Thursday, 31 October 2013

ASK ME ANYTHING!


It's Halloween, and I'm really busy today, so instead of my usual droppings of knowledge I'm going to let all of you dip into the snake-pit of my wisdom.


That's right. I'm looking for pop-culture and business questions for me to either answer, or pretend to answer in a pompous, know-it-all way.

Leave your questions in the comments….

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Idea Versus Execution… : The Beast Must Die!

Today I'm starting a new feature here on the blog. A discussion of films that had a good idea behind them, but a terribly flawed execution.

For the first of what might be many, I'm taking a look at The Beast Must Die! from Amicus Productions.

Amicus was a British film company founded by two American producers Milton Subotsky and Max Rosenberg. Their first productions in the early 1960s were teen-oriented musical comedies, but later they moved on to making horror films, following in the footsteps of rival Hammer Films. While they shared many staff, stars, and occasionally styles, there were differences. Hammer Films tended to be period pieces, while Amicus set most of their films in the more affordable present. Also Amicus found their niche making portmanteau anthology films, linking several short horror stories together in one film.

One of their best known non-anthology horror films was The Beast Must Die! based on a short story by James Blish. The premise of the film is the clever idea. Millionaire big-game hunter Tom Newcliffe (Calvin Lockhart) and his wife Caroline (Marlene Clark) are hosting a weekend get-together at their country estate deep in the middle of nowhere somewhere in England. The guests are Arthur Bennington (Charles Gray) – a diplomat, Jan and Davina Gilmore (Michael Gambon and Ciaran Madden) – a pianist and his ex-student, now lover, Paul Foote (Tom Chadbon) – an artist recently released from prison after a stunt that involved him eating human flesh and Prof. Lundgren (Peter Cushing) an archaeologist and a lycanthropy enthusiast.

Now it looks like an otherwise ordinary weekend, but Mr. Newcliffe has some eccentricities. He's ringed the whole estate with an electrified fence, put cameras and sensors on almost every tree in the forest, monitored by an employee named Pavel (Anton Diffring) and has stocked up on guns and silver bullets.

You see Newcliffe has tired of hunting natural man-eaters, and wants to graduate to the supernatural. All of his guests were in the same places at the same times of a series of werewolf based murders. He's determined that one of them is the guilty party, and he using every trick in the book to expose the beast and hunt it down.

That's the good part. The premise, sort of like Agatha Christie, but with supernatural throat ripping. They even try to lay down some science on the story explaining lycanthropy as a form of infectious disease.

However, where the film falls apart pretty much at the beginning, and never really recovers. The falling starts at the opening theme which sounds like it was stock music composed for a buddy cop movie instead of a horror film.

The directing is lacklustre to the point that you get the feeling that the director was completely uninterested in making a horror film. 

Then there were the limits of budget and technology. The cinematography ranges from bland to poor. Most of the "night" scenes were shot using the cheaper "day for night" processes, which basically make the night scenes look like poorly lit daytime scenes.

Then came the design of the werewolf itself.

To save money they decided to just get a large dog and make it up to look all wolfish and weird.

But the dog often appears with its tongue lolling about and wagging its tail. It's too damn friendly to be a scary werewolf.

The cast are all very game, and most try to work as well as they could in such a quickly slapped together production. Though star Calvin Lockhart plays Newcliffe as if he just walked off a production of Henry V and proceeds to chew more scenery than the werewolf. His arch performance may have been more fitting if the film was down in an over-the-top visual style instead of its bland semi-realism.

Also the 30 second "Werewolf Break" giving the audience a chance to guess who was the werewolf, seems like the sort of gimmick they would have rejected in a more innocent era as corny.

So what we have here, is a novel idea, a "horror whodunnit" if you will, that was fundamentally ruined with a weak execution.

Do you have any films you would like to nominate as a case of Good Idea versus Poor Execution?

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1084: Remake They Wrote?


NBC is dipping into the holdings of fellow subsidiary Universal TV for ideas to rehash and recently they announced plans to revive Murder, She Wrote, this time starring Academy Award winning actress Octavia Spencer.


If you're too young to remember, the original Murder, She Wrote, was about Jessica Fletcher played by Angela Lansbury, a recently widowed retired English teacher in her late 50s who becomes an overnight best-seller after her nephew sells her first whodunnit novel to a publisher. In between writing new novels she constantly ends up in the middle of murder cases on a seemingly weekly basis.

