Thursday, 31 May 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #910: The Bext Exotic Moneymaking Movie

If Botox allowed the people in Hollywood to form expressions they'd all be reshaping their faces into a vague approximation of surprise because the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, has passed the $100 million mark in theaters worldwide.

By Hollywood's logic the film should not have made this much money for these reasons:

1. It starred a bunch of British people who are over 60.

2. It was set in India, a country that the Hollywood experts will assure you is a place that Americans have no interest in.

3. They only released it into a handful of theaters in North America, and only expanded into less than 1/4 of the theaters used by normal big studio blockbusters.

4. That release was up against the unstoppable Avengers.

5. The marketing of the movie was minimal compared to most of the other late spring/early summer releases, with most of the TV exposure being ads at the beginning of Masterpiece Theater, while mostly letting critical reviews and word of mouth carry most of the weight for them.

Yet despite this conventional wisdom, the film, which was made for the cost of the perks on Will Smith's contract, has passed the $100 million mark and shows no signs of slowing down.

Meanwhile, all around this little film movies that the conventional wisdom declared were sure-fire blockbusters, like The Dictator, Dark Shadows, and other films have either flopped outright, or at best disappointed their studios with their tepid box office performances in the face of the unstoppable Avengers.

The so-called experts in Hollywood shouldn't be surprised at all, because Hollywood's conventional wisdom really has no wisdom to it all. It's pretty much all convention.

The film's success lies directly with Fox Searchlight who released the film, and, to be more specific the mission behind the company.

Fox Searchlight was founded in 1994 as part of the "faux indie" explosion. You see, the 1990s was experiencing a boom in independent movies winning awards and making money, and the 6 major studios screamed "ME TOO!"

They all started "independent" film divisions with the mandate to buy up and release the next big Sundance Festival darling. 

Now if you were to go around looking for these divisions, like Warner Independent, Fine Line / Picturehouse, Paramount Vantage, Miramax and others you'd be hard pressed to find them, since most were folded or sold off by their parent companies. I think the only real survivors of the big "faux indie" implosion of the 2000s were Focus Features* (at Universal) and Fox Searchlight.

What saved those two companies was that they had a different mission than their rivals. Whereas their rivals were assigned the mission of mission of winning awards and helping their executives get into the ski-suits of young starlets at the Sundance Festival they took on the task of making independent film a viable business.

Since Fox Searchlight is part of News Corp, I'm assuming Rupert Murdoch's instructions to be a viable business were liberally peppered with the words "crikey" and "arse."

Over time both companies learned the fine art of releasing and marketing non-blockbusters. By keeping costs under control, and using years of experience to manage their releases they're still around, making and releasing movies like Marigold Hotel, and bucking conventional wisdom, while all their competitors are long gone.


*Focus is actually more of a creation of the implosion, having been created by the reorganization of USA Pictures, (formerly Gramercy Pictures, a partnership with Polygram Filmed Entertainment), Universal Focus, Good Machine, and October Films.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #909: Can Minis Be Mega Again?

The feud between the Hatfield and McCoy families has been turned into a TV miniseries by the History Channel starring Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton and it's a smash, setting a new record for basic cable viewing. In fact, the mainstream broadcast networks would like numbers that like, and now some are talking about the return of the miniseries, which was a staple of TV for a long time before being forgotten.

Now a miniseries, or "serial" as the Brits like to call it, is a show that has a predetermined number of episodes with a definite beginning, middle and end. This has advantages when it comes to narrative, because unlike a regular TV series, you not only can drastically change the nature of the story, and the characters as the story progresses, it's actually better if you do that. A regular TV series can't have changes in premise and characters that are too dramatic, because it's supposed to have an open ended run. You can't have a character go on a self-destructive death spiral without having to pull some sort of a miraculous rescue out of your ass to milk another season out of it.  You can do that in a mini-series, because it actually has an ending coming.

The miniseries evolved from the TV movie which had become incredibly successful for the then "Big 3" networks in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Adaptations of popular novels was seen as the next big step, but there was a problem, too many of the most popular novels were really thick tomes, with large casts of characters with plots spanning several generations. Cramming them into a 90 minute TV movie or a 2 hour theatrical feature film was seen as an impossibility without taking an axe to the story that readers seemed to love.

Enter the miniseries.

