Business

Sounds LIke They're Scared

There's a market out there for people who hate the movie-going experience. The movie industry just doesn't want to accept it:

"If you've got it, flaunt it," said a confident Sony Motion Pictures Group chairman Tom Rothman when taking the stage at the annual gathering of cinema operators in Las Vegas, where the major Hollywood studios go to promote their upcoming slates.

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas — except when it comes to CinemaCon, which is always certain to generate headlines and controversy as Hollywood promises theater owners that it's got the goods.

This year's convention, which ran from April 11-14, was no exception, offering up new trailers and footage for a wide array of films, a parade of top stars (including Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt and Will Smith), James Cameron's announcement on stage that he's making four Avatarsequels instead of three and much talk about Sean Parker's divisive proposal to make new movies in the home for $50.

They can fight it all they want, but television is producing better fare than most movies. And if television is working that well for people, the movie industry is going to be left behind and they'll be scrambling to release films to play at home before you know it. The only thing missing here is a quote from someone who thinks they know what's happening:

“We are not going to let a third party of middlemen come between us,” Warner Bros.chief Kevin Tsujihara said to strong applause from the audience of theater owners. 

Unless, of course, the consumers abandon your product and this ends up being the only way you can make money.

Louis CK Loses Millions

Someday, we'll all brag about how we paid for Horace and Pete, even though nobody's been buying the show:

As often happens with the web, there’s good news and bad news as television shifts online. The spirit of the age tells us that everyone should go it alone, that entrepreneurial individualism is more important than being part of a larger team, that we all need to unbundle.

But Louis C.K. has learned the hard way that it doesn’t always work. Even with a series that’s smart, well-acted, topical, and ambitious.

C.K.’s show “Horace and Pete” is about as close to the classic American theater of Eugene O’Neill as television offers. Taking place in a century-old, family-run Brooklyn bar, it’s a show in which politics, class, race, gender, gentrification, tradition, family turmoil, and various painful aspects of the generation gap are worked out in natural, unforced ways. The kind of conflicts and honest talk that a lot of shows wait half an hour to build to come every few minutes on “Horace and Pete.” It features actors as good as Steve Buscemi, Alan Alda, Edie Falco, and Jessica Lange. And while it’s certainly not a comedy, it’s often funny in a kind of uncomfortable and revealing way. (The bar’s policy of charging hipsters more for their drinks is one of several brilliant bits.) It makes a barroom-set show as good as “Cheers” look shallow.

It even has an intermission.

But C.K. has apparently lost millions on the show, which costs about $500,000 per episode to make. He sells his standup performances as audio files online – you can buy his Madison Square Garden show, for instance, from his website for anything from $1 to $85. Episodes of “Horace and Pete” costs between $2 and $5 apiece. And not enough people bought them.

Vulture doesn’t sound terribly sympathetic:

Not one to suffer silently, Louis C.K. went ahead and spread his financial burdens around on The Howard Stern Show today, revealing that making Horace and Pete left him several million dollars in debt. Basically, his debt is our bad, C.K. explained, because fewer people bought the show than C.K. was (literally) banking on.

So what went wrong? According to Variety, it turns out C.K. turned down a chance to offer the show to FX – where he has a first-look deal — for financing, hoping that his own visibility on television and on his site would drive traffic. He’s one of the biggest stars in comedy, but apparently it’s not enough to make a show with sets, actors – a piece of theater – pay for itself.

Louis isn't a businessman--he's a content creator. He's really good at it! People should give him lots of money to make things! Someone should have given him better business advice. You can't leave yourself exposed like this in a business run by thieves and vicious throat-stabbing ghouls. Television is an industry where decency and ethics are killed simply because they showed up to work one day.

And it really is too bad--when someone takes a big risk, there should be a government program that kicks in and helps them out. PBS should buy Horace and Pete and run it, warts and all, and not send any notes.

I got all of those sad E-mails, asking me to buy Horace and Pete. I'm sorry! I had shit to do. I feel bad now.

