific programming came in the form of “Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee,” but that wasn’t distributed by an entity looking to transform the landscape of television consumption. Netflix, however, clearly has ambitions to become a game-changer and you don’t really need to look further than the 100 million reasons the company needs this thing to work to understand how much The Big Red-Enveloped Machine has invested in as much.

“When we got into original programming, I wanted it to be loud and deliberate,” Ted Sarandos, head of content at Netflix, told Coyle. “I wanted consumers to know that we were doing it and I wanted the industry to know that we were doing it so we could attract more interesting projects. Doing it in some half way, some small thing, it wasn’t going to get us there.”

Come Feb. 1, the journey to there officially begins. That said, the question still remains: Will anybody be interested in making the trip with him?


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