The first miniseries in North America were the CBC's documentary/drama hybrid about the founding of Canada The National Dream, and the American ABC Network's adaptation of Leon Uris' QB-VII both in 1974. The format became a phenomenon with the success of Rich Man, Poor Man in 1976, and a mega-phenomenon with the blockbuster success of the adaptation of Alex Haley's epic family saga Roots.

By the 1980s all three of the big networks were making and airing miniseries, and most of them seemed to star Richard Chamberlain. Even when he wasn't hired, he'd just appear as an extra.

But by the 1990s the bloom had gone off the miniseries rose. There were two causes for this, creative and commercial.

The creative cause occurred as the networks began to abandon the expensive historical epics like James Clavell's Shogun, and make more modern, more soap opera-like adaptations of the works of authors like Jackie Collins. The problem with this tactic is that while the works were popular, there wasn't much to differentiate them from other prime time soap operas like Dallas, or Dynasty. So the popularity of the miniseries began to wane.

The commercial cause came from the fact that the networks had changed their business model and it looked like miniseries didn't have a place on network TV anymore. Most of the networks had either merged with movie studios, or formed their own production companies. The plan was to produce their own shows, via their sister studios and production companies, and get a piece of that sweet, sweet syndication money. 

An 8-12 hour miniseries wasn't going to sell to syndication which required a minimum of 66-100 hours to create a viable rerun cycle.

So bit by bit the miniseries just faded away from the big broadcast networks and, for the most part, took TV movies with them.

However, things have changed.

First, cable television has changed the playing field. Serialized dramas, especially costume dramas and literary/historical adaptations, are particularly hot right now with audiences.

The syndication market has also changed, with time slots once held by syndicated reruns are now dominated by talk shows, game shows, and infomercials. Even Cable TV, which was once a prime market for reruns is slowly drying up in favor of new original programming.

Well, it's one of the reasons why miniseries might make a comeback.

Home video.

People aren't watching reruns the way they used to because now they can just order them up from Netflix or some similar streaming service, or buy them in a box set from their local big box store.

This means that miniseries can have a life beyond their initial airing via these new outlets, and hence continue to generate revenue.

I for one would welcome the return of the miniseries to mainstream television. It's a good way to adapt big projects that wouldn't fit well into a two hour feature film, or stretch out into an open ended TV series, and allows writers and actors to create and play characters with definite narrative arcs.

Plus it would mean more work for Richard Chamberlain who I haven't seen on TV in a long time.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #908: Will Marvel Be A Marvelous Deal?

Last week a chap named Todd Juenger at Bernstein Research said that Disney's $4.3 billion dollar purchase of comics publisher Marvel in 2009 was a "good deal" but not really a "great deal." Now others are pointing at the $1.3+ billion raked in so far by the box office juggernaut Avengers as proof that it is, in fact, a wonderful deal for Disney.

Well, maybe, and maybe not.

Yes, Marvel was having some success as a movie company, thanks to the massive loans they took out, making it a very tempting property for Disney, and delivering them the young boy demographic they had been ignoring during their "Disney Princess" era,  but there were fundamental problems with Marvel's core business.

Comic books.

Remember them?

They provide the source material for the movies, the TV shows, and all the related merchandise. That segment of the industry is dying slowly. The folks in the industry are touting recent upticks in sales thanks to heavily hyped events as a sign that the good times are here to stay, but that doesn't really hold up compared to the facts on the ground.

First, the sales figures being touted as tremendous victories are mere fractions of the regular sales that comic book publishers used to have every single month. Comics used to be a mass media read by tens of millions, now it's a niche media read by hundreds of thousands and shrinking. That's not healthy.

I read someone comment that it's easier for a ten year old to buy marijuana than comic books in most communities because they are increasingly only available in a decreasing number of specialty retailers, mostly in the bigger population centers. 

Comic publishers are saying that availability is no longer a problem, because now they can beam the comics directly into their iPads or similar tablet computers.

Well, that's all well and good, but it's not the cure all they claim it is.

First, is that the two major players, Marvel and DC don't quite understand that they and their characters are the 'gateway drug' for the medium as a whole, but they're doing it wrong.

