We are only hours away from the release of season three of House of Cards, the dark, cynical world of Washington politics as ruled by Francis Underwood. It’s a world that series showrunner Beau Willimon is well familiar with. As a playwright, he tackled similar themes with Farragut North, later adapted into the film Ides of March, starring George Clooney. And it’s a world Willimon has also lived as a former campaign staffer during several elections.
In the final installment of our special series of podcasts, “Inside House of Cards,” Willimon tells us that working on the series and working on a campaign are not that different.
“You have a big team of people who are all trying to accomplish the same goal. In the case of the campaign, it’s to get someone elected on a certain date. On a TV show, its to have 13 hours of content produced and ready to be delivered by a certain date and then on that date you see what the world thinks.”
Frank Underwood, a ruthless and conniving congressman maneuvers his way to the Oval office through all means necessary – regardless of the legality or the body count. But Willimon says it’s not a show about politics.
“What the show is really about is power,” he says. “It’s about how we navigate power not just in D.C. but with our spouses, our lovers, our friends, our colleagues … and that’s what makes it universal.”
In this final installment of “Inside House of Cards”, go inside the show with the man who invented Frank, Claire, Zoe, Remy and the world they occupy.
Francis Underwood has finally made it to the White House. The character, played by Kevin Spacey, spent the first two seasons of “House of Cards” scheming, murdering and blackmailing his way from Congress to the vice presidency to the Oval Office. Together with his equally conniving wife, Claire, played by Robin Wright, they knock down every conceivable barrier, using any means necessary, in their quest for power.
The show is filled with a lot of people willing to do almost anything to get what they want – but among the sleaziest characters in the series are a couple of female political reporters. They sleep with their sources, can’t help but catfight with each other and have the ethical standards of …. Well, they don’t have any ethical standards.
We’re talking about Zoe Barnes, the young ambitious upstart reporter who starts at the conventional Washington Herald and flees for greater freedom and fame at the start-up digital “Slugline”. Her nemesis is the Herald’s White House correspondent, Janine Skorsky, who ultimate joins Zoe at “Slugline”.
The idea that there’s a certain amount of sex or sexism in the Washington press pool isn’t totally off base. But that doesn’t mean real-life female political reporters see themselves in these characters.
Pamela Kirkland, a video reporter at The Washington Post, wants to make one thing very clear, “I don’t sleep with people to get stories, that’s not how this works,” she says. “I am a journalist in Washington, D.C., but those are the only parallels between myself and Zoe Barnes.”
"House of Cards” actually uses a part of the Baltimore Sun newsroom as its set. That’s where reporter Carrie Wells works. “I think a lot of people on the staff are fans of ‘House of Cards’,” says Wells. But she cautions, “it’s good entertainment, it’s just not journalism.”
Listen to what it really takes to be a successful female political reporter in part four of our podcast series “Inside House of Cards.”
It’s “House of Cards” week on DecodeDC.
We are helping get YOU ready for the release of Season 3 of the Netflix series with a five-podcast special series, “Inside House of Cards.”
Today’s installment – the third – is all about the business, or maybe the bloodsport, of lobbying and politics.
One day, you’re an elected official or a political staff member. The next, you’re a member of a K Street firm trying your best to influence the very same government officials and legislators you just worked with.That’s the revolving door Jimmy Williams spun through when he went from Senate staffer to lobbyist.
In the Netflix series, Remy Danton is a former press secretary and protege of Frank Underwood turned lobbyist. He uses his connections and contacts on behalf of one main client, an energy company.
Jimmy Williams says Danton is a great character – he’s just not realistic. “You know what a lobbyist does in Washington, D.C.?” he rhetorically asks podcast host Andrea Seabrook. “Fund-raises. Nothing more and nothing less.”
Williams says being a successful lobbyist means raising and delivering the most cash to a politician. “You raise the most money, you have the most access.” And it’s all legal.
We go inside the real and fictional world of lobbying in today’s installment of “Inside House of Cards.”
In the second installment of our DecodeDC special series, “Inside House of Cards,” we go into the world of journalism and politics.
Our guide, Matt Bai, spent years as a Washington political reporter for The New York Times Magazine and is now a political columnist for Yahoo News. He has a particularly interesting perspective on how “House of Cards” depicts his profession, because Bai plays himself in several episodes of the second season of the series.
While Bai thinks journalism in “House of Cards” is much darker than what really happens in Washington, D.C., he says there still is a lot that rings true. Frank Underwood and other characters are more transactional than real politicians, Bai says, but the series represents some essential truths about how the public sees Washington politics.
“Sadly the thing that ‘House of Cards’ gets at is that everybody is about themselves, everybody is trying to game the system to their own advantage” Bai says. “There’s virtually no one for whom the end game is the actual enactment of policy.”
February has been a brutal month for most of us – snow and cold and ice and kids home from school and trips cancelled. Perhaps the only thing that redeems this month is the release of season three of “House of Cards” on Feb. 27.
Perhaps it is our fascination with the dysfunction of Washington that makes the Netflix drama so irresistible. Perhaps it’s the fact that the series takes you where no journalist is allowed to go - into the fantastical and not so fantastical political wheeling and dealing going on all around us – with a large dose of dramatic license.
Where exactly is that line between truth, fiction and Washington politics? That’s the question we try to answer with a special series of podcasts – that’s right, it is “House of Cards” week on DecodeDC. Whether you are a series fan or just want to get the inside scoop on the dirtiest deeds of politicians, journalists and the political operatives that occupy Washington, you will definitely want to listen.
**Spoiler alert – we’re going to talk about things that happened in seasons one and two.**
In case you missed the first two seasons – here are the essentials.
Francis Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, has wheedled and schemed his way from Congress to the vice presidency to the Oval Office. Together with his equally conniving wife, Claire, played by Robin Wright, they knock down every conceivable barrier, using any means necessary, in their quest for power. Along the way there’s murder, blackmail, a risque assortment of sexual forays, a crazy trade deal with China, a lot of seduction and deception. Those on the Underwoods’ side are rewarded, those obstructing their path are mowed down. Where do these people come up with these plots? We go to the sources for the answer.
- In episode one of “Inside House of Cards,” we take you into the writers room. Staff writer Bill Kennedy explains the narrative and the relationships and the key scenes that define seasons one and two.
- Journalism takes a shellacking in the series and in our second episode, we speak with Matt Bai, formally a political reporter at The New York Times Magazine. Bai plays a political reporter for The New York Times in season two and says the series gets at some essential truths about Washington and journalism.
- In episode three, we enter the world of Capitol-Hill-staffer-turned-lobbyist. Jimmy Williams has led the real life of one of the fictional characters in the series, Remy Danton. Williams says the life of a lobbyist is about one thing, raising money for members of Congress.
- House of Cards has a lot of nasty people, but some of the nastiest are female reporters. In episode four, we talk to two real-life women journalists who cover Washington -- Pam Kirkland of the Washington Post, the paper fictionalized in "House of Cards", and Carrie Wells of the Baltimore Sun, stand-in and real life set for the imagined "Washington Herald."
- In our fifth and final episode, we speak with Beau Willimon, the man behind the series. Willimon adapted the British version of “House of Cards” for the American audience and runs the show. A former campaign staffer, Willimon knows how the system works from the inside out, and as playwright he knows how to do drama.
Download the DecodeDC's "Inside House of Cards" special series starting today and all next week – or, you can just binge listen to them all before the 27th!