Ben Stoddard - March 18, 2011 - Comments (208)
It’s not quite a done deal, but Deadline has reported that Netflix has won a bid to produce a new, original show, House of Cards.
It’s a weird and dangerous thing, this. The Big Red Envelope moving from, essentially, hosting into the actual production and creation of TV. It’s coming at a time when Netflix is getting a lot of pushback from networks and studios who want a bigger piece of the digital pie. Plus, the cost of winning said show is reported to be upward of $140 million.
And the whole project is named House of Cards! Critics haven’t been this eager to put on their pun hats since Julie Taymor’s Tempest in a teapot. (The movie, not the other disasterpiece)
But I think (I hope), this move just might revitalize a flailing, if profitable industry.
“House of Cards” is an hour long drama that will be executive produced and directed by David Fincher and star none other than Kevin Spacey. If that’s not a one-two punch of Fuck Yeah, I don’t know what is. And HBO and AMC—who were rumored to have been bidding as well—knew it too.
Web-series and web content have taken a funny path. If you had asked me 5 years ago, I would have told you with the utmost of confidence that we’d all be watching nothing but independently produced web series. I would have been less than correct.
The trouble with this kind of content isn’t budget or availability. There’s easily hundreds if not thousands of independent or sponsored web series out right now—most of which are produced for only hundreds of dollars an episode.
It’s not technology. Everyone has a fast enough computer, these days. My mom can use Hulu with ease, my Dad has a Netflix account, and I’m sure your parents aren’t much different.
The problem with web-originated or web-only content seems to be one of legitimacy. No one is going to sit through a 22-minute episode of a show without some reasonable expectation of payoff.
But legitimacy is something this buy has in droves. Netflix is the world’s largest deliverer of streaming movies, commanding 61% of the market. Netflix has done it so fast and so well they’re actually suffering a backlash from studios who are now threatening to or already delaying or denying content in an effort to capture more of those digital dollars (see WB and Facebook)
And the content itself is headlined with two money-generating names. David Fincher is a world-class director and one of the few who are a household name. Kevin Spacey has two Oscars, more good roles than you can shake a stick at, and enough gravitas to blow the roof off (in a serious manner).
Plus, the two have worked together on SPOILER, to great result.
The other interesting part of Netflix’s purchase, is just how much they bought—two complete, 13-episode seasons. An (I’ll look this up later) unprecedented commitment to a show and its success.
The television world—which has become notorious for piloting everything, last-second renewals, knee-jerk cancelations, and generally being chickenshit about anything new or interesting—is balking at this “ridiculous” maneuver.
But it’s perfect. Just as we talk about viewers looking for legitimacy from their content, so too would Fincher be looking for from a network.
A gigantic check helps, sure. Luckily Netflix is doing pretty okay. But even more valuable might be a seemingly unflinching guarantee to a noted filmmaker that he gets at least, at least, two seasons to tell his story.
Imagine a world where Joss Whedon had been promised 26 episodes to make sure Firefly could be told with pacing. He’d still have a fetish for dominating-but-silent women, but it probably would have been a better show with more time to catch the attention of its audience (who found it eventually, to the point where Fox made a movie to make up for the cancellation).
Mark Harris’ absolutely phenomenal article “The Day the Movies Died” tries to pin down what it is that has made film studios stop committing to anything without a “3″ in the title. He describes a vicious circle of ever expanding costs and ever shrinking confidence from bankrollers. That Inception, despite the insane credentials of the cast and crew, seemed a “gamble.”
The whole thing is notably bleak.
But then here comes Netflix with its giant balls. And it can do so because it has the one thing traditional TV and movies have been losing left and right: viewers.
Frustrated by rigid schedules and inaccessibility, people have been sprinting away from TV sets and landing straight at Netflix’s feet. It doesn’t need to run 400 hours of promotional material to try to get you to their channel—you’re already there watching other things you love.
And it’s a smart move for Netflix—who seems in danger of losing some of that other content—to start replacing it with solid, original shows. And slotting a Fincher/Spacey drama into the slider with Dexter and Weeds seems like such a natural fit.
I’d also like to think both Starz and Netflix have felt a little burned by being ill-prepared for the digital success of shows like “Party Down” (go fucking watch it, wherever you can). And actually, if “House of Cards” goes well, it could open up the flood gates for other lower-budget comedy shows just like it.
I have to believe there is a wealthy of phenomenal shows that can be produced for sums large and small that have been lost into the round file because the stakes for networks have been raised to such dizzying heights they’re only piloting a few shows and picking up even fewer. The only cost-beneficial sure-thing is reality TV and boy, have we been swamped.
Netflix has thrown a giant wrench into the machine. But with a lot of aim and a lot of force, it seems.
And it couldn’t have come at a better time.