Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What's Next -- Gigli: New Beginnings?

About a month ago, Hollywood Reporter ran a story about a number of remakes in development (or production) at the studios, including "Romancing the Stone," "Footloose," "A Nightmare on Elm Street," "Dune," "The Karate Kid," "Red Dawn," "RoboCop," "The Big Chill," "Arthur," "Ghostbusters" and "The NeverEnding Story."

The economic logic driving remake mania isn't hard to figure out -- the film industry, facing mounting production and marketing costs, is becoming ever-more risk-averse. I understand that it is often easier and cheaper to remake old properties than to develop new ones. And I understand that there is now a new generation of viewers who have had only limited exposure to the films of the 1980s, and thus those properties are especially ripe for being remade. (It doesn't hurt, of course, that many of the executives moving up the ranks are children of the '80s as well.) As a child of the '80s myself, I am certainly not averse to seeing Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray and company suit up again - especially if they are working with a decent script.

I know that remakes -- or "reenvisionings" if you wish -- are not inherently bad. I am optimistic about the new Star Trek, thought the newer Ocean's Eleven was far superior to the original, and found Edward Norton's Hulk to be more, well, incredible than Eric Bana's. I am even open to the possibility that The Rock's (sorry, Dwayne Johnson's) Race to Witch Mountain is superior to the 1975 Escape to Witch Mountain. Anything is possible.

Yet as each day goes by, and yet more remakes are announced, I can't help but wonder if we are close to hitting the remake absurdity threshold. In the last couple of days alone, I have read that the following remakes are in development:
  • The 1983 David Cronenberg-directed Videodrome;
  • Alien (with Ridley Scott returning to direct);
  • Predator (with Robert Rodriguez directing).
Ok. Fine. I can deal with these. But then, today, I saw the following:
  • Universal is developing a remake of the 1991 bomb Drop Dead Fred for Russell Brand...
  • And Oliver Stone is developing a sequel (ok, it's not a remake, so I'm cheating a little here) to...Wall Street. Shia LeBeouf (!?!) is in talks to star.
With these announcements taking place on the same day that Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter announced he's switching political parties and the Supreme Court supporting the FCC's power to regulate "fleeting expletives," it does in fact seem that the truth is stranger than fiction.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Entering the Twitter Zone

So...after saying I would never go on Twitter, here I am, trying it out. After many conversations and much perusal of the site, I get it. I think. At least, I'm willing to give it a shot. However, I will try not to use it in the manner depicted in this video.

More posting to follow here soon...once I get past this end-of-semester grading/meeting/writing madness. In the meantime, I will continue to feed articles I find of interest into the Diigo linkroll.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Week in Review: To Google and Beyond

Several Google/YouTube-related stories were reported this week. These involved:

Google and the music industry: In the continuing effort to find a way to make content more profitable online, YouTube and Universal Music Group (UMG) have joined forces to launch a new music video service. The site, named Vevo, will offer professionally-produced videos from UMG. According to the Los Angeles Times, "YouTube will provide the underlying technology, Universal will furnish the content, and the partners will split the advertising revenue." The hope, apparently, is to make this the "online equivalent of MTV;"

Google and the film industry: One week after Disney announced that it will be licensing select content to YouTube, it is being reported that Sony is negotiating for a handful of feature-length films to be available through YouTube as well;

Google and the newspaper industry: In conjunction with the annual meeting of the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), the Associated Press declared that it will be more aggressive in determining how and where its content is used online in the future. In response, Google CEO Chairman Eric Schmidt (speaking at the NAA gathering) warned: "I would encourage everybody, think in terms of what your reader wants. These are ultimately consumer businesses and if you piss off enough of them, you will not have any more.” Meanwhile, Jeff Jarvis posted on his blog what he thought Schmidt should have said to the NAA. His words are not nearly as kind as those offered by Schmidt.

And in other news:

The absurd story of the week: With the Sundance Channel and IFC now part of the same conglomerate, Rainbow Media, the two cable networks are being sold together to potential sponsors. Rainbow is promoting them as a premier venue for upscale consumers (or as they call them, "independently wealthy consumers"). The company has even developed a new theory, "Indienomics," to convey the way it views its relationship to its audience (excuse me while a suppress a snort here). As Ad Age describes it, Indienomics seeks to calm "consumer-related chaos through relevant marketing." For added amusement value, I recommend looking at IFC/Sundance's discussion of the five tenets of Indienomics.

The latest on pilot season: Based on the number of each in the works, it seems sitcoms (especially those of the multi-camera variety) are in again while serialized dramas are out once more. Of course, none of the networks have solidified their schedules, so much can still change.

The better late than never story of the week: Time Warner gets one step closer to spinning off AOL.

And finally, the you've got to be kidding me remake-of-the-week: Warner Bros/Legendary Pictures are moving forward with a new version of Clash of the Titans starring Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Week in Review: The Shows Must Go On

Lots of conventions/trade shows going on in the past week, including:

ShoWest, the annual meeting of theatrical exhibitors and major studio distributors, took place in Vegas. Several reports from the event suggest growing tensions in the distributor-exhibitor relationship. Some studios scaled back their presence and expenditures significantly this year. The current economic climate may have played a part in the studios' lower profile at ShoWest. However, as Heidi MacDonald of The Beat notes, in a world where the film studios' business models are ever more in flux and where they can directly sell their wares to the public through events such as ComicCon, courting exhibitors at ShoWest simply matters far less than it used to;

International TV sales market MIPTV in Cannes. Among the topics of conversation, according to The Hollywood Reporter: "cutting their cost base, re-engineering production models and reshaping the genre mix to keep the television business afloat;"

The Cable Show in Washington D.C., where one frequently discussed issue involved how much cable programming could or should be provided by cable companies or program distributors either online or on demand.