I can see why NBC would be tempted to revive Murder, She Wrote. The original ran for 12 seasons and over 250 episodes on CBS between 1984 and 1996, and was in the top ten for 11 of those 12 seasons. The show's demise only occurred after CBS changed its time slot to put it directly against NBC's then "Must See Thursday" ratings juggernaut. After the show's cancellation CBS continued the franchise with a string of TV movies between 1997 and 2003, who were also profitable for the network.

So before we look at the revival idea, let's look at the root of the original show's success and demise and see how they translate today.

THE ROOTS OF THE ORIGINAL'S SUCCESS:

1. Star power. A lot of credit can be laid at the feet of the appeal connections of original star Angela Lansbury, who had enjoyed stardom in the tail end of Hollywood's Golden Age, and moved onto a stellar career on Broadway. She also used her connection to that Golden Age to lure a lot of other performers from that time, as well as from Broadway, to appear on the show as guest stars.

2. The writing. The show's creators Richard Levinson, William Link, and Peter Fischer, found their niche by bucking what was the predominant trend in TV crime shows during the 1980s. Back then everyone wanted to be the next Miami Vice. I'm talking about hunky, macho detectives, who drove fast cars, seduced hot women, and ended every case with a chase and a shootout. Murder, She Wrote, went back to the roots of the mystery, more Agatha Christie than Michael Mann. Violence rarely occurred on-screen, and instead of chases and shootouts, it centred mostly on uncovering clues, exposing lies, and unravelling a carefully constructed puzzle at the centre of the case. It gave viewers an almost relaxing tale of murder and mayhem.

3. Trendiness. I avoided trendiness. It was anti-trendy. The only hip in the show was the one Jessica Fletcher might have broken if she had to a fight scene. That way it was immunized from the fickleness of audiences of the 1980s and 1990s almost right up until the end.

WHY THE ORIGINAL SHOW DIED

1. Demographics. The show always skewed older than the trendier, shorter lived, lower rated, shows, but therein lies the conundrum. Marketing experts say that the key to success is young viewers because they can be convinced to buy new products while older customers tend to be more set in their ways. That's why networks will charge more for ads targeted at younger viewers, even if the actual number of viewers is smaller. It's the only think keeping MTV afloat. That put original broadcaster CBS in a conundrum. They wanted the higher rates, but couldn't really beat the high numbers, averaging well over 20+ million sets of eyes per episode that Murder, She Wrote was bringing in.

In order to get the space on the schedule CBS needed for the younger, more malleable, viewers, the network had to commit murder via their deadliest weapon:

2. Scheduling. The original Murder, She Wrote ruled Sunday nights and was essentially unassailable in that time slot. So, in order to crash the ratings bad enough to justify its cancellation, they moved it against NBC's then unassailable domination of Thursday nights.

The show went from #8 in season 11 to #58 in season 12 and CBS had the excuse it needed to pull the plug. Though they did toss the creators a bone with the four TV movies that followed.

So let's see look at the Pros & Cons of doing the show now, and how they can make it work.

PROS:

1. Aging Audience Meets Counter-Programming: Baby boomers are now becoming senior citizens. They may be more interested in something a little gentler than the gore-horror fests found on CSI and its imitators, and the grittier 'ripped from the headlines' attempts at realism of other cop shows.

The Mentalist, and Elementary have had success by putting a modern twist on the old fashioned premise of the amateur master detective. Though I must admit The Mentalist lost me when they did that whole "We solved Red John! Just kidding, no we didn't he's just too god-like to catch" thing that really turned me off.

2. The star. Octavia Spencer's a good actress, seems to be very likeable, and has a Best Supporting Actress Oscar on her curricula vitae.

CONS:

1. The original's success. The success of the original was based a lot on the appeal of the original star, Lansbury, the significance of the parade of guest stars, and the puzzle-like story lines. Does Octavia Spencer, who toiled in the trenches of character acting for years before her Oscar win, have the sort of connection Lansbury had with the audience? Can the writers be clever enough to top it in the puzzle department?

Octavia Spencer does have an Oscar, but the audience don't give Oscars the credence they used to.

2. The Baby Boomers. Will aging Baby Boomers, the inventors of juvenile dementia watch an updated version of a show they used to make fun of as the show their parents watched? Probably not.

