It is not often that we experience a new phenomenon in the world of film and television. However, as of this past Friday, entertainment audiences have been treated to a grand experiment… and a pretty risk one at that.
We all know Netflix, the streaming and mail order service entertainment catalog that serves us thousands and thousands of titles for our viewing pleasure. Personally, I feel strongly that Netflix is absolutely wonderful. The streaming service alone gives fans of movies and TV a tremendous amount of exposure to titles they might not normally see. This is music to my ears as I always encourage movie (and TV) lovers to expand their palette, hence my “Movies You Might Not Know” posts, etc…
Don’t get me wrong. A lot of the titles offered on Netflix are junk, but that’s movies for ya! On the contrary, when I scroll through their Classic Movies selection, it’s pretty damn impressive. I love the fact that, through Netflix, people are watching things they never would otherwise, especially with the death of video chains. Pay cable like HBO, Showtime, and others offer the same chance, but on a much more limited basis. And we all know that when a blockbuster title like The Hunger Games premieres of Cinemax, it’s going to be showing a lot, which preempts other titles.
Until now, Netflix has always been thought of as simply a way to see movies and TV shows (and documentaries and concerts) that have already been released. That is until last Friday when Netflix made a bold decision to begin making their own original programming.
And for their first experiment, they didn’t go for some generic action pic or outrageous comedy that might have cost $10-$20 million to produce. Instead, Netflix went ahead and made a 13 episode TV series “House of Cards” and they invested in some high-price talent to do it. A second season is already ordered. The series stars Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright Penn, and Kate Mara. The first two episodes are directed by the great David Fincher, who brought us Seven, The Game, Fight Club, Panic Room, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Other episodes are directed by James Foley, who directed Spacey in Glengarry Glen Ross and Joel Schumacher, who directed Spacey in A Time to Kill. The show is set in Washington D.C., with Spacey playing a conniving Congressman who will go to far lengths to get what he wants. The characters are complicated and well-written. The direction is first-rate. I don’t know why, but the orchestral theme song by Jeff Beal has not gotten out of my head since I started watching. I’m six episodes in out of thirteen and I can already say with high confidence that Kevin Spacey will win Best Actor at the Emmys this fall for his brilliant performance.
While many may gripe that movies aren’t that good anymore (a sentiment I vehemently disagree with), there is little doubt that television drama has been in a golden age for over a decade now. From “The Sopranos” to “Mad Men” to “Breaking Bad” to “Lost” to “24” to “Homeland” to “Boardwalk Empire” to “The Shield” to “The Walking Dead” and much more, TV drama has been on a hot streak for a long time now. Looking at that list, you realize a lot of that has to do with cable networks and their ability to take risks and produce high-quality programming. What HBO started has been continued by AMC, FX, and Showtime, among others.
Netflix decided it was time to get in on the action and they spent an astonishing $100 million dollars to produce two seasons of “House of Cards”. It may be awhile before we know if their investment paid off. There’s a lot of questions, but the main one is: how many people will watch it? What is a good number to be considered a hit show and worth the nine digit investment? It will be months before we really know how well it did. Will Netflix subscribers watch one or two episodes or the whole 13 episodes? And will this lead to Netflix producing a lot more TV shows and movies?
If it does lead to movies… what kind of talent will the company be able to attract? They’ve had a heckuva start enlisting Fincher for “Cards”, considering he’s one of the most sought after directors in Hollywood.
This all remains to be seen, but I give a whole lot of credit to Netflix for making their inaugural dip into the original programming pool a worthwhile one. “House of Cards” is pretty special and I highly recommend it.