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Netflix COO on Kevin Spacey scandal: 'We had to pull the plug'

Melody Hahm
Senior Writer
BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 23: (L-R) Ted Sarandos, Chief Content Officer at Netflix and Katie Couric speak onstage during 'Play Next Episode' at Vanity Fair's 6th Annual New Establishment Summit at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on October 23, 2019 (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Vanity Fair)

It’s been two years since the actor Anthony Rapp publicly accused Kevin Spacey of making unwanted sexual advances when he was 14 years old. Subsequently, a number of other men also publicly accused Spacey of sexual harassment or assault including eight people who worked with him on “House of Cards.”

Netflix briefly suspended production of the show, but resumed filming the sixth and final season in 2018, with his character Frank Underwood scrubbed from the script.

“It was shocking,” said Netflix head of content Ted Sarandos at Vanity Fair’s annual New Establishment Summit in Beverly Hills on Wednesday. “We very quickly had to gather ourselves and say we’re committed on having a safe workplace both in our offices and our sets. We couldn’t play around with it and take time with it. We had to pull the plug and make tough decisions. Hundreds of people worked on that show, and thousands of people depended on that show being on.”

NANTUCKET, MA. - JANUARY 7: Actor Kevin Spacey leaves Nantucket District Court after his arraignment on January 7, 2019 in Nantucket, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

Sarandos said it was a crucial moment for leadership to consider all of the stakeholders involved. He also asserted that Spacey’s departure inadvertently elevated Robin Wright, who plays first lady-turned-president Claire Underwood.

“I thought they did a good job ending the season [without him]. I thought there was something very empowering…. seeing Robin in charge of the last episode was remarkable,” he said.

‘We did what we had to do’

When asked about how the company deals with individuals who have faced sexual misconduct allegations, Sarandos said he doesn’t want to make a sweeping statement.

“I don’t want to do hypotheticals because we don’t need to. But take Louis C.K. and Kevin [Spacey]… you see what we did what we have to do,” he said. Five women publicly accused Louis C.K. of sexual misconduct. His 2015 stand-up special is still available on the streaming site, but Netflix did not produce a second planned special.

Sarandos’ comments reflect that repercussions are not a one-size-fits-all approach.

It’s worth noting that Netflix produced “Right Now,” Aziz Ansari’s special that was widely viewed as a comeback from his own accusation of sexual misconduct. Ansari, who also created and starred in the “Master of None” series for Netflix, did not acknowledge the woman who told the now-defunct babe.net that Ansari had pressured her for sex while on a date at his apartment. Ansari told the publication that “by all indications” the encounter was “completely consensual.”

He did address the claims off the top: “I’m sure there’s some of you that are curious how I feel about that whole situation. I felt so many things in the last year or so: There’s times I felt scared, there’s times I felt humiliated, there’s times I felt embarrassed, and ultimately I just felt terrible that this person felt this way.”

“House of Cards” was Netflix’s first foray into original content, which has since become a $15 billion per year initiative. With its first crop of real competitors entering the streaming space, Warner Media (T) is set to pull “Friends” and NBC (CMCSA) is taking “The Office” back to its library. Sarandos said he’s “completely” surprised it took them this long to build their own platforms.

“We’ve always known this was going to be an enormous space and we wouldn’t be the only ones. When they were selling us their content years ago...if we were drinking our own Kool-Aid and believing our story, all these networks would become apps [one day]. In the meantime, they sold their content and made us a big audience. That’s why we made ‘House of Cards’ seven years ago. Someday, we knew we would have to make our own content.”

Melody Hahm is a senior correspondent at Yahoo Finance, covering entrepreneurship, technology and culture. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm.

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