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Film & DVD

How Netflix survived – and gave life to Breaking Bad and House of Cards

A Netflix exec on the new TV ball game

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premieres Friday, Feb. 14 | netflix.com

Breaking Bad was an AMC show, but when show creator Vince Gilligan accepted his Emmy for Best Drama at the Emmy Awards, he had someone else to thank.

“I think Netflix kept us on the air,” Gilligan said on Sept. 22, Emmy in hand. “Not only are we standing up here, but … I don’t think our show would have even lasted beyond season two if not for streaming on demand.”

Indeed, the show had been canceled in England after its second season and the same thing almost happened in the United States after the third. So Gilligan’s gratefulness was the ultimate vindication for Netflix, a company that lost 800,000 subscribers and saw its stock plummet by 50 percent after it announced the separation of their streaming and DVD services in 2011.

“That didn’t really bother us,” Netflix chief communications officer Jonathan Friedland says. “It was scary, but that’s the nature of Netflix: We take big risks.”

And the risks paid off. At the last Golden Globe ceremony, Netflix had six nominations (second only to HBO), more than CBS, NBC (five each) and ABC (four). But no risk was bigger than House of Cards, which premieres its second season Friday, Feb. 14. Not only was Netflix’s own top-notch series – based on a 1990s BBC series of the same name – good enough to rival and surpass anything you can watch on TV, the complete season was available in its entirety from the start.

“When we put all the episodes [of House of Cards] out at once, some said, ‘Oh, you’re going to kill all the water-cooler moments, you’re going to kill the buzz,’ but that’s nonsense,” Friedland says. “People read books at different rates and listen to music at different rates, so [having all episodes available] is not the end of the world.”

“We’ve learned the lesson the music industry didn’t learn,” Kevin Spacey (who stars as Frank Underwood in House of Cards) said in a lecture in Edinburgh last year. “Give people what they want, when they want it, in the form they want it in, at a reasonable price, and they’ll buy it and they won’t necessarily steal it.”

The new season of House of Cards promises to be even darker and meaner than the first one. Underwood is now the Vice President of the United States (“One heartbeat away from the presidency and not one vote cast in my name … Democracy is so overrated,” he says to the camera), and Molly Parker (Alma Garrett in HBO’s Deadwood) and Sam Page (Greg Harris in AMC’s Mad Men) are the new cast members. But there’s more: Some of the episodes will have director’s commentary available, a common feature available on DVD and Blu-ray.

“We had a big fight about the director’s commentary,” Friedland says. “Some of us think nobody cares about them, and some of us think a lot do care. So [Netflix] said, ‘OK, we’ll do a test. We’ll have David Fincher and other directors do a commentary and see how many people use it.’”

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