Even if you download the latest issue of your favorite movie superhero, unless you're already a long-standing fan of that character the odds are that you're not going to stick with it.  That's because it's more likely than not that the latest issue is Part 3 of a 6 part "event" story arc that requires that you not only go and buy the back issues for parts 1 & 2 then 4,5 and 6 when they come out over the next few months, but also go buy issues of other titles, and have a working knowledge of 5-7 decades of back-story to make any sense of it all.

Casual readers are not welcome.

Now DC is claiming to be doing something about it with their "New 52" reboot of their mainstream universe, but it's not hard to find elements of the previous universe's convolutions finding their way into the "new" story-lines. 

Of course, comics nowadays seem only to exist to keep the rights to characters away from their creators.

Now you might say that Marvel doesn't really need comics as their core business and was doing just fine thanks to the success they had producing their own movies.

Yes, they were pretty damn good producing their own movies. However, they were also in a precarious position.

Unless you're a major media conglomerate with absolute control of the distribution and sales of your movies, you are just one or two box office turkeys from total collapse. Superhero movies are expensive to make and release, and while the rewards are great if you succeed, the damage done by failure is exaggerated exponentially if you're an independent.

So Marvel is definitely better off with Disney. It has the cushion it needs, and Disney has the characters it needs to keep pumping out movies and merchandise. 

So, for now, it's definitely good for Marvel, and good for Disney.

But there's still a way Disney can screw it up.

The one constant of movie studios is that things change. The people running the place can change, either being replaced, or by losing the mojo that once made them successful. Suddenly, studios that were having major box office smashes, can find themselves stuck in the middle of creative logjams where good projects are mangled into horrible abominations, or wither and die in development, tens of millions of dollars are wasted, long dead fads are pointlessly pursued, and only one or two characters can even make it onto the big screen.

Just ask DC and Warner Brothers about that.

So let's split the difference and say that the jury's still out on this one.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #907: Men In Blah?

If you're a major movie studio and your Spring/Early Summer releases don't have the words "Avenger" or "Marigold" in the title you're probably disappointed. Just about every release outside of Marvel's The Avengers from Disney, and Fox Searchlight's Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has failed to meet the expectations of the producers, studios, and box office analysts when it comes to ticket sales.  
The latest disappointment is Men In Black 3 in 3D starring Will Smith in his first starring role in 4 years, Tommy Lee Jones, and Josh Brolin as Tommy Lee Jones. So far Men In Black 3 has raked in an estimated $202 million worldwide by some reports so far which should make the studio happy.

However, they're not.


Well, allow me to explain.

Why the studio denies it, most outlets say the budget for MIB3 is over $300 million, and probably another $100-$200 million has been spent marketing and preparing the 4,000+ theatrical release. That means that the movie needs to literally set Avengers level records, and as quickly as possible, just to break even once you take into account the expenses, and the pieces of the pie taken by the theaters, foreign exhibitors/distributors, and the major players with "dollar one" back-end deals.

However, the studio should have seen that the odds of breaking those records were slimmer than they thought, and that they should have hedged their bets so they didn't have to be a record breaker to break even.

What were the signs?


MIB2 was a disappointment when compared to the first movie, both critically and commercially. MIB1 made almost $600 million on a $90 million production budget and had a 91% "Fresh" rating from Rotten Tomatoes. MIB2 made under $450 million at the box office on a $140+ million production budget, and got a 39% "Rotten" rating from critics via Rotten Tomatoes.

That means the movie left a pretty bad taste in the mouth of audiences, the ticket sales showed it, and they should have seen that any third entry would run the risk of a bad case of rising costs and diminishing returns.


They waited 10 years before making the third installment. That meant that the first movie was now considered 90s nostalgia, and the second movie considered short-hand for disappointing sequels. It also comes after Will Smith's extended hiatus from acting, and Tommy Lee Jones' extended tenure as the Grand Old Man of indie movies and smaller dramas, and probably needs to buff up his bank account for his inevitable retirement.

That makes the whole thing look like this illustration.
You see, there's no creative impetus behind the third film. No important conclusion to the saga to made, no grand story just begging to be told. It looked like an attempt for all involved to just cash in on the first film's legacy.

That's not a good image for a movie to have if they really need to break records to break even. The collective mass consciousness of the audience can smell fear, and they can smell pointless greed on the part of the studio and the stars.

And stuff like this doesn't help:
Having a star's trailer being bigger than the house I grew up in, does not make it look like he's doing the movie for love. It looks like blind greed by a spoiled brat of a star, and that no one involved is really going to burn any calories trying to make it a great movie.