First Season Ratings for Fear the Walking Dead


I didn't think it was going to be this huge:
Fear the Walking Dead just had the best first season of any show in cable history.

With live-plus-three day ratings in for all six episodes, each of which also did gangbusters among live viewers, the AMC spinoff averaged 11.2 million viewers. 7.3 million of those were adults 18-49. That means that the cable network heads into the last months of 2015 with the No. 1 (Walking Dead), No. 2 (Fear the Walking Dead) and No. 3 (Better Call Saul) shows on basic cable.

AMC, which had renewed the series before its debut, is also going to give it a weekly post-show treatment upon its 2016 return. Chris Hardwick's The Talking Dead, a popular companion to the parent series, will air after every episode of Fear's second season.
I did recaps for every episode, which is something I haven't done before. I went through a lot of other recaps, looking for signs that I had gotten something wrong or had made a factual error and, no matter where I went, the reaction was always the same: boring!
Comment after comment rained down--this is a boring show, nothing is happening, blah blah blah. And that tells you one of two things--people are starved for action and they're starved for attention. 
FTWD isn't an action show. It doesn't feature mindless car chases and fight scenes (although it probably will end up having them soon). It's a drama disguised as a horror genre television show. And it's one steeped in the Humanities and elevated by the life or death aspect of the choices put in front of the characters. I guess I'm not surprised by the fact that the show has been marketed as a horror and action show rather than a drama. There's nothing procedural about it other than scratching out some way to survive. To me it's a story of humanity that operates within a framework of asking "how would you survive?"
Well, we already know that you won't survive without people and people are the reason why you probably won't survive for very long. That's the thing that keeps people coming back. They want to see who makes it and who doesn't and that wouldn't happen with flat, phony characters in a horror or action show. It wouldn't happen if there wasn't a struggle with conscience and morality over the simplest of choices.
If you look at this first season as a slow-moving drama, it works on a number of levels. You get the blended family dynamic. You get a slice of Central American history. You get inter-generational conflict. And you get a pretty good idea of where we're at as a society when it comes to treating people addicted to drugs.
Yeah, boring stuff.
These ratings reflect the need for people to connect to an alternate history of the United States. We're talking about events that happened in 2010. We're looking at the context of a global pandemic that mysteriously affects every human brain on the planet. If you succumb to a serious fever, somewhat akin to meningitis or influenza (which look very similar when identified in victims), you die and reanimate and consume human or living flesh. If you survive this, you will reanimate when you die or when you are bitten or scratched by a person who has succumbed to the reanimation process. This basic set of rules affects all of civilization in that it then causes everything to break down. Now, how do you survive?
That's not horror--that's drama. That's life. It's very powerful and the interest in this show reflects that.
Sunday night, I'll start issuing recaps for Season Six of The Walking Dead.

The Sweethearts of Late Night Television

In particular, in an interview with TV Insider, Leno took time to praise Seth Meyers, Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert (“a truly nice guy and decent human being”) before taking aim at Jimmy Kimmel, who has been a vicious and relentless critic of Leno over the years.
“The most [important] element you can have in doing a late night show is kindness,” Leno said. “Because the show makes you arrogant. I think that’s Jimmy Kimmel’s problem. I think he’s a talented guy, I think he’s funny. But he has a mean streak, and it comes across. He does this thing where he takes Halloween candy from kids and the kids cry. What am I missing here? It is funny I guess, but it’s mean-based. I think that’s why he’s not higher in the ratings.”
So, the most successful person in the history of late night television--Johnny Carson--was "nice?" 
Bushkin, who didn't return calls, says age didn't mellow Carson, who retired from "Tonight" in 1992. On a honeymoon cruise, his fourth wife, Alexis, made an innocent remark, prompting Carson to snap, "If you say something like that again, this marriage won't last another three weeks."
Though Carson's 20-year friendship with Bushkin ended around 1987, when Bushkin began to see Johnny's "cruel side" more often, Alex stayed married to the talk deity till his death in 2005.

