Sunday, February 3, 2013

House of Cards: An Introduction

It's been said, perhaps in excess, that the premiere of the entire first season of House of Cards represents the television of the future.  

That Netflix has ponied up some serious (though not wildly serious) dough in paying $100 for 26 episodes of the series isn't the headline; it's that the company-turned-studio has done what most television fans want: put long-term money behind long-term talent.  (I almost wrote "long term tv talent," but with the hiring of David Fincher, Kevin Spacey, and Robin Wright, the only way they are tv is in the "it's-not-TV-it's-HBO" sense.)  

Add to that the stated desire of Netflix to stay out of the show's production.  I think that statement comes with the added caveat of "we'll see." When talent with Oscars and Oscar nominations shows up, Netflix is right to get out of the way.  As for their involvement with the other series in or to-be in production, or series yet undreamed... "we'll see."  Nonetheless, my focus is House of Cards, and as a television watcher I am grateful to hear that Netflix as a scrappy, new production studio is blissfully keeping the hell out.  On my ongoing podcast Looking Back At LOST, I chronicle the greatest drama of this century's first decade--a series both sparked by a soon-to-be-fired network head hoping to give an "F you" to ABC and conceived with declining network interest until it became a hit.  Similarly, I and two compatriots had a podcast about FOX's Alcatraz--a great, dreamy concept marred, terribly so, by over-involvement from the network and other suited folks.  

Lastly, the "future of television" has brought the "novel" approach of releasing the entire first season at once.  Those who think it's novel don't understand: it's already here.  Even prior to Netflix, studios would release the previous season of a show on DVD a few weeks before the new season started.  Why?  To encourage all-you-can-eat viewing, albeit ostensibly to cause a frenzy in traditional viewing. In more recent years, Netflix and its content partners have released prior seasons well in advance of the new season; for the content producers, the ostensible reason remained the same.  For Netflix, the realization was that people enjoy watching serial shows at a personal pace.  Perhaps too they've noticed people like me, people who are fed up with the network schedule.  I like Hell on Wheels so much that I skipped the entire second season on AMC, and I'll catch it on Netflix.  I like, even more so, the rather consumer-empowering notion that Netflix is putting their money where their collective mouth is and saying, "No really, watch when you want."  The HBO model is to put on great shows at different times of year, so most viewers keep the subscription year round.  While there is a bit of that with Netflix (it seems none of their new series are debuting at the same time), one could also spend $8 this month and get all of House of Cards, then return in May for Arrested Development.  Heck, the same person could just wait until May and pay the 8 bucks for both series.  Does Netflix care?  I'm sure their accountant says yes, but Netflix offers no block against that.

So what does money for talent, a hands-off network, and one season up front result in?  In my next entry, I'll cover the first episode, Chapter 1.

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