Beau Willimon: TV Enjoying ‘Unprecedented’ Amount of Creative Freedom

‘House of Cards’ creator talks political background, not dealing with network ratings
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New York – The seemingly endless growth of new players in the TV marketplace has made it harder and harder to stand out, forcing networks to take more risks.

As the creator of one of the shows that best embody this New World Order in television, Beau Willimon argues the medium is enjoying perhaps its highest level of creative freedom.

“The amount of creative freedom that is out there right now in the world on TV is unprecedented,” said the House of Cards creator and showrunner, during a keynote conversation Saturday evening at New York Television Festival.

Willimon explained that with Netflix and Media Rights Capital – which owns House of Cards – both companies made the pitch to him that they didn’t want to be involved on the creative part, leaving him with the sort of freedom that any writer would dream of, though he mentioned they do still have conversations to keep everyone apprised of what is happening with the show.

Having complete creative control however, can be a double-edged sword, as its puts the onus squarely on the showrunner’s shoulders. “If you have control and freedom and it sucks, you have no one to blame but yourself,” he said. “The more you make something that connects with a lot of people, the more leverage you have to say, ‘hey, we know what we’re doing,’”

Among the benefits of putting your show on a platform like Netflix is not being beholden to the same ratings requirements of linear networks, something Willimon said he hopes to never have to go through. This way, he explained, he can measure success solely through the prism of creative merit, not commercial.

“There can be very successful shows that were successful to the people that made them, that no one watched,” he said. “There can be incredibly popular shows that make a lot of money that will be quickly forgotten.”

Willimon, who recently wrapped shooting for the upcoming third season of the political drama, has leaned heavily on his experiences in that sector, having worked on campaigns for the likes of Charles Schumer, Howard Dean and Hillary Clinton.

He explained that while he enjoyed the adrenaline rush of working on a campaign, it was never something he saw himself doing full time. And even though he was trying to get his foot in the door as a writer, he also never imagined that his background in politics would find its way on the page.

“I never worked on these campaigns thinking to myself ‘oh I’m absorbing all of this so that I can write about it one day,’” he explained, but did admit it certainly helped. “From all those experiences I got sort of a base level understanding of how this world works.”

While he said the show is very thoroughly researched – they even spoke with people who work at the White House – he does take a measure of creative liberties, especially in their portrayal of the D.C. landscape.

“We don’t presume for a moment that House of Cards is reflective of D.C. as a whole," he said. “We’re taking one sliver, we’re looking through a very particular lense.”

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