When all House of Cards first hit the Internet a year ago, the buzz around the show said that the way it was created and distributed—as an entire season developed outside of the traditional network structure, made available for streaming all at once—would change entertainment forever.
Phase Two of that supposed revolution kicks of 3 a.m. Eastern Friday, when the Emmy-nominated political drama's second season goes online. But now the hype is more about the show itself: What dark dealings will new U.S. Vice President Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey), his wife Claire (Robin Wright), and the reporter Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) get up to under the stylish direction of David Fincher?
But it's worth marveling just how quickly people have come to accept the prospect of getting to watch an entire new TV season at your own pace, wherever you want. And it's worth wondering how the rise of streaming affects not only how shows are watched, but how they're made. Does it change the creative process to know half your audience will consume your show's entire season in one week?
I put that question to House of Cards creator Beau Willimon last December, as production on Season Two was wrapping up. Willimon began his show-business career as a playwright and received an Oscar nomination for helping pen Ides of March. But outside of collaborating on one scrapped pilot intended for AMC ("a historical drama that took place on a plantation during the Civil War where one of the slaves was a spy for the North," he says), he had never worked in television production before House of Cards. And to hear him tell it, he's not really working in television now. That's because "television," he says, is a word that's lost all meaning.