It could have been avoided, but that would have meant the studio being willing to risk passing on a movie guaranteed a number one opening weekend. Too many executives can't see past that opening weekend, and put all their eggs into that basket, not realizing, or willfully ignoring, that their movies have become so expensive, they need legs capable of carrying them further, sometimes weeks further than that.

Will Hollywood learn anything from this situation? Will they try to be more efficient, cost-effective, and know when their greed can turn off audiences?

Probably not. After all, it did make it to #1 on its opening weekend.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #906: Casting Out Demons, Over & Over Again...

The Wrap is reporting that Sean Durkin, the writer/director behind the indie sleeper Martha, Marcy, May Marlene, Mary, Margaret, Marylou, Marylin, Margery, Magdalena, Mabel is going to write and direct a 10 episode TV miniseries remake of The Exorcist.

I just have to say... Are you all high?


I remember the original movie by William Friedkin, and I've also read the original novel by William Peter Blatty, and I enjoyed both. However, I don't really see a 10 episode miniseries coming out of it. But instead of just ranting about the crap inherent in remaking classics let's take a look at the PROS & CONS!


1. THE DIRECTOR: Sean Durkin got a lot of kudos and accolades for his movie whose name I'm too lazy to retype. I haven't seen it yet, but most of the buzz has been positive. So there's a pretty good chance that he's got some good ideas and the ability to translate them onto the screen.


1. HOLLYWOOD & FAITH: No one has any faith in Hollywood to handle anything involving religious faith with any sort of tact, taste, or lack of prejudice. Both the novel and the movie liberally salted the horror genre with elements of theological and philosophical ideas. No one outside of Hollywood thinks that anyone inside Hollywood has the ability to handle those ideas anymore.

2. THE LENGTH: 10 episodes? If they're talking about 10 one hour episodes it's bad enough, if they're talking about 10 two hour episodes, they're doing heavy meds. The story is not exactly "epic" and deliberately has a small cast, and a very narrow setting. The only thing I can think of is if they take the back-stories hinted at in the original book and movie and streeeeeeeetch them out into the realm of the ridiculous. Two, maybe three parts, I might see it happening, but ten parts is where madness lies.

3. THE FRANCHISE'S LEGS: The original was a commercial blockbuster, a critical smash, and won all sorts of awards and kudos. However the attempts at sequels and prequels haven't shared that good fortune. Exorcist 2: The Heretic committed heresy against the original with its incoherence. Exorcist 3: Legion had its moments, but came and went with all the force of a fart in a hurricane. And then there were the prequels. Technically, there was only supposed to be one prequel, but the producer and the studio got into some sort of pissing match with the filmmakers and ended making two versions of the same story. Guess what, both versions sank like stones.

That does not bode well for any Exorcist related topic.  I think the best policy is to let sleeping demonically possessed children of fictional movie stars lie.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012


E-books have proved me wrong. I'm quite willing to admit it. For years I said that e-books were the "flying car" of literature, always on the horizon, but never really coming into fruition. Well, now they're everywhere, with Amazon and Apple battling for e-book supremacy, and publishers dedicating themselves to these electronic wonders.

Now I see the limitations to this medium, publishers and their obsession with DRM, the temptation of distracting apps being added to your reader, and the simple fact that if you doze off while reading you might be in danger of losing a couple of hundred bucks worth of electronics instead of only risking losing your page.

However, I also see the potentials, and apparently so does the venerable Esquire magazine which is launching a new line of e-books described as "Fiction for Men."

But that's not all, let's see how the line's editor defines "Fiction for Men."
"Fiction for Men." is "plot-driven and exciting, where one thing happens after another."
It sort of shows the sorry state of the publishing world when the stories that have interesting plots, excitement and lots of things happening is considered a brilliant marketing ploy for an under-served audience.

Exciting plot driven fiction used to be the foundation of the industry. Look back at the history of literature and you will see that a lot of the works that we now consider "classics" actually started out as works designed to make a buck for their authors by giving the audience what they wanted. Interesting characters up to their necks in complex plots with elements of mystery, excitement, and even humor.

That used to be the hallmark of all fiction. Sure, some of it may now seem tedious by today's standards, but for their time, they were rollicking thrill rides.

