Emmys mystery: Only two seasons for groundbreaking ‘House of Cards’?

The upcoming second season may be the last chance for “House of Cards” to contend at the Emmys. Instead of shooting a pilot like the traditional television studios do, Netflix ordered two 13-episode seasons right off the bat, thanks to the pedigree of those involved. 

Although it ultimately reaped a historic nine Emmy nominations including three wins for the first season, the series was not written or promoted with Emmy intent, revealed co-executive producer Rick Cleveland at the Vancouver International Film Festival on Friday. Cleveland — an Emmy winner for writing NBC’s “The West Wing” and a five-time nominee for producing — scripted two episodes of the show’s first season.

He observed how “House of Cards” was unable to build anticipation or media coverage with its all-at-once distribution model and how that may have inversely affected it for this year’s Emmy awards. It had been almost seven months since “House of Cards” had been released when Emmy judges were marking their ballots. 

By contrast, AMC’s “Breaking Bad” aired its final season during Emmy voting with sustained fanfare as new episodes were broadcasted by the week. That show prevailed over “House of Cards” for Best Drama Series.  With this in mind, Cleveland speculates that Netflix may air the second season of “House of Cards” closer to the end of the Emmy eligibility cycle.

Although showrunner Beau Willimon tweeted in August that he hopes to write further seasons, Cleveland thinks that these two are all that will ever be produced. “‘House of Cards’ is only going to go a second season and I think that’s it,” he said before immediately explaining that “Kevin Spacey likes to do movies and Robin Wright likes to do movies.” 

Although the pair reaped lead acting nominations at this year’s Emmys, Cleveland thinks that they do not want to be held down for years by a commitment to series television. If the actors do not renew their contracts and the series ends so soon, it would qualify as something of an anomaly in terms of Emmy-nominated fare. The last short-lived drama to contend for Emmy’s top prize was CBS’s “Joan of Arcadia” in 2004 for its first season. That show lasted just one more season (for a series total of forty-five episodes) and did not reap a second bid for drama series.

Online streaming service Netflix revolutionized television viewing with their adaptation of “House of Cards,” as all 13 episodes of the political thriller’s first season were made simultaneously available for streaming on Feb. 1, 2013. There was uncertainty that the web series would even be eligible for the Emmys, much less embraced. Thanks to a rule change in 2008 that opened up the awards to webisodes, “House of Cards” was indeed eligible, but the rule had been so unfruitful that Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos admitted to being ignorant of it in early 2013.

“House of Cards” is currently filming the finale for its second season in Baltimore, having begun production in April.  Executive producer David Fincher, who directed the series’ first two episodes and won an Emmy for his efforts, did not return. Among others, the slack is being picked up by Spacey (in his first television directing experience) and Wright (making her directorial debut), as well as Academy Award winner Jodie Foster, who previously helmed an episode of another Netflix original, prison dramedy “Orange is the New Black.”

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