Netflix shuffles the TV deck with 'House of Cards'
This image released by Netflix shows Kevin Spacey in a scene from the Netflix original series, "House of Cards," an adaptation of a British classic. (AP Photo/Netflix, Melinda Sue Gordon)
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.
"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."
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.