A rift began to form after World War 1, when Modernism crept into literature. Modernism stated that only works that met certain criteria could count as "important" enough to be considered "literature" while everything else was considered "trash" or unworthy regardless of the quality of the individual works in question.

However publishers have bills to pay, and there was money to be made in "trash" in the form of pulp magazines, and later cheaply produced paperback novels. Paperback books, first invented in Germany, but first really successful in Britain in the 1930s, made it possible to not only buy a novel cheaply, but to be able to stick it in your pocket and read while you're on the train or the plane.

A lot of paperbacks were reprints of books originally published in hardcover, but a lot of companies pumped out a steady stream of paperback originals. This led to competition between the paperback books and the pulp magazines, with the paperbacks whittling down their piece of the market. 

One of the big markets for both paperback books and pulp magazines were men. The whole "men's adventure" genre was created for this market, specializing in tales of adventure where men battled elements, animals, and human foes, rescued sexy damsels in distress, and lived to tell the tale. Lots of writers got their start selling stories to these magazines and books, lovingly called the "sweats" by industry insiders.

However, the conditions of the industry changed. The market changed with the rise of the Baby Boom generation and shifts in public attitudes. Baby Boomers didn't want stories of two-fisted action-adventure in their magazines because it either didn't relate to their relatively comfortable lives, was seen as a tacky remnant of their war-mongering racist sexist predecessors, or was just beneath them. Meanwhile the magazines themselves, desperate to reclaim lost market share became more and more lurid and sleazy, some even transforming into outright pornography, which was also competing with them for eyeballs.

Paperback action-adventures continued chugging along, but bit by bit the authors who made it successful in the immediate post-war years began to either die off, or decline in output and/or quality. The market, once open to new authors began to close up, dealing with a declining number of declining authors. Those new authors who would have taken the "men's fiction" sub-genres into the needed new directions moved onto the now more mainstream thriller, science fiction, and horror genres.

Meanwhile the rift between "literary" and "genre" fiction widened, as the publishing industry began to dominated by people indoctrinated in college on the necessity of "importance" in literature. They still depended on the "lesser" genre works to pay the bills, but they sure as hell weren't going to give them any respect.

A telling story is about Stephen King. He was the biggest selling author in the world at the time, outselling everyone else on his publisher's list by a factor of ten, but every time he went to their New York office for a meeting, his editor had to re-introduce him to everyone there, because no one beyond his editor could remember who he was.

That's right, he was the one man responsible for the company's profit margin, and they didn't give a shit about who he was, or what he did because they didn't consider him "literary." King, and the profits he made, moved onto another publisher the first chance he could.

Meanwhile, action adventure fiction saw a bit of a revival in the form of the "techno-thriller" boom of the 80s and 90s that started with Tom Clancy's explosive success. This new genre was all about elite spies, and special forces types using meticulously researched high technology to battle bad guys all over the world in nice big fat tomes that definitely can barely fit into briefcase, let alone a pocket.

That too became a problem. 

Pressure was put on writers to make books fatter, to justify the prices publishers were asking for. Works smaller than 80,000-100,000 words (depending on the publisher) became essentially unprintable unless you were already some sort of "celebrity" author who could get away with it. To justify these sizes works had to be more "important" putting an almost impossible onus on new authors looking to break into the business. New authors had to pop out of the egg fully formed and perfect in every way, or belong to some sort of clique that has an 'in' with the industry to get past the gatekeepers who are already "too busy" chasing reality TV stars and D-List celebrities with overpriced book deals.

People are reading more now than in recent decades, and they're reading lots more genre fiction. But the industry is in rough financial shape, pissing away millions of dollars chasing fads and celebrities as some sort of panacea while actively driving away new talent that exists outside of their increasingly narrowing circles.

Meanwhile writers previously considered "literary" writers are diving into genre fiction. Not just for the money, but for the simple fact that actually being entertaining is more of a challenge to a writer than just being "important" to a handful of a editors, critics, and academics.

E-books have the potential to become the training ground for emerging writers, the way the old pulp magazines and paperbacks used to be. They're inexpensive to produce, can be shipped anywhere in the world instantly, and can be read anywhere by anyone.