But all is not lost.

There is a way to make the show work.

As the press release states, Octavia Spencer will play a hospital administrator who self-publishes a surprise best-selling mystery novel. Suddenly famous she discovers that her beloved writing teacher, Jessica Fletcher, played by Angela Lansbury, is actually a serial killer. Fletcher's skill is at killing people and making it look like other people did it.

The series then begins a cat and mouse game where Spencer tries to clear those imprisoned by her predecessor's machinations.

Think about it, it could work. Plus it would explain Cabot Cove's horrendous murder rates.

Call me NBC.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1083: Digging Deep.... FOR HORROR!!

Tis the season for scary movies, and thinking about scary movies. TCM in October is practically a joygasm of horror classics from Hammer, Val Lewton, Universal and others, and it got me thinking back... way back... In fact, by internet standards I'm engaging in a little palaeontology.
Here is a piece I wrote almost 10 years ago for Film Threat about the ingredients of a good scary movie...

INSTANT SCARY MOVIE... JUST ADD WATER
(2003-10-29)

Halloween’s around the corner kiddies, time to dust off the old video chestnuts that used to scare the knickers off you when you were a kid. Yep, I’m talking about horror movies. Scary movies are enjoying a bit of a renaissance in popularity. Now, I’ve studied horror films, being a fan my entire life, and I think I’ve hit on what can only be called a recipe for a good scary movie. All you studio suits should take heed; you don’t want to kill the golden goose with lackluster to downright awful sequels the way you did in the 80s.
Here are your ingredients… 
1. Low Budget: Don’t spend too much money on making the movie. If you do it will look too slick and slick is fine if you’re a studio exec, bad if you’re supposed to be scaring people. Ditch the digital FX and the oversized sets. Keep it simple, and keep it looking as realistic as possible. That will make the unreality more chilling and disturbing. 
2. Unknown Stars: Nobody’s going to believe that a big, overpaid star is going to be in any conceivable danger. Hell, just by looking at the ads for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, I knew that TV vixen Jessica Biel was going to be the survivor, hence, I don’t have to shell out to see it now. Scary movies rely on uncertainty and you aren’t gonna get that if your star just walked off a Maxim cover. Your cast needs to be unknown, without any preconceived image hanging over them. They can be good looking, but don’t push it, or you’ll be doing a Calvin Klein ad with blood-spray rather than a horror movie. 
3. Characters: They can’t be too dumb, or you’ll alienate the audience. Having them split up in the dark woods when there’s a maniac on the loose is just lazy writing. It’s more terrifying when they do all the things the audience is yelling at them to do, and they still meet a horrible fate. Now that’ll take some skill and imagination, but the pay-off will be worth it. 
4. Style: Don’t just point and shoot like you saw in your film school textbook. Mix it up a little. Be stylish, create atmosphere, and don’t be afraid to try something new. Just don’t go overboard, or you’ll lose your tenuous connection with reality. You’re supposed to be making a scary movie, not a music video. 
5. Music: Should be creepy and atmospheric, but don’t go around telegraphing what’s going to happen next. Horror is a combo of dread and surprise and there’s nothing worse than knowing the monster is behind the door because the orchestra’s going nuts. 
6. Gore: Allowed, but like in everything, you shouldn’t overdo it. It’s a lot scarier and more disturbing to imply a horrible injury than to actually show it. People see gross and graphic gore every week on "CSI," they’re not scared by it as much anymore, so it’s best to do things just out of sight and let the audience’s imagination run wild. You’ll save money and your audience will be properly freaked out. 
7. Story: You need a hook, and not just the one on your killer’s hand. You need to use your imagination and not just rehash what everybody else has done previously, or you might as well be making: "Friday The 13th Part 76: Jason Goes To The Pension Office." Also, don’t pile on those lame-ass scenes where a character hears a noise, goes to check it out, the music builds, there’s a scream, and it’s the damn cat. I see that in a movie and I walk away. If you don’t have the brains to really surprise us, don’t waste our time with the stupid ‘cat take.' Go back to you destined vocation running the take-out window at an Arby’s in Cleveland.
I hope you folks find this little rant educational and illuminating. Hopefully someone will take my advice to heart and make a movie that’ll scare the socks off of its audience. If any of you do, then I deserve 10%, that’s only reasonable isn’t it?

