TV shows and movies set in Washington, D.C., often cast real-life members of the media to report on fictional proceedings. But the new Netflix political drama House of Cards takes that to a new level.
ABC's George Stephanopoulos plays himself in the series' second hour, interviewing a Secretary of State nominee on his This Week set. No spoilers, but it's a tough grilling that provides a turning point in the story. In Episode 3, CNN's Soledad O'Brien queries ambitious reporter Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) on Starting Point. O'Brien has plenty of CNN company, as John King, Candy Crowley and political analyst Donna Brazile also briefly appear as themselves during the series' run, intermixed with fictional news personalities played by actors.
Executive producer Beau Willimon wanted to cast real news people because of the authenticity they bring to the show. Most TV news organizations allow on-air talent to do scripted work on a case-by-case basis, but it also helps if the show has connections.
Jay Carson, a political consultant who advises on House of Cards, was an intern for Stephanopoulos while he was teaching at Columbia University. "They maintained their friendship," Willimon says. "I said to Jay, 'Hey, I have no idea if George would be into this or not but will you reach out to him?' Luckily for us, George was willing and excited. I think it's one of the very best parts of Chapter 2."
Even though many journalists have never met a camera they didn't like, some did turn down a chance to appear on the show. "Most of them said, 'I'm flattered, thank you, but I'm absolutely slammed with coverage of the presidential election,'" Willimon says. "That may have been their nice way of saying no." But he'll keep asking when the second season starts shooting in the spring.
"One of the big differences between the BBC version of House of Cards and ours is the increasing prevalence of 24-hour TV news and online news in the last 20 recent years," Willimon says. "To not address that in some sort of meaningful way would have been telling a lie. That is as big a part of politics as anything now."