I think all publishers should start e-book imprints dedicated solely to finding new talent in "exciting & plot-driven" genre fiction, not just for men, but for everyone. It's a low-risk/high-reward proposition that I suspect most publishers won't go for, because it would require effort and quick decision making on their part.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #905: The Magnificent 5' 7"

Tom Cruise has reportedly signed on with MGM to do a remake of the classic Western action movie The Magnificent Seven as part of MGM's policy of doing remakes guaranteed to offend fans of the original.

Now if you've spent your entire life living in a cave on an island in the Antarctic Ocean I'll do a little explaining.

The Magnificent Seven, directed by John Sturges, is itself an American Western remake of the Akira Kurosawa directed Japanese epic Seven Samurai which was inspired by American Westerns. 

The story for both films is pretty straightforward, a village of peaceful farmers find out that a veritable army of bandits are planning to come and rob them of everything they have. An attempt by villagers to buy weapons results in the hiring of seven highly skilled, but otherwise unemployed, and outcast warriors to do the fighting for them.
Much fighting ensues, and the final theme is how the world is changing and old school men of action, be they ronin samurai, or gunfighters are being left behind.

So let's take a moment to look at the PROS & CONS of this idea!


1. THE STAR: Right now Tom Cruise is as hot as he's been in a very long time. Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol was a monster hit and revived his cinematic fortunes after an extended period of mediocrity, and a failed stint as owner of United Artists. So if MGM is going to do something with a star, they could do worse than Cruise right now.

2. THE STORY: The story itself is timeless. Mercenaries taking one last shot at redemption defending people unable to defend themselves, and learning that their violent ways are the ways of a fading past, and not the future.


1. THE STAR: Tom Cruise is not very good at  being part of the sort of ensemble cast that's needed for a Magnificent Seven type film. He must be the center of attention at all times, or he's just not going to be in it. While Yul Brynner was the "star" of the Magnificent Seven, the attention was spread around so you could get to know the characters played by Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, Brad Dexter, Horst Bucholz and Robert Vaughn, and sympathize with them. I just don't see it happening with Cruise in the lead. In fact I agree with David Cohen from Variety who tweeted "Okay, so how do you have Tom Cruise in The Magnificent Seven without it becoming The Magnificent One And His Six Sidekicks?" He's going to have to learn to play well with others if he's going to make this film a success.

2. THE ORIGINAL: People love the John Sturges version, and foreign language buffs love the Kurosawa version. I happen to love both. Those who love the "originals" are probably going to resent this proposed remake as a big movie star ego-wank.

But all is not lost.

I think something can be done with the premise, but it must have an identity of its own the way Sturges did when he adapted it from the Kurosawa film.

This is not as hard as it looks. The fundamental premise could be set in any place and time that is beset by anarchy and lawlessness. I suggest they flip through the history books and find a place and time that hasn't really been used in film before where seven mercenaries can find redemption through the barrel of a gun. 

I would suggest reading Setting The East Ablaze by Peter Hopkirk for inspiration. It's about the chaos of post World War 1 Asia, and has a great villain in the form of the "Mad Baron" Roman Nickolai Maximilian von Ungern Sternberg, an exiled Russian nobleman who led a horde of fanatics who looted and slaughtered their way across Mongolia and China. (The story of his death is like something out of a really bat-shit movie.)

Tom Cruise plays an American mercenary working as a bodyguard in China who is recruited by a pacifist community in the Mad Baron's path to help defend them. Cruise then recruits six more mercenaries (played by a mix of Asian, American, & European action movie stars) who all have their own reasons for taking the job. Give it a title with the number "7" in it that's different from the other movies, and let the carnage begin. 

It's a win-win, because you can get some of that sweet Chinese money plus the key to the Chinese market by making it a China-USA co-production.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #904: Taking The "Unity" Out Of "Community"

You've probably already heard that creator / executive producer Dan Harmon has been fired from his show-runner position on the NBC sitcom Community just after the show had been renewed for a fourth season. According to Harmon himself, you and he found out at the same time the same way.

Lots of people are speculating on why Harmon got fired. Community has a dedicated, but relatively small audience, and Sony is claiming that the people they're bringing in will work to "broaden the show's appeal." Of course the odds are that they will only succeed in driving away the audience they have while failing to attract any new viewers.

Now one has to assume that the people at Sony and NBC know that the odds are against them having any success making the show more "mainstream," so why rock the boat?

Well, there are causes, and then there are excuses.

