‘House of Cards’ Falls From Netflix’s Signature Show to a Massive Uncertainty

With production halted on the sixth and final season of “House of Cards,” Netflix and producer Media Rights Capital are taking the first steps toward the firing of actor Kevin Spacey and considering options for the future of the drama series that put Netflix on the original programming map. But there’s no path forward that looks easy.

Insiders told Variety prior to Spacey’s dismissal that producers are considering killing off Frank Underwood, the devious congressman turned president who is
portrayed by Spacey and has been the show’s central character from the outset. A move is necessary to salvage the season given the flood of sexual misconduct allegations that began with actor Anthony Rapp’s claim in a BuzzFeed interview Oct. 29 that Spacey sexually assaulted him when the “Star Trek: Discovery” and “Rent” star was just 14 years old.

More allegations have since mounted, including one from a former production assistant on “House of Cards” who told CNN that Spacey shoved his hand down the staffer’s pants without permission. Spacey also has been dropped by his agency, CAA, and his publicist, Staci Wolfe. Scotland Yard has opened an investigation in response to an allegation he sexually assaulted a male actor in London.

“Consequences have actions,” said Brian Pacheco of Safe Horizon, an advocacy organization for victims of abuse and violent crime. “There are a lot of innocent people affected by what is alleged to have happened.” But, Pacheco added, that doesn’t mean that “House of Cards” has to end.

“The cast and crew, do they deserve for the show to be halted? No, they don’t,” he said. Production on season six, which employs roughly 300 people, began in
October and was halted Oct. 31, two days after the publication of Rapp’s allegation and one day after executives from Netflix and Media Rights Capital visited the set to speak with staffers. With shooting stopped while season six is still in its early stages, continuing the show without Spacey is logistically feasible. Spacey had been nominated five times for outstanding lead actor in a drama series at the Primetime Emmy Awards.

Creatively it promises to be heavy lifting. Although some fans have called for a narrative pivot to Robin Wright’s scheming first lady Claire Underwood — Jessica Chastain wrote on Twitter, “Can #RobinWright just be the lead of @HouseofCards now?” — Spacey has been at the top of the show’s call sheet from the beginning. He also has an executive producer credit.

Assuming that producers can successfully extricate themselves from Spacey’s contract, the prospect of a handoff to Wright could rekindle a long-simmering pay dispute between her and the show. For season five, Spacey made $500,000 per episode. During an appearance last year at The Rockefeller Foundation, Wright told an audience that she had landed a raise that would pay her the same amount as Spacey. But months later, she said in an interview with United Airlines’ inflight magazine, Rhapsody, that she had not achieved parity with her co-star. “I really don’t like being duped,” she said.

Another option would be for Netflix to fast-track one of several “House of Cards” spinoffs it has in early stages of development. As Variety reported, Netflix and Media Rights Capital have multiple ideas in the works for successor series that would take place in the same fictional world as “House of Cards.” One concept revolves around Doug Stamper, the political aide-de-camp played by actor Michael Kelly, with Eric Roth set to write.

“House of Cards” is a historically important show — the first original series on a streaming service to garner an Emmy nomination. It also served as a calling card for Netflix’s then-nascent original development efforts when, in 2011, the streaming service aggressively outbid HBO with a two-season, straight-to-series order worth $100 million.

“Before ‘House of Cards’ was launched, I don’t think that people generally associated streaming video with quality,” media analyst Brad Adgate said. “So it holds a very important [place] for Netflix.”

But the company is no longer a newcomer with just a handful of shows under its belt. Instead it’s the most aggressive player in the programming marketplace, planning to spend $8 billion next year on content, much of it on original series.

“They have a lot of shows now,” Adgate said of Netflix. “Quality original series with A-list actors, A-list directors on these projects. So do they really need ‘House of Cards’? Probably not. It’s not as critical as it was, say, five years ago. It wouldn’t surprise me if they said, ‘This is it,’ and just moved on to other projects. They have really had a huge focus on producing original content, and they’ve been very successful with it.”

Brent Lang contributed to this report.