Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #531: Does CBS Films Need Extraordinary Measures?

Welcome to the show folks...

I finally found something to blog about. It ain't much, but beggars can't be choosers.

Some folks are ringing the bell of doom for CBS Films because some recent re-scheduling of their release slate has left them bereft of a summer tent-pole film.

I went over to the headquarters of CBS Films and asked CBS honcho Les Moonves for a statement on the topic, but all I got was this:

Still not quite sure what he was talking about, but then again, I'm a blogger posting opinions in a smug, pompous, know-it-all manner, not an interviewer. So I'm going to do what I do, talk about stuff I barely know about.

But first a little history...

In the beginning (the late 1960s) the CBS TV network dipped its corporate toe into theatrical feature films with Cinema Center Films (in association with distributor National General Films), but closed the whole deal in 1972, due to serious under-performance issues. While Cinema Center Films was gone, the idea was not forgotten. In the 1980s CBS TV begat CBS Theatrical Films, while it also begat a share in Tri-Star with Columbia Pictures and HBO. However by 1986 CBS TV had moved out of both projects and theatrical features entirely.

The concept of TV/Theatrical movie synergy lay dormant for a little over 20 years, until CBS Boss Les Moonves took an opportunity in the almost constant restructuring of the Paramount/CBS/Viacom mega behemoth to forge a feature film fiefdom of his own.

The idea was to make modest budget movies with big stars in allegedly "quality" roles.

The idea was good, however, the execution seems lacking. Its first film Extraordinary Measures, a overly sincere drama about doctors and disease starring Harrison Ford and Brendan Fraser came and went like a fart in a stiff wind, the critically roasted romantic comedy The Back-Up Plan needed a back-up plan, and their next release, a Beauty & The Beast rehash called Beastly was bumped from Summer to Fall to avoid competing with star Vanessa Hudgens' former co-star Zac Efron, and that they want to hopefully cash in on her new co-star's role in a bigger film from another studio.

In fact the best thing said about CBS Films so far is that the films were so cheaply made they won't lose too much money.

Too bad.

As I said before, the idea is a sound one. The middle ground between over-priced studio tent-pole blockbusters and smaller, often dreary and occasionally annoying indie films is quickly being abandoned by everyone else. Meanwhile, the dropping overall summer box-office shows the definite possibility that there's a lot of audience dissatisfaction with Hollywood's recent product.

There's a door of opportunity for CBS Films to take, but they're not taking it. In fact they seem to be slamming it in their own face. I'm not talking about not having a Summer release, in fact, I think avoiding the overly expensive Summer hype frenzy is a smart move when you make middle-price, middle-brow movies. If you don't need to be a blockbuster to be profitable, why open in a season where you need to spend ofter 2-3 times the production budget just to be noticed?

Take over the gaps, the middle-range films, in the middle range-between big holiday blockbuster seasons, and use them to your company's advantage.

But this is where CBS Films seems to stumbling. They're just not delivering the stories the audience seems to want. Extraordinary Measures was a Lifetime TV movie sold as Oscar bait, didn't have the narrative firepower to back it up, and died accordingly. The Back-Up plan sounded like a rejected sitcom episode rewritten and expanded but with the same number of jokes.

CBS Films should forget about being making films that might be considered 'important' or 'star vehicles' and concentrate on entertaining genre material that the audience is not getting from the majors, and do that material right.


  1. You know a real eye opener is a look-see at the budgets of films ,which were successful,in the past. Say the budget for A Beautiful Mind, which is posted as 65 millions at BOM.That film made well over 300 millions world wide,and that was about 9 years ago.It seems the cost of a film has risen dramatically in the's all those tent pole films.The bigger the budget the bigger the risk even if the story is yet another sequel,or comic book character. Yes you are right that Hollywood needs to concentrate on entertaining genre material....they used to do that. Also the writing was better in the nineties or so it seemed.They were still making movies then ,now the studios make product...sort of like movie Cheez Whiz.Yeah well you can get a commemmorative Iron Man 2 slurpee cup at your neighborhood fast food spot.I wonder what Humphrey Bogart would have thought of that? Can you imagine manly dignified tough Bogie being told by some studio exec that Bogie's next role would be Batman or Spiderman?

  2. Beastly has actually been pushed back to March 2011. That's kind of sad really.