If Community's modest ratings were the "cause" of Harmon's firing then just about everyone behind NBC's 30 Rock would have been fired years ago, or the show would have been canceled. The audience of Tina Fey's starring vehicle pretty much consists of Hollywood, critics, and Emmy voters, and nobody else. It's been a ratings black hole since its inception, and it's been getting worse every season, but that doesn't stop it from getting renewed, and the stars and show-runners getting re-upped without anyone asking about "broadening the show's appeal."

This means that the reasoning behind Sony and NBC's decision is not really a cause just an excuse. (Yes, I know Sony claims sole responsibility for the firing but if NBC hadn't given it their blessing he'd still have a job.)

So let's try to figure out why he got the axe.

Could it be Harmon's personality?

Now it's common knowledge that Harmon is not the easiest guy to work with. He's a non-stop font of comedic ideas, but, by his own admission, he's short-tempered, belligerent,  and prone to prolonged feuds, including a very recent and very public one with Community co-star Chevy Chase.

However, both NBC and Sony do a lot of business with people with prickly personalities. Working in network television can be a lot like being the last Alaskan husky in the sled team, nothing but assholes as far as the eye can see.

So it becomes a measure of degrees, and one must ask just how much of an asshole is the person in question? You can measure that by the amount of loyalty those who work with the person in question shows them, and by just who that person feuds with.

A lot of people who work with Harmon show him a lot of loyalty, and feuding with Chevy Chase is pretty much mandatory for anyone who works with him.

This means it can't really be all the fault of his personality. That's not really a cause either, more of an excuse.

If that's not it, then what is the real cause of his firing?

The real cause is power.

As I explained earlier, I doubt Sony acted alone on the career grassy knoll when it came to pulling the trigger on this firing. Sony and NBC must be willing to cooperate, though until a show starts making sweet syndication money, the broadcaster and its license fees is the dominant partner.

I suspect the roots of this firing lies with NBC and its long toxic corporate culture left over from the Zucker reign of error, but with roots in the Fred Silverman era of the late 1970s. It's a corporate culture based on demonstrations of power over people whose basis is not based on achievement or merit, but on the relationships between those in power and those without.

30 Rock is sacrosanct despite its dismal ratings because the people behind it, like executive producer Lorne Micheals, and production studio (Universal) are juiced in deep with the NBC brass. 

Community doesn't have that sort of juice. So it's the perfect place for a demonstration of power. The reports that Harmon himself found out via the media because the studio and network were giving him the silent treatment are extremely believable, because it's a great way to show someone their place on the corporate totem pole.

You see it's not what you do at NBC, but who you know.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #903: Fall TV Preview - Fox

New shows are in BOLD.


8:00-9:00 PM BONES
9:00-10:00 PM THE MOB DOCTOR

A new medical drama about a brilliant young doctor who is forced to work for the Chicago mob to save the life of her brother, with sexy results.

THE FOLLOWING joins in midseason.

Kevin Bacon makes his first foray into series television in this show created by Kevin Williamson, and word is that Rupert Murdoch has ordered everyone else in the cast & crew to be named Kevin. It's about an FBI profiler who discovers that an elusive serial killer he's been hunting has been assembling a cult of killers, and he must work his way through their ranks until he reaches the big kahuna, who will always just escape his grasp week after week until the series finale when it's revealed to be someone already in his life. I think I might have spoiled the whole damn thing.



8:30-9:00 PM BEN AND KATE (new)

A new sitcom about a single mother getting help raising her kids from her slacker brother. No doubt wackiness will ensue.

9:00-9:30 PM NEW GIRL

The renewal of the hit show gives me an excuse to post a picture of star Zooey Deschannel.

9:30-10:00 PM THE MINDY PROJECT (new)

Mindy Kaling leaves The Office on NBC to take on this new sitcom about a single gal doctor looking for love. No doubt wackiness will ensue.

THE GOODWIN GAMES (new) joins in midseason.

A new sitcom about squabbling siblings who must perform a never-ending series of challenges to claim the multimillion dollar fortune left by their deceased father. Wackiness ensues until one figures out that such a will is probably illegal, challenges it in court, wins, and gets all the money.