Recurring themes in reports of all of these events, unsurprisingly, included: how to deal with piracy and peer-to-peer activities; how to make more money online; and how to avoid the fate that has befallen the music industry.

And in other news:

Advertisers and actors reached a three-year agreement on a new contract covering commercials. Most notable is that this new arrangement provides some compensation for new media work;

The Wall Street Journal ran a story about the decline in star salaries that elicited a great deal of discussion in the blogosphere . Gawker's Gabriel Snyder responded by offering a useful outline of some of the most prominent types of deals negotiated in Hollywood today;

Disney struck a deal allowing select short-form video content to be available through YouTube. This arrangement indicates Disney's growing willingness to make its content available to outside sources. It also underscores YouTube's continuing effort to offer more "professional" content (i.e., content that is more favorable to advertisers).

And finally, this week's remake news: Jackie Earle Haley has been cast as Freddie Krueger for New Line's reboot of Nightmare on Elm Street. Not thrilled that this is being remade...but if it is going to happen, this seems like a strong choice. But who should play Nancy?

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The End of an ER-a

It has been an especially dramatic few days for both the medium and the business of television.

Over about a 24 hour period (from April 1st to 2nd), the following took place:
  • CBS announced the cancellation of the longest running scripted program in broadcast history, Guiding Light -- a show that started on radio in 1937;
  • The flagship program of NBC's "must-see" TV for the last 15 years, ER, aired its last episode;
  • Boston's NBC affiliate WHDH declared it would not air Jay Leno's new program at 10pm Monday through Friday (instead the station will air local news);
  • The 2008 Peabody Awards were announced, with awards going to several Internet sites, including The New York Times website, YouTube and The Onion News Network;
  • NBC Universal (parent company to Bravo) settled its lawsuit against The Weinstein Company over Project Runway's move to Lifetime.
All of these events are significant in different ways. However, I want to focus here on the departure of Guiding Light and ER from television.

I never watched Guiding Light. Yet somehow, it was reassuring to me to know that the show stayed on the air. Broadcasting may have changed in countless ways over the years, but this same daytime soap remained, airing Monday through Friday for decades on CBS. It just chugged along -- from the so-called Golden Age of radio through the classic network era, from the arrival of cable and satellite, into the present post-network era. The show survived several wars, presidents and economic crises. Indeed, it may still hang on, reappearing on another program service (or even online). But it will no longer be on a broadcast network.

While Guiding Light's departure resonated with me intellectually -- serving as but one more marker of how different the television of today is from the television of yore, ER's farewell hit me on a much more personal level.

ER was part of my weekly routine for years. I started watching while still an undergraduate, continued tuning in during graduate school and on into the early stages of my career as a professor. I viewed the show in four different parts of the country, through multiple friendships, relationships and late nights of work. I initially watched it "live" - rushing home to catch it no matter what I was up to on Thursday nights. I gradually shifted to recording it on my VCR, then finally caught it days after its initial airing on my Tivo.

Then last year, I stopped watching. Having seen one too many cast members leave and one too many storylines recycled for the umpteenth time, I "broke up" with ER. I had moved on to a newer medical drama, Grey's Anatomy. My lifestyle had changed, as had the ways that I thought about and consumed television.

And yet, last Thursday I sat down to watch the show one last time. On many levels, it was a bittersweet experience. I found the final episode itself to be well done overall. The show acknowledged many of the themes, images and storylines from years past without going overboard (for the most part). As far as concluding episodes of series go, this was one of the better ones.

As I watched this last episode, I tried to figure out why I was so much more saddened by the ending of this show than, say, Friends or Sex and the City or Will and Grace. I think part of the difference is the trajectory this specific show took. Typically when a program ends, at least some members of the original cast remain. Yet this was not the case with ER. Rather, all of the original cast members had long since left. Yet since these actors departed one by one over several years, rather than all at once, there was never a clear moment when the show shifted from what it was to something else entirely. This had the effect of making ER seem to simply peter out. Thus, when several cast members returned for this final episode, I was suddenly provided with a stark reminder of how compelling and engaging the show once was.

However, I wasn't moved by the final episode simply because it reminded me how much the show (and I) had changed over the years. I was also affected by realizing how much broadcasting itself had changed in the last fifteen years. During much of the 1990s, ER was a key marker of "quality" television programming produced by the broadcast networks. It appeared on the air at a time when reality programming was confined largely to cable outlets and Fox, when news magazines overran the prime time schedule, and when weekly "nights at the movies" still aired on the broadcast networks. ER had THE time slot on NBC's "Must-See" TV Thursdays -- a time slot previously occupied by Hill Street Blues and LA Law.

All of that is gone now. In a few short months, NBC will no longer have any dramas at 10 pm. In fact, it won't air any original fictional series at all from 10 to 11 p.m. Instead, Jay Leno will air at then - that is, if enough affiliates agree to air the program (something that remains to be seen).

Given the changing economics of the television business, it is quite likely that many of the dramas of the caliber of ER will appear on cable from here on out, not broadcast. NBC-Universal has essentially signaled as much with its recent declarations that its cable outlets (including Bravo, USA and SciFi/SyFy) are more profitable than its broadcast network.

Yes, television is changing, we all know that well. Last week's departure of ER -- occurring in tandem so many other dramatic industrial, technological and cultural shifts -- provides just one more poignant reminder of what television once was. "And In The End..." indeed.