Friday, 1 February 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #986: In A World Of Their Own

It's also a common belief that Hollywood is all about money.

It is, but there's a catch.

You see the management of the conglomerates that own the major studios and TV networks expect it to be all about money, and the people who manage those studios and TV networks like people to think it's all about money, but this is where the catch comes in.

The catch is that the people who run Hollywood as a business are trapped in Hollywood as a state of mind.

I often refer to this state of mind as the Axis of Ego. It is almost like an alternate dimension where things don't follow the same rational laws of physics and economics that rule our world.

In this world a show like HBO's Girls can average less than a million viewers be considered the voice of a generation, and its creator Lena Dunham be the most influential thing in popular culture. And nothing says you have a true connection with the concerns of the average person than starting a new series with HBO about a personal shopper for New York's rich and famous.

Meanwhile over at NBC they just wrapped up the seven year run of 30 Rock. Seven years of celebrity guest spots, critical adoration, a constant shower of Emmy awards, and probably the most dismal ratings seen on a network show that lasted more than one season. It was usually the 110-130th ranked network show after a high of #69 in its 3rd season.

Looking at all the people mourning its loss online I have to say that some of them have to be lying.

But that's not all. NBC is also considering a new show starring ex-comic/sitcom star Roseanne Barr. This comes after the failure of another pilot, called Downwardly Mobile, which reunited her with her former co-star John Goodman, the failure of her basic cable reality show, Roseanne's Nuts, and some public political statements that put her beyond the fringe into the realm of the wacky.

Now HBO can explain away doing niche shows that cater to a small audience, because they're a subscription service. They attract subscribers by providing a steady stream of big movies, truly popular original shows like The Sopranos and Game of Thrones, and by producing niche shows whose target audience are the people who go on TV, print, and the internet telling the world how cool HBO is.

NBC is supposed to be a different story. It's a broadcaster in every sense of the word. It's supposed to be pursuing the broadest possible audience. Which raises two questions:

1. Why keep a show for seven seasons that had to struggle to break the top 100 and then only did it for one season? 

2. Why start developing a sitcom with a star who is notoriously difficult to work with, best known for insulting massive segments of the audience, and about 20 years past her "Best Before" date?

As for 30 Rock, it wasn't about money, it couldn't be with those ratings. It seemed to me that it was all about feelings. Within the Axis of Ego the show was HUGE. It was the show that made Hollywood feel good about itself. It allowed them to say "Look at me, we can laugh at our own foibles, that means we have credibility and artistic integrity."

The fact that the general audience couldn't connect with that was seen as the audience's fault, and the most important thing was that it got you pats on the back from the cool kids at the Emmy after-party.

As for Roseanne, her self-titled sitcom was a groundbreaker in what was then a field full of Cosby imitators. It spawned a flood of imitations, but stayed at the party too long, and ended a bloated testament to an ego run rampant. She hasn't accomplished anything positive in ages outside of some kudos for not going completely bat-shit during her Comedy Central Roast. Mostly she's considered a negative when it comes to winning a wide audience.

So why try again and again to get her back on network TV?

Because in the narrow community of the Axis of Ego she's big, really big. She gets attention when she opens her mouth. Sure, that attention usually comes in the form of revulsion, but they honestly believe that  there is no such thing as bad publicity.

Too bad in the real world there is bad publicity, and it really does influence the audience. It tells them to stay away.

These Axis of Ego based decisions cost money, and lots of it. Yet, the distorted world-view that leads to these costly decisions are protected, to a certain extent. There are layers upon layers of executives, corporations, and parent conglomerates that create a cushion of money to maintain their little insulated world. Now there are limits to how much protection they get, because even the biggest company will eventually turn and ask for some sort of a return on their investment. However it usually doesn't kick in right away unless it's an unmitigated disaster that even the most optimistic executive can't deny.


  1. NBC show Do No Harm, now has the honor of being the worst ratings for new show premier period.

  2. I was never crazy about 30 Rock- it seemed too writerly, like a series of finely-honed punchlines that work better on the page than coming out of real people. But I never watched it much, so I could be wrong. the only character that seemed to have any vitality was Alec Baldwin's, who was, nevertheless, a caricature. A funny one, but a caricature.

    The issue there is that Hollywood had a crush on Tina Fey- as the new (and female) talent. So it was a vanity project-- agreed.

    With Roseanne, being 20 years past the sell-by date might be the point- most of the potential audience, throuigh all demographics, will have heard of her, and idntify her as a representative of a certain blue-collar, underdog humor- rightly or not. So that may be of a piece with the risk-averse, "IP-branding" strategy of only betting on projects about which the audience will already be familiar. It may still bomb, but at least there's a kind of logic to it.