“EARLY in the new Netflix series “House of Cards” the narrator and card player Representative Francis Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, looks straight into the camera and tells viewers: “Power is a lot like real estate. It’s all about location, location, location. The closer you are to the source, the higher your property value.”
Underwood is speaking at a presidential inauguration, just outside the Capitol in Washington. As viewers observe the swearing-in he asks in a delicious Southern drawl, “Centuries from now, when people watch this footage, who will they see smiling just at the edge of the frame?” Then Underwood comes into frame again. He’s just a few rows away from the president. He gives the camera a casual wave.
Underwood, having been spurned in his bid to become secretary of state, is on a quest for power that’s just as suspenseful as anything on television. But his story will unspool not on TV but on Netflix, the streaming video service that is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in original programming. Its plan for showing “House of Cards,” an adaptation of a 1990 BBC mini-series set in Parliament, will itself be a departure from the usual broadcast approach. On Feb. 1 all 13 episodes will be available at once, an acknowledgment that many of its subscribers like to watch shows in marathon sessions.”
This paragraph seems to be significant:
“We approached this creatively as a 13-hour movie,” said Mr. Willimon, who eschewed cliffhangers at the ends of some episodes because, well, he could. “Knowing we had two full seasons in advance, I didn’t feel the pressure to sell the end of each episode with superficial cliffhangers or shock tactics in order to keep coming back, in order to jack up the ratings week to week,” he said. “I hope our version of a cliffhanger is compelling, sophisticated characters and complex storytelling.”
One thing that you note when you watch TV series on Netflix or Amazon is that the cliffhangers arrive constantly, right at the point where adverts are placed. Which means that writers must write them in. Creatively, this seems constraining.
For a writer, surely this must be excellent disruptive news? Networked TV is far too cosy and needs a good kicking. “House of Cards,” the first series, was a splendid piece. Netflix couldn’t have chosen a more appropriate vehicle. FU, indeed:)
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