The impact of House of Cards on the television landscape cannot be overstated. While the series itself may not be winning all the awards, or even capturing the zeitgeist like it used to, it will be a major turning point when history books are written on the New Golden Age of Television. This was Netflix’s massive gamble, their first high-profile original series. And they went all in, giving David Fincher a massive budget to realize and direct the first two episodes of the series and ordering a complete season before a single frame of footage had been shot—ie. There was no pilot for House of Cards.
When Fincher set about putting the show together, he roped in Ides of March playwright Beau Willimon to hop aboard as the principal writer and showrunner of the series, even as he set to make House of Cards stand apart by giving directors more creative freedom than they have on other television shows. While Fincher remained involved in the show beyond Season 1 as an executive producer, his other commitments meant that he essentially just looked in on the series every once in a while, trusting Willimon to carry House of Cards as its showrunner.
Which makes the most recent news regarding House of Cards bittersweet. Netflix has announced that the show has been renewed for a fifth season, but that Willimon is departing the series, leaving the showrunner position open for Season 5. In a statement, Willimon said the following:
“I’m grateful to Netflix and MRC, my fellow executive producers, our two incandescent stars Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, our talented writers, as well as the incredible cast and crew with whom I’ve had the privilege to work. After five years and four seasons, it’s time for me to move on to new endeavors, but I’m supremely proud of what we’ve built together, wish the show much continued success, and leave it in the hands of a very capable team.”
So why is Willimon leaving? Well four years is a long time to be a heavily involved showrunner, but Deadline hears that he may not be leaving entirely of his own volition—apparently there had been rumors about problems with the series’ production. It appears Netflix’s fix may have been to find someone else to run the series.
With shows as creatively singular as House of Cards, this doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Fans no doubt remember subsequent seasons of The West Wing, Gilmore Girls, and Community when their longtime creative voices departed, so here’s hoping Netflix can survive the transition. Although the third season of House of Cards left something to be desired, I’m eager to see what Willimon has up his sleeve for the fourth season, which debuts on March 4th and, as it turns out, will act as his swan song.