With over 27 million subscribers in the United States alone and an impressive algorithm that determines user behavior, Netflix created a show that was destined for success before the first season was even released. Although the mathematical inspiration behind “House of Cards” ensured the shows success, it has also changed the craft of television writing.
A piece in The New York Times found that the Netflix algorithm detected three components that led to the creation of the online series. David Fincher, the director of “House of Cards,” was also the director of “The Social Network,” a film well-reviewed according to the algorithm. Kevin Spacey and the British version of “House of Cards” also revealed remarkable interest among viewers. Netflix had everything it needed to create a successful television show: a director, lead actor, and concept with proven popular appeal.
“House of Cards” coasted its way to the award for 2013 Best Television Series at the Golden Globes. The show is smart and entertaining. The addiction of the show stems from the characters’ obsession with power that guides their every move. The cold, calculating nature of the show’s characters reflects the same scientific background of the show’s creation.
The algorithm that provided the idea for “House of Cards” removes the warmth found in less calculating shows like Aaron Sorkin’s “The West Wing.” Sorkin created the true best political drama on television. His characters and rich dialogue on “The West Wing” remain unmatched.
A fearless president with strong ties to his alma mater, a cheeky press secretary with roots in show business, and a loyal chief of staff who calls the president his best friend are a few of the most loved personalities on television.
In his critical analysis of President Bartlet, Yair Rosenburg criticized the fictional powers of the president’s personality in a famous scene from the show’s sixth season where the “charismatic Bartlet locks himself in a room with the Chinese president and –– despite being hobbled by an attack of multiple sclerosis –– personally secures an unprecedented summit for nuclear talks with North Korea.” Although “The West Wing” does not embrace a realistic plot line, Sorkin creates a White House staff that viewers would approve to lead their country.
The “House of Cards” president is pathetic and manipulatable. There is no press secretary to charm an audience with spunky press conferences. “House of Cards” is far from the loveable, functioning White House that Sorkin creates. Frank Underwood and his wife Claire are clever, relentless, and cold. Claire, the CEO of a non-profit, blackmails pregnant employees by withholding medical insurance.
Frank, the majority whip in the House, primes a vulnerable representative for the Pennsylvania governor’s seat, only to destroy the representative’s livelihood. Fincher’s show has a rubber neck effect. It is nearly impossible to avoid watching the brilliant schemes Frank and Claire craft from episode to episode.
The largest difference between Sorkin’s “The West Wing” and Fincher’s “House of Cards” does not come down to plot, characters, or dialogue. It rests on the muse of each show. There is a reason that Aaron Sorkin wins awards and Beau Willimon, the screenwriter for “House of Cards” remains unknown. Willimon simply Americanized a show that was already successful, according to an algorithm. Aaron Sorkin created a new concept that succeeded because of his creativity and talent.
Netflix found a loophole in creating good television. If anything, the industry will only serve audiences more effectively. The mechanics of writing a quality show is simply going to change, most likely for the better. But the television industry can’t help but wonder if flawless projections of what will make good television will stunt the artistry of screenwriting.