8:00-10:00 PM THE X FACTOR (fall) / AMERICAN IDOL (midseason)


8:00-9:00 PM THE X FACTOR Results (fall) / AMERICAN IDOL Results(midseason)

9:00-10:00 PM GLEE

Expect a slow agonizing death for this show this season as they try to cover for an aging cast with sillier plot-lines, loads more songs and celebrity cameos.


8:00-9:00 PM TOUCH

9:00-10:00 PM FRINGE (fall)

HELL’S KITCHEN returns in midseason.


7:00-10:30 PM FOX SPORTS SATURDAY (fall)

COPS returns in midseason.

ANIMATION DOMINATION HIGH-DEF(new) will join late-prime in 2013.


7:00-7:30 PM NFL Game (fall) / ANIMATION DOMINATION (encores)

7:30-8:00 PM THE OT (fall) / THE CLEVELAND SHOW


8:30-9:00 PM BOB’S BURGERS

9:00-9:30 PM FAMILY GUY

9:30-10:00 PM AMERICAN DAD

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Hollywood Babble On & On #902: Fall TV Preview - NBC

NBC used to be the home of "Must See TV" but now it's home to "Must Avoid TV" and is struggling to recover its former position of dominance. Let's look at their Fall Schedule and see if they have a hope in hell of doing that.... 

(New Shows are in ALL CAPS & BOLD)


8-10 p.m. – “The Voice”

10-11 p.m. – “REVOLUTION”

The latest sci-fi epic from the JJ Abrams entertainment factory. It's about society trying to rebuild itself after a mysterious event destroys mankind's ability to use electricity. I get the feeling that like other Abrams projects based around a central mystery that no one at the show actually knows the solution to that mystery like they did with Lost, and will start pulling random twists out of their collective ass and then will brand anyone that calls them on it stupid for calling them on it. That feeling pretty much doomed Alcatraz to an early grave, and could doom this show.


8-9 p.m. – “The Voice”

9-9:30 p.m. – “GO ON”

Matthew Perry stars as a widowed sportscaster trying to rebuild his life. Well, it starts off with death, so it can only get more upbeat.

9:30-10 p.m. – “THE NEW NORMAL”

A sitcom from the creator of Glee about a gay/straight blended family. I don't think any "controversy" will sink the show. The odds are pretty good that it'll be Murphy's distraction with trying to squeeze another season out of Glee by booking celebrity cameos and hit songs, coupled with NBC's inability to sell anything will sink the show.

10-11 p.m. – “Parenthood”


8-8:30 p.m. – “ANIMAL PRACTICE”

It's like House MD only with a veterinarian. I suspect the monkey will get all the best lines.

8:30-9 p.m. – “GUYS WITH KIDS”

I get the sinking feeling that the more accurate title would be Dumb Stereotyped Guys With Kids

9-10 p.m. – “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”

10-11 p.m. – “CHICAGO FIRE”

A new drama from Law & Order guru Dick Wolf.  He's so happy to have a new show on NBC he's already fired the entire cast. 


8-8:30 p.m. – “30 Rock”

The long struggling cavalcade of celebrity cameos limps on for a big finale season where they're hoping to finally crack the Nielsen Top 100.

8:30-9 p.m. – “Up All Night”

9-9:30 p.m. – “The Office”

9:30-10 p.m. – “Parks and Recreation”

10-11 p.m. – “Rock Center with Brian Williams”


8-8:30 p.m. – “Whitney”


8:30-9 p.m. – “Community”
Just heard that Sony has taken show-runner Dan Harmon down from his post, and NBC has put it in the Friday night death slot. Bastards all around.

It's the biggest Community related disappointment I've ever had since the time I bought the Season 1 Box set and discovered it was empty.

9-10 p.m. – “Grimm”

10-11 p.m. – “Dateline NBC”


Encore programming

SUNDAY (Fall 2012)

7- 8:15 p.m. — “Football Night in America”

8:15-11:30 p.m. — “NBC Sunday Night Football”

SUNDAY (Post-football/Winter 2013)

7-8 p.m. – “Dateline NBC”

8-9 p.m. – “Fashion Star”

9-10 p.m. – “The Celebrity Apprentice”

10-11 p.m. – “DO NO HARM”

A new show about a dedicated doctor with a dark secret. He has another personality hidden inside of him, and that personality is a sociopathic asshole. So it's basically House MD with Dr. House and Dr. Wilson merged into on character to save money.