Every Film You Will See From Now On


I don't know if this is true or not, but there's a conversation out there about the future of film. There are some voices who are speaking out about the business side of feature films and the thinking is, most of the big budget films, if not all of them, are going to be produced and marketed to 19 year-old Chinese males.

That means more Michael Bay and a whole lot less David Fincher.

The business side of that makes sense--China is hungry for the soft power of Hollywood's entertainment complex and there isn't any sense in chasing an American middle class dollar that isn't there anymore. Emerging markets have a demand and, if you don't fill it, something else will.

My Whole Life is a Trigger Alert


Whoa, my friends, whoa!

Trigger warning--this post is not about dead parrots. Stop reading right now if you are terrified of being confronted with things that are readable:
Trigger warnings have become a common staple of internet conversations for years now, a means of alerting readers – especially those who’ve experienced trauma and especially women — to subject matter that could kick up intense reactions. And they are, depending on the things you tend to read and your perspective on healthy discourse, a useful tool for greater sensitivity or a chilling means of putting a fence around certain kinds of dialogue. Either way, they’re unavoidable. It’s already been two years since the Awl declared the phrase had “lost all its meaning” and noted “this useful thing has spread a litttttle far afield.” Yet unlike other phrases that have come and gone since, “trigger warning” has only grown more ubiquitous, more recently moving from online debates to cropping up on college syllabi. Salon observed the phenomenon earlier this year, calling them “an imperfect but sometimes necessary band-aid on the open and gaping wounds plaguing college campuses — rampant sexual violence, for starters.” And then the New York Times took on the issue this week, with a feature on how “The Literary Canon Could Make Students Squirm.” In it, writer Jennifer Medina reports that students at “Oberlin College, Rutgers University, the University of Michigan, George Washington University and other schools” have this year all requested trigger warnings accompany certain classroom materials. And at the University of California, Santa Barbara – where this spring associate professor Dr. Mireille Miller-Young had an altercation with anti-abortion protesters because she said she’d been “triggered” by their signs —  the Associated Students Senate and Office of the Student Advocate General has formally requested “professors alert students of class content that can potentially ‘trigger’ symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in those who have experienced traumatic experiences such as sexual abuse or fighting in war.” Santa Barbara sophomore Bailey Loverin, a sexual abuse survivor, explained to the Times, “We’re not talking about someone turning away from something they don’t want to see. People suddenly feel a very real threat to their safety — even if it is perceived. They are stuck in a classroom where they can’t get out, or if they do try to leave, it is suddenly going to be very public.”
That whole paragraph should come with a trigger alert. But the problem with all of this is that we are trying to use sensitivity when we should be using the rule of law.

The fact that America's college campuses are teeming with rapists is entirely due to the fact that the police aren't arresting serial date rapists and that judges are not putting these men in jail. The law is failing people and, by extension, the foolishness of having campus police forces who do nothing about rapists means that failure will be common until someone successfully sues a university and takes millions from them.

Exposure to the culture should not require trigger alerts. It should include accountability and honesty. When those things fail to be applied to the very real trauma of rape or the indifference of society towards victims, the exposed wounds are incapable of healing. And, really, that should be the provision of mental health professionals, not amateur sensitivity cops. Mental health professionals should have, as one of their first tasks, a plan for helping people get past traumatic trigger events and help create a working method for mitigating exposure to elements of the culture that can trigger a negative response.

I am all for being sensitive, but let's assign blame to the incompetence of the people who should be righting wrongs by using the law.

Atari Landfill


Well, well, well:
Three hours of digging with a backhoe uncovered significant amounts of Atari 2600 game cartridges - many of which were still in their original packaging.
One urban myth has turned out to be accurate. I was never much of a fan of video games. They were around, and they were available, but I never cared enough to actually buy a console or get into them. My first "video game" was Wolfenstein for the PC.


This game was loaded onto two diskettes.



