Kevin Spacey calls “House of Cards” “the new television series that isn’t on television.”
And therein lies one of the biggest media stories of the year: Whether spending $100 million to hire an Oscar-winning star and one of the most gifted feature film directors in Hollywood can lead to a TV series compelling enough to change the way viewers have been watching television most or all of their lives.In one of the biggest media gambles of the decade, Spacey, David Fincher, Netflix and a production company you probably never heard of named Media Rights Capital are betting that the 13 episodes of a political drama they created in and around Baltimore last year can alter the basic TV business model that’s essentially been in place since the 1950s.
Predicting lifestyle and entertainment industry change in these tumultuous times is a fool’s game. But after seeing the first two episodes in this Shakespearean saga of Washington betrayal and revenge, it is safe to say that if it were on television, “House of Cards” would be the best series the medium has to offer. The two episodes directed by Fincher, the only ones Netflix made available for screening, can stand shoulder to shoulder with the first two hours of “Mad Men” or “Homeland.” In fact, visually, “House of Cards” is far superior to both. And I say that after watching on a standard computer screen.
Starting Friday, Netflix subscribers will be able to go online and stream all 13 episodes of Season One. The thinking is that the quality of the production and the ability to watch a full season without being at the mercy of a network or cable channel that parcels the series out one episode a week will be enough to get viewers to join Netflix and change the way they have essentially consumed TV since the late 1940s. “House of Cards” will not be on TV in the U.S., the U.K. or Scandinavia, where Netflix bought first-run rights usurping cable channels like HBO, Showtime and AMC that have come to own the quality TV game since the 1990s, when the broadcast networks surrendered the territory in favor of cost-effective reality TV.