Do any of you have any ingredients to add to this ancient family recipe? Leave them and any other thoughts in the comments.


Monday, 21 October 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1082: Flop Autopsy

Today, I'm slipping on the long rubber gloves and breaking my scalpels of analysis and sarcasm to perform autopsies on two currently famous flops.

Wheel in the first patient....

CASE #1: THE FIFTH ESTATE: This film is about Julian Assange and the rise of Wikileaks from Dreamworks and Disney with British rising star Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role of Assange. The film died a horrible death at the box office, pulling in one of the worst per-screen averages for a wide release seen in a long time. 

This is despite a big money ad campaign, and reams of publicity, hoping to make the film not only a hit, but an Oscar contender.

WHY WAS IT A BAD IDEA?:  There are those who dislike Assange, true, but there are also those who support Assange. So why didn't they go to see the movie? Because nobody seems to actually like Assange as a person, even if they support his goals of publishing the secrets of countries that won't assassinate him. 

If people already think they know about as much of his story as they think they can stand then they need to have some one of two things to make them want to see the movie. An emotional connection, or a deep interest in the main character. 

Take the movie Gandhi for example. Ask the average early 80s movie-goer about Mahatma Gandhi and while they may not know much about his life, they associate positive notions to him. The studio then marketed the film as an uplifting emotional experience, and it paid off big time.

Now I'm not saying you can't make a movie about a "bad boy" or "antihero" but if you do that person must be INTERESTING.

Assange just strikes most people as a creepy, often hypocritical, opportunist and possible sex-offender. He's not really interesting enough to carry a big screen bio-pic. Those who oppose his work, find him and a film about him too repulsive to pay money to see, and those who support his goals find him and his story too boring. Especially when the commercials portray the film about him as a sort of  action thriller-meets-hagiography, whether the actual film really was or not. 

WHY DID SOMEONE THINK IT WAS A GOOD IDEA?: This is where Hollywood's tendencies for isolation and group-think affect decisions.

Do a survey of the residents of the Axis of Ego and you will discover that the overwhelming majority vote the same way, support the same causes, and rarely encounter anyone that thinks differently from them. On the rare occasions they do, they just assume that the outsider has something wrong with them.

They think Assange must be interesting to everyone because he doesn't like the same things they don't like, they also believe their own way-unrealistic portrayals of the CIA, and they honestly believe the mainstream audience agrees with them about everything.

HOW CAN SUCH THINGS BE PREVENTED?: A little common sense. Which means that such things will never be prevented.
____________


CASE 2: IRONSIDE: NBC revived the 1960-1970s series about a wheelchair bound detective, only to see it crash and burn horribly being cancelled after only a few episodes.

WHY WAS IT A BAD IDEA?: Here's what I think is what happened at NBC the day they decided to green-light Ironside.
PRES: We need show ideas! But nothing too original! Original is wrong!
VICE-PRES: How about Ironside, except this time around, we make him young, sexy, and black. It's guaranteed to be a hit!
PRES: Brilliant! You're fired so I can claim the idea as my own!
Now let's look at the facts of the original show.

The original Ironside starred  Canadian legend Raymond Burr as a Chief of Detectives for the San Francisco PD crippled by a sniper's bullet. The premise was that he was an old-school authority figure who now depended on a team of modern young people to help him fight crime and prove that he was worth just as much as an able-bodied detective. It was as much as the differences of generations as it was about the case of the week.

Ironside was about the wisdom of age and experience being partnered with the energy of youth and how working together made both better.

Now making the Ironside character young and sexy kind of tosses the premise out of the window. It's like doing a remake of Fawlty Towers, without Basil Fawlty (which actually happened).

But even the original premise probably wouldn't fly today since the war over the generation gap ended with the complete surrender of the baby-boom generation.

WHY DID SOMEONE THINK IT WAS A GOOD IDEA?: Because the people running big 4 TV networks are all scared of being fired.

This fear says that they should avoid originality, because originality is dangerous. The only safe thing it to get something vaguely familiar and hope that the familiarity will sell it. Even when it tanks, which happens pretty regularly, they can always say: "Don't blame me, we did all we could."

HOW CAN SUCH THINGS BE PREVENTED?: Only if the mainstream networks decide to fully follow their cable brethren and go whole hog for creativity over fear.