The full version of Doom fit on six of them, I believe.

It was okay, I guess, but once I played a little Hexen and X-Wing, I was pretty much done with video games. I believe that these games were a form of art, albeit a very commercialized form. I think that they were innovative and ahead of the curve as far as bringing a design philosophy to a new form of entertainment.

Gawker Was the Wrong Target


I suppose that you could make the case that Gawker derived some benefit from their link to the site where the anonymously, and cowardly, posting resided but the judge in this case wasn't sufficiently impressed to allow the case to go forward. This points to a need to change the law, right? Or would that lead to more censorship.

You have to give Quentin Tarantino credit, though--he wants to create and he's running up against the tidal wave of bullshit that inhibits creation these days. Everything you say or do can be stolen in an instant and others can profit from your labors. This is rapidly becoming a world where the only creative outlets are going to be things that people do for free and walk away from. Film, as a medium, could be replaced with nothing.

Tarantino needs to go after whoever jacked his script and then burn that person. That's his only real recourse here.

The Demise of the E-book Market


Now that all of the book stores are gone, you mean to tell me no one wants e-books anymore?
Tim Waterstone, the founder of the Waterstone's book shop chain, has predicted that the "e-book revolution" will soon go into decline in the UK.
He told the Oxford Literary Festival printed books would remain popular for decades, the Daily Telegraph reported.
"E-books have developed a share of the market, of course they have," he said.
"But every indication - certainly from America - shows the share is already in decline. The indications are that it will do exactly the same in the UK."
For the first eight months of 2013, e-book sale were worth $800m in the US, down 5% on the same period the previous year, according to the Association of American Publishers.
The experience of reading a book on a device, no matter how expensive it is, still doesn't rival the actual experience of reading a printed book. The e-reader might be a permanent tool used by people who have to maintain and regularly use a lot of printed material, but the occasional reader still prefers a book. It's too bad we couldn't have saved more bookstores, however.

There may come a day when the only place to buy a book is online--from Amazon. Or in an airport. Maybe, someone will come up with a good hybrid for books and music and start a business model that will work as a retail outlet.

The BBC Makes a Commitment to the Arts


This is admirable, but if you were to ask an American what has been the BBC's most successful export in terms of the arts, many might say Downton Abbey.

And, they would be wrong. Downton is a product of ITV, not the BBC.

Nevertheless, the appeal of the arts has never been greater. If you look at the quality of the television that has been produced in the United States over the last decade--True Detective, Breaking Bad, Louie, Mad Men, The Walking Dead, The Wire--the Brits have nothing to compare them with, save Sherlock and Downton (and how long will that last, given how much everyone hated Season Four?). Television programs produced for commercial gain really do much better as artistic achievements.

That's not a knock against what the BBC is trying to do--it's just a realization that if you have a great idea and if you want to do something of extremely high quality that will have a lasting cultural and artistic impact, your ass ought to be in front of an executive working for AMC, FX, HBO or Showtime--someone like that. They're going to have some deeper pockets than the BBC. It's just that simple.

Let Ryan O'Neal Keep the Painting

'If you go back through the history between Ryan O'Neal and Farrah Fawcett, it's fairly clear that there were disputes over property and personal effects. Divorce does that to people.

O'Neal believed it was within his rights to take a painting of Fawcett and keep it for his son. The painting could be worth millions. But a painting you can't or won't sell isn't worth a nickel. I think that there should be an understanding between the O'Neal family and the university that is claiming ownership of the painting that the piece cannot be sold commercially without giving the school a chance to buy it first for a reasonable price.

Fawcett's intentions should not be ignored, however. Providing for her surviving children should be the primary consideration when it comes to the handling of the issues surrounding the Andy Warhol portrait.

My question is, what if the Warhol declines in value? What if it skyrockets? Who is willing to bet that, in twenty years, it will be worth $12 million when it could be worth five times that much?

