Breaking Bad was an AMC show, but when show creator Vince Gilligan accepted his Emmy for Best Drama, he had someone else to thank.
“I think Netflix kept us on the air,” said Gilligan on September 22, Emmy in hand. “Not only are we standing up here, but … I don’t think our show would have even lasted beyond Season Two if not for streaming on demand.”
Indeed, the show had been cancelled in England after its second season and the same thing almost happened in the U.S. after the third. Gilligan’s gratefulness was the ultimate vindication for Netflix, a company that lost 800,000 subscribers and saw its stock plummet by 50 percent after it announced the separation of their streaming and DVD services in 2011.
“That didn’t really bother us,” Netflix Chief Communications Officer Jonathan Friedland, a former SA resident, told the Current from Los Angeles. “It was scary, but that’s the nature of Netflix: We take big risks.” The company later nixed the unpopular plan, but other risks have paid off handsomely.
At the last Golden Globe ceremony, Netflix had six nominations (second only to HBO), more than CBS, NBC and ABC. But initially nothing seemed dicier than House of Cards, which premieres its second season on February 14. Not only was Netflix’s own top-notch series, based on a 1990s BBC program of the same name, good enough to rival and surpass anything you can watch on TV—the complete first season was available in its entirety from the start.
“When we put all the episodes [of House of Cards] out at once, some said, ‘Oh, you’re going to kill all the water cooler moments, you’re going to kill the buzz,’ but that’s nonsense,” said Friedland. “People read books at different rates and listen to music at different rates, so [having all episodes available at once] is not the end of the world.”
Kevin Spacey (who stars in House of Cards as Frank Underwood) was even more direct: “We’ve learned the lesson the music industry didn’t learn,” Spacey told Rolling Stone. “Give people what they want when they want it, in the form they want it in, at a reasonable price, and they’ll buy it and they won’t necessarily steal it.”
The new season of House of Cards promises to be even darker and meaner than the first one. Underwood is now the Vice President of the United States (“One heartbeat away from the presidency and not one vote cast in my name … Democracy is so overrated,” he says to the camera), and Molly Parker (Alma Garrett in HBO’s Deadwood) and Sam Page (Greg Harris in AMC’s Mad Men) are the new castmembers. But there’s more: Some of the episodes will have director’s commentary, a common feature available on DVDs and Blu-rays.
“We had a big fight about the director’s commentary,” Friedland said. “Some of us think nobody cares about them, and some of us think a lot do care. So [Netflix] said, ‘OK, we’ll do a test. We’ll have David Fincher and other directors do a commentary and see how many people use it.’” But what about the show itself? I ask, trying to squeeze some advanced intel out of Friedland.
“The different thing this season is that it puts much more emphasis on Claire [Underwood]; she really comes into her own,” said Friedland about the no-nonsense character masterfully played by Robin Wright. When I joke about the series killing Congressman Russo (Corey Stoll) way too soon in Season One, Friedland laughs and warns me: “Oh, we loved Russo, too, but we’re just going to keep killing ’em off, you have no idea. I’ve seen the first three episodes, and it’s nasty, but fun. Just because we like a character we’re not necessarily going to let them stick around for very long.”
Next for Netflix is to consolidate its feature film-streaming service (which began with the Oscar-nominated The Square and continued with Mitt and the kiddie golf doc The Short Game) and continue pushing exclusive shows like the new hit Orange is the New Black. But no other show has created a bigger buzz than the Breaking Bad prequel Better Call Saul, starring the shady lawyer Saul Goodman played by Bob Odenkirk, which premieres in November. The entire first season of the show will stream exclusively on Netflix in the U.S. and Canada about a year after its AMC premiere, and the company also has an international agreement for streaming to audiences beyond those two countries. And get this: Better Call Saul has already secured the return of Walter White’s nemesis Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks), and Bryan Cranston (Walt) and Aaron Paul (Jesse Pinkman) are willing if not eager to join as well.
“Both Bryan and I want to be a part of that, if they’ll have us,” Paul told Details magazine. “I’d be open to it for sure!” Cranston told Rolling Stone. “It’d be fun to go back into the New Mexico desert and play with my friends.”
So what is it, Mr. Friedland? Will Walt and Jesse be back?
“Oh, man … I don’t get involved in casting,” Friedland said. “But the good thing is that, in a prequel, a lot of people are still alive, so who knows?”
The original article misstated the Netflix's role regarding the production and distribution ofBetter Call Saul.
House of Cards: The Complete Season Two
Premieres February 14