Friday, 22 August 2014

Hollywood Babble On & On #1172: A Minority Report of One

Amblin TV,  the TV production arm of mega mogul Stephen Spielberg, is developing a TV series version of Spielberg's 2002 hit Minority Report.

In case you don't remember the movie, it was an adaptation of a Phillip K. Dick story about an elite police unit that handles "pre-crimes." Basically three "pre-cogs" with the ability to see the future spot crimes before they happen have their visions analyzed by police, and then the suspect is then grabbed and imprisoned without trial.

Now the unit isn't shut down by the Supreme Court for its total destruction of the legal system on the word of three chemically mutated people who live int a kiddie pool, instead, it's brought down by Tom Cruise, the unit's commander, when it predicts that he'll kill someone after a lot of chases, fights, and other big action set-pieces.

Now unlike other movie-to-series ideas I'm not going to judge if the premise has enough meat to become a decent TV series. (Since the premise of "pre-crime" fighting does lie at the heart of the successful series Person of Interest.)

This time around I'm going offer some advice to the lovely folks at Amblin TV.

If they want Minority Report to succeed as a TV series then there is one person they must keep as far away from it as possible, and that person's name is…


Now you're probably wonder "But he's behind some of the biggest movies in Hollywood history, his touch should be golden when it comes to TV!"

You'd think that, but then you'd be wronger than a wrong person who just climbed up the wrong tree on the corner of Wrong & Really Wrong in the heart of the town of Wrongsville, Population: You.

When it comes to developing TV series Spielberg and Amblin's record is decidedly checkered. If you do some deep digging you quickly realize that Amblin/Dreamworks' most successful TV projects tend to be the ones that have an arms length relationship with the great man himself.

However, if it's one of Spielberg's "passion projects" the odds say it's doomed to be an expensive flop.


Amazing Stories, a wildly uneven sci-fi/fantasy anthology series that tried to revive the wonder found in old pulp-magazines like the show's namesake and early sci-fi shows like The Twilight Zone, but was too often mired in sentimentality and cliche.

Seaquest DSV, a show set on a submarine where the smartest character was the dolphin, who wasn't smart enough to swim to a better show.

Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, got pretty good reviews and ratings, but was so damned expensive, the network couldn't afford to keep it, though they did try to keep it alive via TV movies, but it was doomed almost from the beginning.

Terra Nova at first it sounded like it was guaranteed to be the biggest thing on TV. You had a show with time-travel, dinosaurs, and Spielberg was personally invested in its success. What could go wrong? Apparently everything.

So why does Spielberg have a reverse Midas touch when it comes to television?

It's born in how Spielberg operates. His organization is very much a family affair, built around a small, tightly knit clique of trusted insiders. Spielberg has a horrible aversion to conflict and confrontation, and this tightly knit clique works very hard making sure he doesn't hear any bad news.

Now within this clique there is, no doubt, some facility to debate and discuss ideas, however if you're outside this clique, forget about it.

So let's look at how shows are made. Basically a network commissions a pilot based on a pitch, and if the pilot gets a green light to become a series, those involved in the show, then have all sorts of conflicts and confrontations that hash out the idea into a television series for better or for worse. It works best when there's a strong creative team behind the show that have a solid vision behind it.

You can't do that if Spielberg is "intimately involved" in the show.

That's the main problem of Spielberg being a key player in a TV show's development. While his presence may get a pilot commissioned, he usually fades away during the important creative process that lies between the pilot script and the green-lit series, because he's got better things to do called "movies."

So you get a dangerous combination, where the projects are often passed off to people who often aren't as emotionally invested in the project as Spielberg. Even if they were, and wanted to fight passionately for the project, the network will insist they defer to Spielberg, and since Spielberg lives in horror of conflict, and is distracted by his movie projects, will go along with the network just to get along, as long as the network pledges to spending truckloads of cash making and promoting the show. Since he's promoted himself as being "intimately involved" he feels compelled to make those sorts of decisions, whether he's giving it 100% of his mental energies or not.

This leads to some pretty weak tea, lacking coherent leadership and world building, and a network shovelling buckets of money into it.

My advice is for Spielberg to publicly recuse himself from nominal leadership of this show as soon as he finds someone with the passion and the will to handle the conflict and confrontations that he isn't willing to.

Then they might have a success.

1 comment:

  1. Spielberg long ago lost any interest in the sort of commercial pictures that made him. This has been true since Schindler's List. Jurassic Park 2 is an awful movie, with a terrible script that is astoundingly bad for the guy who once made Jaws. Why? Because he just isn't invested in these sorts of movies anymore. War of the Worlds, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull...he just isn't care about them, and making entertaining movies just isn't a major concern for him anymore. He is am "important" director now, the sort of director who goes back to alter his earlier classic films to make them comport with his newer, more 'sophisticated' ethos.

    And TV is mass market, so he's never going to care much about it. Maybe a Lincoln HBO series or something, but past that, I can't see it.