You Don't Screw Around With a Disney Princess

Merida as a "princess" on the left and then as she was originally depicted in Brave
I realize that you have better things to do, but still:
It’s the before-and-after makeover heard around the world. 
When Princess Merida of “Brave” was crowned the 11th princess at Walt Disney World this weekend, she had a new look that included not only a tiny waist, sultry eyes, and cleavage but also the teal gown that the feisty tomboy so detested in the Oscar-winning movie. It was as if Merida stepped onto the cover of “Vogue” magazine and her rebellious spirit was photo-shopped right out of the red-headed heroine. 
Nearly 212,000 of her fans weren’t having it. Through a Change.org petition, “Keep Merida Brave,” girl empowerment blog “A Mighty Girl,” demanded that Disney reconsider the redesign. By Wednesday, word had spread on the Internet that Disney had removed the sexified image from its official princess website, and the movement declared itself victorious.
The Internet is the great leveler in animation, art, commerce and film. If you take something that people love and screw it up, you are going to hear about it (Google+ had a redesign yesterday that made people retch and scream). Disney may have marketing people who indicate that the Merida pictured on the left was softer and more preferable, but think about the implications here. She does not have her bow and arrow on the left, but she does have a new dress. This means that she can be accessorized when purchased, forcing the consumer to add the pieces separately and for extra cash.

Marketing people love to change up a costume or a uniform. Witness the "throwback" frenzy in professional sports. The other night, I watched the Chicago White Sox play in their crappy old uniforms from the 1980s--and the only reason why they had those uniforms was because someone in marketing believed that there were fans who would stop by the retail outlet nearest to the stadium and actually buy that horrible thing.

Merida has been altered for marketing purposes. The fans have stymied their plans by demanding that the costume stay the same and that their old Merida dolls should look like the new Merida dolls.They want their bow and arrow, no matter what. And Disney better listen.

Andre Cassagnes 1926-2013




Worth noting:
Andre Cassagnes, the inventor of the Etch A Sketch toy that generations of children drew on, shook up and started over, has died in France, the toy's maker said. 
Cassagnes died Jan. 16 in a Paris suburb at age 86, said the Ohio Art Co., based in Bryan in northwest Ohio. The cause wasn't disclosed Saturday. 
"Etch A Sketch has brought much success to the Ohio Art Company, and we will be eternally grateful to Andre for that. His invention brought joy to so many over such a long period of time," said Larry Killgallon, president of Ohio Art. 
Then an electrical technician, Cassagnes came upon the Etch A Sketch idea in the late 1950s when he peeled a translucent decal from a light switch plate and found pencil mark images transferred to the opposite face, the Toy Industry Association said.

Something Else That Belongs in a Museum


This is not really a sports or hockey post--it's a post about museums and preserving artifacts and things of that nature.

In the case of Mike Eruzione, it's very evident that parting with the jersey, the hockey stick, and other assorted paraphernalia are an attempt to create a financial "nest egg" for his children and grandchildren, and so making the decision to dispose of those items through a commercial auction makes sense. He has every right to do this, and he has every right to expect that people who understand history and memorabilia would recognize that right.

However, what's sad is that his items rightfully belong in a museum, and a proper one at that. These items would be a fantastic addition for the Smithsonian and should be added as items related to American sports and sports history. Too often, these items end up in the hands of private collectors or collections that are offshore. Am I off base in wondering if it would be a good thing for a Russian oligarch to purchase them and put them on display in Russia? Should they go to a wealthy buyer somewhere else?

There is a balance between cultural artifacts and items of cultural significance that are worth a great deal of money to a private collector. Given that Mr. Eruzione deserves to be able to live comfortably and pass something on to his descendants, I wish there was a way for the Smithsonian to acquire the items and allow Eruzione the chance to make what he deserves from the transaction. There are examples of this, and sometimes it turns out that museums run by the government can acquire items, but I think that someone is simply going to buy these treasures and then they won't be seen again until they are resold further on down the line.

Things of this nature, however, should be in a museum. Perhaps whoever buys them will agree.