Variety is reporting that House of Cards‘ seasons one to four Showrunner Beau Willimon has departed the show’s fifth season. Netflix has released a statement about Willimon’s departure, which reads:
Netflix and MRC owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Beau Willimon for his strong narrative vision for House of Cards over the show’s first four seasons. As an Academy Award nominated writer, he made his first foray into television and built a riveting and critically acclaimed series, establishing his place in TV history. The producers, cast and crew join us in wishing Beau the best in his next creative adventure.
Willimon has said:
I’m grateful to Netflix and MRC, my fellow executive producers, our two incandescent stars Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright, our talented writers, as well as the incredible cast and crew with whom I’ve had the privilege to work. After five years and four seasons, it’s time for me to move on to new endeavours, but I’m supremely proud of what we’ve built together, wish the show much continued success, and leave it in the hands of a very capable team.
Over the four seasons he has run, Willimon has won New Television Series at Writers Guild of America Awards 2013 and Area of Excellence at the Peabody Awards 2013. Willimon was initially hired to run the show for creator David Fincher due to his ability to translate the Parliamentary politics of the original BBC One show to Washington for Netflix. Speaking to the New York Times to promote season one, Willimon said:
In politics there’s ambition, desire, lust, betrayal — all the same kinds of things we exhibit and experience in our own everyday lives.
Fincher and Willimon were brought together by MRC, who purchased the rights to House of Cards after founder Mordecai Wycyz had been shown the original BBC One show by an intern and saw its potential for a Washington-based remake. Fincher said his first job in adapting BBC One’s House of Cards was to
find a writer who would do the due diligence to transplant parliamentary politics to Washington.
Willimon had written the screenplay for cinematic feature The Ides of March for Columbia Pictures, based on his stage-play Farragut North, which was inspired by the Democratic Presidential candidacy campaign of 79th Governor of Vermont, Howard Dean. It was this ability to adapt real politics into drama that earned Willimon his first job as a Showrunner. Willimon said of BBC One’s original House of Cards:
I saw tons of great opportunities to make it our own, to make it contemporary, to broaden its scope and deepen its story.
Initially, MRC were interested in negotiating House of Cards‘ encore rights. But Netflix’s Chief Content Officer, Ted Sarandos, analysed Netflix data, and concluded that Fincher’s and Spacey’s films were popular with Netflix subscribers, as was the “political thriller” genre. BBC One’s House of Cards had been rediscovered through Netflix. While Lilyhammer (Showrunner: Steven Van Zandt) was promoted as a Netflix original, it had in-fact already been broadcast on NRK1 by the time of its Netflix availability. House of Cards was the first show commissioned specifically as a Netflix original, with the first two seasons commissioned from the beginning. From there, Sarandos told Fincher and Willimon:
We’re placing our faith in you.
This has set a trend amongst Netflix originals of being completely Showrunner-led, with no interference from executives. This gives Netflix Showrunners greater freedom than a broadcast show, but also more pressure to create something that will be successful. Willimon and his staff writers wrote the first season before principal photography had begun, unlike broadcast shows, which rely on a strict schedule of writing and shooting simultaneously.
We approached this creatively as a 13-hour movie. Knowing we had two full seasons in advance, I didn’t feel the pressure to sell the end of each episode with superficial cliffhangers or shock tactics in order to keep coming back, in order to jack up the ratings week to week. I hope our version of a cliffhanger is compelling, sophisticated characters and complex storytelling.
As such, House of Cards – under the leadership of Showrunner Willimon – is responsible for the emergence of streaming as legitimate television, and therefore, possibly the most important streamed show of all time. This would also make Willimon the most important Showrunner of all time. And it was his first television job.
House of Cards is now streaming on Netflix. Season five streams 2017.