The TV Academy may not have endorsed what happened last night, but certainly it was clear that Netflix has plenty of support for its freshman series House of Cards.

Judging by what star Kevin Spacey said, Netflix didn’t need to drum up fans in renting out the Academy’s Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre (as opposed to giving an Academy presentation).  The Oscar winner cited Netflix’s two-million subscriber boost in Q1 2013, which was when all thirteen episodes debuted.  What the cast and creator Beau Willimon failed to mention is that Q4 2012 saw a similar spike.

Three days ago, to analysts, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings admitted that House of Cards afforded “a very nice … but a gentle impact, not one that is an overnight impact.”

For a team whose show is set in the political realm, the show staff know all too well that data can be bent to produce a favorable outlook.  But any possible manipulation was lost on the packed theater, which oddly included several audience members who had walked off the street on a lark.

Spacey, who seized control of the panel from moderator and former ABC News Washington correspondent David Wright, oozes a wily charisma that matches or exceeds that of the character he plays on television.  Forget mere snake oil.  With a dangerous and commanding charm, it would seem Spacey could entrance anyone to partake of any exotic fluid with one of his trademark glares.

And it was primarily because of the draw of Spacey and his Se7en director and executive producer of HOC, David Fincher, that Netflix bent over willingly to the sum of 100 million dollars for two seasons.  As Willimon said, “When David Fincher wants to talk to you, you get on the f**king phone.”

“They didn’t even have an office to give notes,” Spacey said.  HOC is Netflix’s first foray into original programming, with up to 20 projects in the pipeline.  Even still, Willimon shared his reservations with Fincher about the movie-star entrance written for Spacey: killing a dog in the first 30 seconds of the show.  The response: “I don’t give a shit. Let’s do it.”

Spacey has been somewhat absent from Hollywood of late, instead serving as artistic director of the Old Vic and touring in Richard III.  In his absence, he said that cable and off-network TV had supplanted feature films as the venue for character-driven content.  Cast member Sakina Jaffrey said HOC is not a show during which you can “pick the ticks off your dog.”

For research into his role of a House majority whip twice passed over for Secretary of State, Spacey found Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer reluctant to talk to him — until Hoyer found out the character Spacey was playing was a Democrat.  While Spacey says the politicos he’s encountered love the show, Wright said that the show gets two things wrong about Washington: 1) as a journalist he has never slept with a politician, and 2) nothing ever gets done in Congress.

Spacey even goes so far as to suggest that maybe a cure to Washington gridlock is the philosophy the show’s characters mostly traffic in — that “the ends justify the means” may be a viable modus operandi.

Spacey compared the show to Richard III, both of which break the fourth wall.  Anything emanating from Spacey is hypnotic and fun, but the practice can be somewhat jarring.  Spacey has always mined his unconventionality and endless talent, and because of that, the show captivates.  Both with HOC character Francis Underwood and with Spacey himself, you feel a palpable desire to be liked, even if somehow it’s in an unlikeable way.

The gifted actor is more than capable of whipping out something to ensnare his audience.  He did so at the Academy last night, spontaneously tossing off an excellent Peter O’Toole impression.  I’d like to have seen a duet with fellow cast member and frequent NY Giants anthem singer Kate Mara, but ultimately Wright wrestled back the panel controls from Spacey, who wanted audience questions to continue, and ended the night.

Perhaps we can campaign for Spacey to perform at the TV Academy event coming up Sunday — with Michael Bublé.

 

–Ken Choy

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