'House of Cards' Future in Maryland Unclear After Last-Minute Deal Fails in Legislature

7:29 PM PST 04/07/2014 by Alex Ben Block

UPDATED: The producers of the Netflix series have threatened to move production of the third season elsewhere without $15 million in incentives -- but they may not get that.

The future of producton of House of Cards in Maryland is unclear after legislators failed to reach a last-minute compromise Monday that would have increased funding for movie and TV tax incentives to $18 million and ensured at least $15 million for the Netflix series.

A bill to raise the amount available had passed the state House late Monday, but then a conference committee of House and Senate members was unable to come together on a final version as the clocked ticked down to midnight and the legislative session came to an end. The two chambers could not agree because of efforts to add a clause that said if a TV series that was funded later left the state, Maryland could demand the incentive money back.

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While those proposing the increase worked to get passage, those against additional funding stalled until the clock ran out. As a result, there is some money for House of Cards, but probably not enough to meet producers' demands if they are to film the third season of the show in the state.

The producers of the Netflix series starring Kevin Spacey (who is also a producer on the show), Media Rights Capital, set off a controversy in February when they sent a letter to Maryland governor Martin O’Malley seeking $15 million for the coming third season of the show after the first two seasons were shot in Maryland.

The show received $26 million in financial incentives during the first two seasons, but the state was on the verge of reducing the amount available. The legislature is now boosting that amount again, in part by moving $2.5 million that was to go to the arts to the film program.

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The HBO show Veep has also shot in Maryland and is reported to have received almost $23 million in tax incentives. With more than $3 million less in funding than backers sought, it is going have to be determined how the funds available will be split among all productions that want to shoot in the state.

The fight for funding has become rife with controversy.

The Media Rights letter to the governor (and a similar one to the speaker of the House) threatened to tear down sets in Baltimore and elsewhere and cart them away. House of Cards has used the House chamber in Annapolis as a set, as well as space in the Baltimore Sun building and in Hartford County.  

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Production on the third season, which was to begin this spring, has been pushed to June while the producers wait to see if the state comes up with additional funding. The letter said that meanwhile Media Rights would have to look at alternative locations. That had some angry Maryland lawmakers threatening to seize the sets and other assets in the state in retaliation, and prompted questions as to whether such action would be legal.

Backers say the first two years of production created 6,000 jobs, pumped about $250 million into the state economy, and boosted the state as a place for movies and TV shows to shoot. The Screen Actors Guild reported that 60 local actors were used in the production, and as part of the lobbying effort, Spacey attended a cocktail party earlier this year in the state.

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Opponents have said that the subsidy is not the best use of the money at a time when there are so many competing demands, and there is conflicting evidence about whether production of several shows in the state will have any lasting benefit. They also say that there won't be a tourism halo, because Maryland stands in for Washington, D.C., on House of Cards, so many viewers will not even know it was shot there.

Those against the increased funding have also pointed out that the plot of House of Cards has Spacey playing a lobbyist who pressures legislators to cave in to his demands, and that this is a case of life imitating art.

There was no response to calls to Media Rights Capital and Netflix Monday evening seeking comment. 

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