Netflix To Offer Original, Big Budget Drama

The new show 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.
By
Associated Press,

NEW YORK (AP) — 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.

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.

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"It's sort of like we're the new television series that isn't on television," says Spacey.

On Feb. 1, all 13 hours of "House of Cards" will premiere on Netflix, a potentially landmark event that could herald the transition of television away from pricey cable bundles and toward the Internet - a process well under way at YouTube, Hulu, Yahoo and others, but not yet tested to the degree of "House of Cards."

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.

"When we got into original programming, I wanted it to be loud and deliberate," says Ted Sarandos, head of content at Netflix, who only will say the cost was in the "high end" for a TV show. "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."

Brand Connections

The revered British original aired in three seasons from 1990 to 1996 and was adapted from the books by Michael Dobbs, a notable politician and adviser to Margaret Thatcher. It starred Ian Richardson as a scheming, manipulating politician who shared his power-hungry strategies directly into the camera. With a darkly comic antihero as protagonist, it was a forerunner to characters like Walter White of "Breaking Bad" and Dexter Morgan of "Dexter."

Independent studio Media Rights Capital, a producer of films like "Ted" and "Babel," purchased the rights to "House of Cards" and paired Fincher with the project, along with Beau Willimon, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of another political drama, "The Ides of March."

When MRC approached different networks (HBO, Showtime and others), it reached out to Netflix about adding the show to its digital library following a run on TV. But Netflix wanted "House of Cards" as a statement show to launch a crop of original programming.

Sarandos says their wealth of data on user viewing habits proved there's a large audience for Fincher, Spacey and political thrillers. As licensing rights have gotten pricier and harder to land, and the streaming business has grown more competitive, Netflix has focused on adding exclusive programming to entice viewers.

"When you look at 'The Sopranos' or 'Sex and the City' on HBO, or 'Mad Men' on AMC or 'The Shield' on FX or 'Weeds' on Showtime, if you have the opportunity to earn your way into becoming that sort of anchor flagship show that defines a network, it's a very special thing," says Modi Wiczyk, co-CEO of MRC. "I'm sure going in, all of those folks that produced all of those shows said, 'This is not an incumbent. What's it going to look like?'"

A general spirit of rookie experimentation pervades "House of Cards," the first TV show for Fincher, the director of "Fight Club" and "The Social Network."

"I walk into this as a total neophyte. I don't watch much TV," says Fincher, who directed the first two hours and has overseen the whole series. "What was interesting to me was the notion of having a relationship with an audience that was longer than two hours."

Obsessively bingeing on a serial, whether "The Wire" or "Battlestar Galactica," has become a modern ritual in DVR-emptying bursts, on-demand catch-ups or DVD marathons. In releasing "House of Cards" all at once, Netflix will sacrifice the attention generated by weekly episodes to cater to these habits. Sarandos notes that in the first 24 hours that Netflix had the second season to AMC's "Walking Dead," about 200,000 people watched the entire season.

Netflix, being outside the purview of Nielsen ratings, doesn't plan to release viewership figures for "House of Cards." Instead, they hope to retain and add to its 27.1 million domestic subscribers, a number that hasn't always grown as quickly as some Wall Street investors have wanted. (A positive earnings report Wednesday, though, sent the stock soaring.) The audience for "House of Cards" will be immediately global: It premieres in 50 countries and territories.

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Ratings

Overnights, adults 18-49 for September 27, 2016
  • 1.
    3.0/11
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    1.8/6
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    1.2/4
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    0.9/3
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    0.6/2
  • 6.
    0.2/1
Source: Nielsen

Reviews

  • Rob Owen

    Easily fall’s best broadcast network comedy pilot, NBC’s The Good Place offers a clever high-concept premise that’s complemented with intelligent, sometimes absurdist humor. Created by Michael Schur, co-creator of NBC’s Parks and Recreation, The Good Place is a highly serialized series that’s essentially set in heaven and stars Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. NBC made five episodes of The Good Place available for review, and the show not only holds up, but also it improves, deepening characters that initially feel one-note and frequently leaving viewers guessing with cliffhanger endings to many of the episodes. The combination of snappy dialogue and winning but flawed characters makes The Good Place a great bet for fans of smart TV comedy.

  • Maureen Ryan

    Pitch has swagger, for good reason. It gets the big things right; the Fox drama about the first female baseball player in the Major Leagues is one of the year’s most assured and exciting debuts. But part of what impresses about the pilot is also the way it confidently strings together so many small but telling details. Ginny (Kylie Bunbury) is the first woman to be called up from the minors to the big leagues, and no show since Friday Night Lights has done a better job of portraying the internal and external pressures that weigh heavily on young athletes asked to do much more than merely succeed on the field. Pitch will likely do a good job of getting viewers to root for it. The hope is that the show won’t be an impressive, short-lived curiosity, but rather a long-term phenomenon.

  • Kevin Fallon

    In a fall TV season that’s already making a splash for championing diverse, distinctive voices in an array of projects that they created, wrote, and starred in, Better Things on FX stands out. The show is created by, written by, and starsPamela Adlon. She plays Sam Fox, the single mother of three daughters modeled after her own reality-show-ready experience raising three girls in Los Angeles following a divorce. Sam is also, like Adlon, a working actress — on shows both raunchy, a la Californication, and animated for children, like her role on Recess. It’s a refreshingly blunt take on single motherhood without sacrificing the warmth of parental love, portraying the dance between selfishness and selflessness that’s at the heart of being a parent — especially one weathering the hormonal fireworks of a household of four women at different ages.

  • David Wiegand

    The fall TV season doesn’t count as much as it used to — we already know that. But no matter how many retreads the broadcast networks throw at viewers in the next few months, this fall will be memorable because of the premiere of Atlanta on Tuesday, Sept. 6, on FX. The half-hour comedy created by and starring Donald Glover (Community), simply and brilliantly recalibrates our expectations of what a TV comedy is and how black lives are portrayed on the medium.

  • Louisa Ada Seltzer

    The second reboot of the 1980s John Candy movie Uncle Buck, bumped by ABC from midseason, has the same tired jokes you'll find on any second-rate sitcom. Too bad, because Mike Epps is appealing and ABC would be wise to keep him around for future shows, but there’s just not enough to this show to suggest it will last past summer. It also airs against NBC’s America’s Got Talent, summer’s No. 1 program on broadcast, which may make it even harder to find an audience.

  • Neil Genzlinger

    Bryan Cranston brings his Tony Award-winning interpretation of President Lyndon B. Johnson to television in an adaptation of the Robert Schenkkan play All the Way, and it’s still quite a sight to behold, just as it was on Broadway in 2014. Nothing beats witnessing this kind of larger-than-life portrayal onstage, of course. But the television version, presented by HBO, offers plenty of rewards, allowing Cranston to work the close-ups and liberating him from the confines of a theater set. Cranston’s performance is a gem — in his hands, this accidental president comes across as an amazing bundle of contradictions, someone who seems at once too vulgar for the job and just right for it.

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