Just five years ago, when Netflix and Amazon first began making original series, no one was sure what to expect from the fledgling content providers. Would their shows have the same budgets as broadcast and cable series? How exactly would audiences watch them? And would they seriously be able to compete with outlets like HBO, FX and AMC?
Those questions were quickly answered, thanks to a pair of series that helped put their respective streaming outlet on the map and became their signature shows: Netflix’s House of Cards and Amazon’s Transparent.
Now, these series face a new challenge: given the sexual harassment allegations surrounding their lead actors Jeffrey Tambor and Kevin Spacey, can the shows survive without their stars?
Sunday night, Transparent star Jeffrey Tambor, who has been accused of sexual harassment by cast member Trace Lysette and his own former assistant, said in a statement that “given the politicized atmosphere that seems to have afflicted our set, I don’t see how I can return to Transparent” for its fifth season, which will shoot next year and is expected to be released in the fall.
This came after reports that Transparent creator Jill Soloway had been looking at ways to continue the show without Tambor in the wake of the allegations, which the actor has denied. Amazon hasn’t yet commented on Tambor’s statement or made any decisions about the actor’s involvement going forward on the show, which it renewed for Season 5 in August.
Meanwhile at Netflix, House of Cards also faces an uncertain future in light of the sexual harassment allegations against Spacey, who stars as Frank Underwood. Two weeks ago, Netflix cut ties with the actor; production on the drama’s sixth season (which Netflix had said last month would be its last) has been suspended while producers mull whether they can continue the show without Spacey—shifting the focus to Robin Wright’s Claire Underwood—or whether they’ll have to pull the plug.
This isn’t the only show on either streaming services’ lineup that has been affected by sexual harassment allegations from victims who decided to go public following the dozens of allegations against producer Harvey Weinstein. Earlier this month, Netflix said it was dropping the second standup special in its deal with Louis C.K. after The New York Times reported that five women had accused him of sexual misconduct; the comedian confirmed the allegations a day later, after denying them for years. (FX also cut ties with C.K., who produced several shows for the network, including Louie, Better Things and Baskets.)
But no entertainment outlet has been affected more than Amazon Studios. Former chief Roy Price exited a month ago after the publication of a Hollywood Reporter story in which a producer on Amazon’s Man in the High Castle alleged that Price sexually harassed her in 2015. The outlet also severed ties with Harvey Weinstein’s former company, Weinstein Co.—effectively cancelling a drama starring Robert De Niro and Julianne Moore and taking over the company’s Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men followup, The Romanoffs.
Weiner himself has been accused by sexual harassment by former Mad Men writer Kater Gordon, which could also put his show in jeopardy. Additionally, Amazon hasn’t made a decision about whether to continue production on One Mississippi, which is executive produced by C.K.; his falling out with creator and star Tig Notaro over the harassment allegations inspired the show’s arc in Season 2 in which a male boss sexually harasses a female coworker.
Before Spacey’s downfall, he was more responsible for Netflix’s success than almost anyone else. With the actor at the helm, House of Cards debuted in February 2013, a few months after Netflix first dabbled in original scripted series with the barely noticed Lilyhammer. House of Cards was a critical hit and received Emmy nominations for outstanding drama, lead actor and actress, giving the streaming outlet a vital boost of buzz and credibility. Spacey has been nominated for five Emmys for his performance, in addition to winning a Golden Globe and two Screen Actors Guild awards.
In September 2014, Transparent debuted on Amazon, after that company’s first streaming offerings (remember Alpha House and Betas?) had gained some traction a year earlier. The show received 11 Emmy nominations its first season, winning five—including for Tambor as lead actor in a comedy series, his first of two Emmys for the role.
Both shows defined their respective outlets, and proved to a then-skeptical industry that Netflix and Amazon could go toe-to-toe in prestige TVwith the likes of HBO, FX, Showtime and AMC.
After their respective groundbreaking debuts, both outlets once again find themselves in unchartered territory. While several series have continued after the departure of their stars, whether it was for money reasons or other (think David Caruso on NYPD Blue, George Clooney on ER, David Duchovny on The X-Files, and Patrick Dempsey on Grey’s Anatomy), it’s unprecedented for the lead of a show to be forced out for alleged wrongdoing as is the case with Spacey and (possibly) Tambor.
While Netflix has evolved far beyond its initial original series—the outlet will spend up to $8 billion on original programming next year and has built up a stable of high-profile shows like Stranger Things, Orange is the New Black, Master of None and its Marvel series—Amazon is in a far more precarious position. It hasn’t found another critical hit like Transparent, but recently shifted its programming strategy to search for huge global hits like Game of Thrones; it just landed rights to turn The Lord of the Rings into a TV series, in a deal that could end up costing $1 billion for five seasons).
That said, Lord of the Rings—which has no writer or cast attached—is still a couple years away from airing. That makes Transparent far more important to Amazon’s immediate future than House of Cards is to Netflix’s.
So what will be the fate of these shows? Even a year or so ago, it would have been unfathomable to imagine a House of Cards without Spacey’s Frank Underwood, or Transparent without Tambor’s Maura Pfefferman. However, both have grown from their early seasons—which focused solely on those characters—to a place where both scenarios would now be possible, if not unconventional. (Transparent, which has been about Maura Pfefferman coming out as transgender late in life, will have the more difficult challenge to continue without its lead.)
There’s no way of knowing how many more allegations and revelations will come to light—after all, the Weinstein news broke just six weeks ago—and it’s likely that other networks will be faced with similar decisions about the fates of some of their shows. And that makes Netflix and Amazon’s predicaments even more intriguing.
Once again, House of Cards and Transparent find themselves in a unique situation: just as they helped define the streaming TV era, now they can also lead the way in a post-Harvey Weinstein world.