Dealing with a major PR and brand identity crisis centered around arguably its biggest original content star, Kevin Spacey, Netflix has moved quickly and aggressively to distance itself from the 58-year-old actor.
With an actor accusing Spacey of attempting to sexually assault him when he was 14, and Spacey releasing a clumsy response that only made matters worse, Netflix and production partner Media Rights Capital announced Monday that they will end the seminal Netflix original series, “House of Cards,” which stars Spacey, after season six, which is currently filming in Baltimore.
“Media Rights Capital and Netflix are deeply troubled by last night’s news concerning Kevin Spacey,” the companies said in a joint statement. “In response to last night’s revelations, executives from both of our companies arrived in Baltimore this afternoon to meet with our cast and crew to ensure that they continue to feel safe and supported. As previously scheduled, Kevin Spacey is not working on set at this time.”
The two companies are reportedly in talks regarding a “House of Cards” spin-off series that would not include Spacey. Netflix is also said to also be close to scuttling a planned biopic of author Gore Vidal, which would star the embattled actor.
For an SVOD service spending around $7 billion on content this year, these may sound like simple adjustments. But Spacey is the highly acclaimed star of the show that put Netflix on the course that ultimately usurped Hollywood itself. Appearing as Congressman Francis Underwood in many of Netflix’s TV commercials, for example, Spacey is in many ways the face of Netflix’s original series acumen, deeply integrated into the SVOD service’s core brand identity.
Netflix might not face the kind of deeply fraught brand identity crisis that sandwich chain Subway dealt with several years ago amid the downfall of disgraced pitchman Jared Fogle, but Spacey's issues definitely present an ongoing problem.
On Sunday, BuzzFeed published an interview with Anthony Rapp, who stars in an original series for another SVOD service, CBS All Access’ “Star Trek: Discovery.” Rapp said that in 1986, when he was a 14-year-old stage actor in New York City, a then-26-year-old Spacey made a drunken, very physical attempt to sexually assault him.
Spacey issued an apology on Twitter, declaring himself a “gay man” in the process. But that only offended many more people, who saw the response as self-serving, and one that grossly conflated sexual assault on a minor with sexual orientation.
Netflix's issues come on the heels of major executive turmoil at rival Amazon Studios, which saw studio chief Roy Price leave amid a sexual harassment investigation.