'House of Cards' Showrunner Binge-Watches Like the Rest of Us6 Mar, 2014 By: Chris Tribbey
Netflix debuted the second season of its original series “House of Cards” on Valentine’s Day, a Friday. By the next Monday, an estimated 670,000 (or 2%) of Netflix’s 33 million-plus domestic subscribers had watched all 13 episodes, according to data from networking data company Procera.
Beau Willimon, writer and executive producer for the show, understands this binge-watching mentality. He engages in it himself.
“I absolutely find myself binge-watching shows on Netflix all the time,” he said during a recent roundtable discussion with reporters. “I mean, it’s tougher for me these days because I don’t necessarily have six- or seven-hour stretches where I can binge. I would like to. More often than not, I might watch two or three, or on the rare occasion four episodes of something in a row.”
When he’s had the time, Willimon admits he’s binge-watched “Breaking Bad,” the 15-part documentary series The Story of Film: An Odyssey and the miniseries drama Top of the Lake.
“When I originally watched ‘The Wire,’ for instance, you know I binged the first couple of seasons and then I didn’t want it to end, so I spaced out the next three quite slowly,” he said. “I think all of that speaks to viewer empowerment. Whatever you want your experience to be you can make it your own, and I indulge and exploit that as much as anyone else.”
The idea of binge-watching is important, with Netflix choosing to debut the entire second season of “House of Cards” at one time, instead of rolling out episodes every week. The strategy even had President Obama sending out a Tweet, begging Americans who had already watched the season to not share any spoilers.
The President had every reason to be concerned: the very first episode of the second season held a series-shifting change, one that Willimon was “surprised” the show was able to keep under wraps.
“It was a big dramatic move and it’s very difficult to keep those things under wraps,” he said. “We took high security precautions with the scripts. … When we shot that scene, we didn’t even print script pages, except for the director and the actors that evening. There was a little bit of a disinformation campaign too."
That included having season one star Kate Mara send out false “on set” Tweets during production, and complete silence from cast members whenever they were asked about the progress of filming for the second season.
“I think all of those combined somehow, miraculously, allowed us to keep that secret, and I’m glad we were able to because a lot of viewers were able to enjoy the jaw-dropping excitement of that moment,” Willimon said. “That’s precisely what we wanted to achieve.”
Willimon said the show — while maybe not realistic in its bloody and brutal depiction of D.C. political life — relies heavily on research from Washington experts, and takes a stance on the current state of American politics. Just like in “House of Cards,” it’s gridlock on the actual Hill. And Kevin Spacey’s character, Frank Underwood, is out to end that gridlock, at almost all costs … as long as he comes out ahead.
“I think that there is something delicious for viewers about a politician who is able to cut through that gridlock like a knife through butter and does not take no for an answer and says there is always a way,” Willimon said. “He sees possibility in everything; everything is an opportunity. Every person is an opportunity and how he can turn those opportunities to his advantage is what makes him so attractive to viewers.”
As for the eventual disc release of “House of Cards” (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment released the first season on disc, sans bonus features, in June), Willimon said the powers that be are discussing the possibility of adding extras, to make the disc option an attractive buy for consumers.
“It’s still to be determined what extra features if any we will include for season two and beyond, and I honestly just don’t know the answer to that question yet,” Willimon said. “We are well aware that fans appreciate those extras and we are certainly putting thought into it.”