‘‘We want to have a situation where these shows have time to find their audience,’’ says Sarandos. ‘‘We’re not under any time constraints that we have to get all of America to watch this show Monday night at 8 o'clock. There’s no differential value in people watching it this year, let alone Monday night.’’
Transferring the tale from Thatcher-era London to contemporary Washington, D.C., held obvious challenges to Willimon, who sought to broaden the show’s scope. The wife to Spacey’s Francis Underwood, played by Robin Wright as a kind of Lady Macbeth, has been fleshed out. The reporter whom Underwood exploits to both his and her advantage (played by Kate Mara) is now a blogger.
Urquhart’s great catch phrase — ‘‘You might very well think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment’’ — is plainly British in manner. But Willimon had the breakthrough that if he made Francis a congressman from South Carolina — where much of Willimon’s family lives — a Southern drawl would make the phrase more natural.
Part of the thrill of ‘‘House of Cards,’’ the original and the adaptation, is its use of direct address. Just as Richardson did, Spacey occasionally turns devilishly to the camera to explain his Machiavellian politics. It’s a device famously used by Shakespeare in ‘‘Richard III,’’ which Spacey fittingly played in a touring show before shooting began on ‘‘House of Cards’’ in Baltimore.
‘‘I'm not sure I would have known how to play it because you’re just looking down the barrel of a lens, but I had just had the experience for 10 months and 198 performances of looking into the eyes of the audience around the world,’’ says Spacey, who’s also a producer on ‘‘House of Cards.’’ ‘'I really learned a lot about that relationship.’’
The timing is good for ‘‘House of Cards’’ in that it presents a corrupt Congressman at a time when Congress is viewed by many as the antihero of American life. A recent poll by Public Policy Polling found that Congress, in its inaction and party rancor, is currently less popular than root canals and the band Nickelback.
That makes Fincher recall his first collaboration with Spacey, who played the elusive serial killer in his film ‘‘Se7en’’: ‘‘Now that John Doe’s in Congress, he’s so much more evil,’’ he says, laughing.
Yet Spacey’s Underwood gets things done, a Lyndon Johnson-style practitioner of strong-arm politics. Willimon believes the show is thus one of the most accurate political dramas ‘‘in terms of how the real world works.’’
‘‘We give you Francis Underwood, a truly effective politician,’’ says Willimon. ‘‘Are we willing to accept that side in our politicians that can be ruthless and self-interested if the result is progress?’’
An earlier Netflix original, ‘‘Lilyhammer,’’ starring Steven Van Zandt, was created for Norwegian television, but ‘‘House of Cards’’ was made purely for Netflix. Next to come will be the highly-anticipated rebirth of the former Fox cult comedy ‘‘Arrested Development’’ in May, followed by shows from the horror filmmaker Eli Roth, ‘‘Weeds’’ creator Jenji Kohan and the comedian Ricky Gervais.
Says Sarandos: ‘‘This is definitely just the start.’’
Follow AP Entertainment Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jake_coyle