Flush with cash from James Bond and the Hobbit franchises MGM has gone into the business of reviving the dead. First they ran a few million volts through Orion Pictures and this week they announced that United Artist will live again, sort of.
MGM has purchased a 55% controlling stake in Mark Burnett's media empire, including One Three Media, and Lightworker Media his partnerships with Hearst Entertainment, and his wife, the actress and producer, Roma Downey. They will all be part of a new United Artists Media Group, with Burnett as CEO and Downey running Lightworker as a faith/family friendly division of UAMG.
Now I can't shake the feeling that this sounds a hell of a lot like a certain deal MGM made with…
Remember that deal?
United Artists was supposed to redefine the star/studio relationship, and it was one of the biggest fizzles in the history of movies.
My worries over this Burnett situation are similar, yet different. I worry that this too will fizzle out and cast the once legendary United Artists even deeper into moribundity.
Burnett has been very successful in television. He's one of the key players in making reality TV the time
wasting filling institution it is today. He also had some success with scripted TV in the miniseries adaptation of The Bible for the History Channel, while its feature film spin-off Son of God did "meh" business at the box office.
And this is where I start to worry about more fizzle than sizzle.
Burnett knows how to make and market reality TV, but I watched some of their adaptation of The Bible, and I found it somewhat lacking. It possessed ambition, but lacked any coherent narrative vision beyond not intentionally offending anyone.
Will that be their philosophy for developing properties for United Artists?
The Bible was a ratings hit because it, and other faith friendly projects, was a novelty, it stood out amidst reams of other products on movies and TV that are often openly hostile to the religious beliefs and mores of flyover country.
However, novelty can only carry you so far. The recent failure of some films that attempted to cash in on the faith/family audience illustrates that. That's because once the novelty fades the audience demands that the films go beyond just pandering into the realm of entertaining.
Can Burnett's empire expand beyond reality TV and novelty to develop and deliver the goods in the scripted entertainment department?
I'm not sure.
Also, Burnett's a producer, but can he be an executive, because they are very different jobs. Being a producer is all about being up to your neck in the mud and the blood and the beer, solving problems and getting things done to get your project on the screen.
Being an executive requires a different skill set. Instead of being in the trenches, working on a passion project, an executive has to be emotionally detached, overseeing multiple projects, many of them you have no personal interest in, but have to accept that audiences are interested regardless. Producers only care about getting what they're working on done and out, while executives have to weigh every decision on how it effects their shareholders.
Not all successful producers make successful executives, even of a glorified production company, and vice versa.
Which is why I'm worried for United Artists.