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'House of Cards' Season 3 Gets the Boot from Putin

By Anders Bylund – Jul 3, 2014 at 8:27AM

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Vladimir Putin's aides ask Netflix to leave the U.N. Security Council chambers open for business at all times.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, in a U.N. Security Council meeting. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Vladimir Putin's Russian government has been busy with international affairs lately. I don't mean large-scale issues like the sudden invasion of Crimea or pulling natural gas pipelines into China. These are smaller, more-focused interventions with specific companies in Putin's crosshairs. Russia's latest target? Digital video maven Netflix (NFLX -1.26%).

Only a few weeks ago, Russia condemned American agriculture giants Monsanto (MON) and Dow Chemical (DOW) as terrorist organizations. In fact, when Russia banned genetically modified crops from being exported into Russia, that bill's co-author, Kirill Cherkasov, said that GMO producers like Monsanto are worse than terrorists: "The consequences are much worse. And punishment should be proportionate to the crime."

Not that investors are taking the Russian posturing too seriously. Dow Chemical shares have handily beaten the market in 2014, and Monsanto has posted a recent surge, Russian protests notwithstanding.

Shutting down the House

To follow up on these GMO objections, Russian diplomats just meddled in Netflix's affairs. In the third season of Netflix original series House of Cards, the producers wanted to shoot a few key scenes on location in the U.N. Security Council's chambers. The Secretary General's office had already approved the request, with the caveat that filming must take place in the middle of summer, the dead of night, and only on weekends, to boot. This way, the normal operations of the Security Council would most likely not be affected.

But "most likely" wasn't good enough for the Russians. According to Foreign Policy, the Russian U.N. delegation put the kibosh on Netflix's production plans. Citing the need to have this chamber available at all times in case of an emergency meeting, permanent Council member Russia simply vetoed the approval.

Netflix and production partner Media Rights Capital may still be able to shoot some scenes in other parts of the iconic U.N. complex, but the Security Council's famed horseshoe table is off limits for series lead Kevin Spacey and friends.

The political cynic in me wonders why Putin's crew is so worried about a global conflict erupting in August. What do they know that I don't? But there's also a perfectly reasonable rationale for this veto.

Sure, letting Netflix into these hallowed chambers might raise the United Nations' public profile a bit. Any exposure is good exposure, right? And it's possible that Media Rights and Netflix might be willing to pay good money for access to this premium location. So that's the upside.

Not a flattering picture

On the downside, House of Cards has a tendency to make everyone in it look bad. Spacey's purported hero is downright evil sometimes, and creepily selfish, even at his best. There's a good chance that fictional Council representatives and, therefore, the office itself, would come out dirty on the other side of the suggested pseudo-marketing move.

Moreover, it could be the start of a slippery slope. If Cards were allowed to shoot an episode or two at the horseshoe, what's stopping the Homeland or Newsroom crews from asking for the same consideration? Worse, maybe Scandal 's producers would come knocking next. Heck, why not put the apocalyptic season finale of The Walking Dead in the Security Council?

Is it a bad idea to keep this man out of the Security Council chambers? Probably not. Source: Netflix.

I'm reaching here, of course, but you get my point. Let's say that House of Cards broke the ice, making the Council a fairly regular location for high-budget drama productions. Sooner or later, some unlucky TV crew will bump into a real Council-worthy disaster, and make more political waves than entertainment history. And even if that doesn't happen, a gradual media invasion would surely undermine the stature of this influential office.

Besides, it isn't hard to work around the lack of real locations in this digital era. Netflix is just losing a fancy feather in its cap, on its way back to the green screen for another mostly digital composition scene. What... you thought the Oval Office scenes were shot in the actual White House? Nope -- try a studio space in Baltimore. Doing the same for the third season's Security Council scenes will just be another minor hassle, not a deal breaker.

House of Cards will work around this minor setback, Putin gets another turn in the global spotlight (albeit in a strange light), and the Security Council's integrity is intact. Everybody wins.

So Putin and his administration may get a lot of things wrong. This time, the seemingly draconian veto of an American company's business request simply makes sense. And I say that as a Netflix shareholder myself.

Anders Bylund owns shares of Netflix. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Netflix.

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