Michael Dobbs, the political adviser turned best-selling novelist turned executive producer behind "House of Cards," is having an exceptional summer. The Netflix original series, adapted from Dobbs’ 1980s novels of the same name, made Emmy history when it was nominated for outstanding drama series — the first web-based program to be recognized by television’s leading awards.
Dobbs’ own career followed a much less Machiavellian path than that of his angling protagonist Francis Underwood — known to novel evangelists and British audiences (where it was adapted by BBC in the 1990s) as Francis Urquhart. Underwood, the perpetually plotting politician who counts among his companions a journalist with questionable ethics and congressman with a drug problem, is seeking revenge after he is passed over for secretary of state.
Unlike his main character, Dobbs attributes much of his success to happy accidents and sheer luck. "It was the result of a complete accident," he said. "I hadn't planned this, I hadn't planned to become a writer, but I spent the last 20 years writing."
Dobbs arrived in the U.S. in the 1970s from Oxford University to pursue a PhD at Tufts University. While here he worked for The Boston Globe, where he watched the Watergate scandal unfold and the Vietnam War come to an end.
“They were tumultuous times,” Dobbs said. “I was lucky to be able to see them all on the basis on being on the news desk at The Boston Globe. It was an exciting time.”
After graduating in 1975, Dobbs returned to the U.K. where he worked for the Conservative Party and eventually served as adviser and chief of staff to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher until 1987, three years before she was forced out of office by her own party.
Though professional experience in the realm of high-stakes politics inspired his fictional political thrillers, Dobbs maintains that the similarities stop there.
"I had a particularly bruising job and I left that job in 1987, the last election [Thatcher] fought. After that I had the idea that her time was coming to an end so I put this down in a sense of fiction, a novel as a piece of entertainment," Dobbs said. "Spectacularly, on the very week the series was aired [in the U.K.], Thatcher was forced from office. It seemed to be like real life copying my drama."
Dobbs describes the American version, for which he holds an executive producer credit, as "'The West Wing' for werewolves — it's deliberately and deliciously wicked."
Dobbs anticipates Emmy night with bated breath and looks at the last three years as perhaps the most explosive of his writing career.
“This has been the happiest experience of my life," he said. "It really has been amazing adventure for me and I’m sitting here thinking, ‘How have I got so lucky?’”
This program aired on August 16, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.