That's not to say that a remake or a revival can't work. It is possible. However, the people doing the remake/revival must have something more behind the premise than just making the lead younger and sexier.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Son Of YOU ASKED FOR IT 2: Electric Boogaloo...

Another day, another question...

Nate Winchester asked... 
So now I'm wondering... although this is a big if (not any day soon, but perhaps in a year or two?), how well do you think the TV production model might translate to crowdsourcing like Kickstarter? 
i.e. Say you and me decide to write a scifi mystery show, we get you to star, Karen Gillian to play your love interest and some other actors and all and produce a pilot. We then put that pilot on kickstarter with a goal of $X and if we reach that, we make 13 more episodes! (or 26 if there's a stretch goal, whatever) 
I know you've said movies by crowdsourcing probably won't work well, but could TV also be another trailblazer here?

I'm afraid casting Karen Gillian would violate the restraining order. 

She just wouldn't leave me alone, you know, and I'm a busy guy, I got things to do.

But back to your question.

I never said that crowd-funding for movies wouldn't work well as a rule. I just expressed concern that it's very hard to get your little indie-film funded when everyone's attention in on the movie/TV star trying to raise cash for their vanity project or a major studio testing the waters if they should revive one of their old franchises.

As for television... well let's look at the facts.

Television isn't a genre, it's a means of delivering movies directly into people's homes. For the first few decades the only way to do that was through the major television networks, then came cable, pay-per-view, VOD/digital download services like Netflix and Amazon, and online viewing via YouTube, Hulu, Cracker and others, or just selling DVDs directly to customers.

So, if you're going to make a series, you need a means to get said series into homes via one or all of those different services. Which means signing up for those services to carry you, but many of them won't carry something unless they're pretty sure that at least some of their subscribers will want to see it.

Now here crowdfunding may help, because you're literally saying: "Look, here's an audience that are willing to contribute to a series based solely on the pilot."

So I guess what I'm saying is that your idea of crowd-funding a series could work.

But here's the catch.

It's the same problem faced by feature films.

How does the truly indie project stand much of a chance against the increasing number of celebrity/studio based projects getting all the attention and money?

When Amazon started their whole TV project they touted as the way new talent was going to break into making television.

What projects got the precious green-light?

Usually shows with established stars and/or creators.

So much for the "new talent."

To get the money, you need the attention, but to get the attention these days you probably need the involvement of someone who already has the money and attention.

Which can be a vicious circle that probably won't get better anytime I can see.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

You Asked For It! - TV & Money


Nate Winchester asked... 
So here's what I'm wondering: 
Master D, you've spoken often (at length (repeatedly)) about how dysfunctional movie money managing is (that is my entry for understatement of the year BTW). 
But... how is the management of money when it comes to TV? Is it a bit simpler? More straightforward? Has a net profit been spotted somewhere near I Love Lucy?

And could that be another factor in this? Are stars jumping ship because it's becoming a better deal? (meaning capitalism wins again?)

Okay, that means it's time for all of you to dip your collective ignorance in the infinite cesspit of my wisdom!

TV money is a little different than feature film money, whether it's more straightforward or simpler is in the eye of the beholder.

To understand how money in television works you have to understand how television is made.

It all begins with the pilot.

As you probably know pilots are essentially prototype episodes. Most of the time production companies and studios take a script to a network, and if the network likes it they'll commission a pilot episode. When they commission a pilot, they're paying for it to be made.

Rarer cases involve studios and production companies making their own pilot and shopping it to networks. We're getting into hen's teeth territory with that method.

Anyway, let's say the pilot gets picked up and given the green light to go to series.

The network pays the production company a license fee to make each of the ordered episodes. This license fee covers the production costs, and fees of those who make the TV show.

In exchange for this license fee the network gets to keep all of the money made from the advertising for the show's initial airing and 1 off-season rerun airing. (Though fees are paid to the makers for that rerun.)

Now we come to where the real money in television comes from.

Off network reruns.

When a show accumulates enough episodes to be able to air the reruns without repeating them too often, usually 66 to 100 episodes for a network show, it can then be "syndicated."

Syndicating is when local stations, cable channels, and foreign networks buy reruns from the production company. All of this money goes to the production company and is then divided into what are called "residuals."

Before I get into what residuals are I have to explain something. Syndicated rerun money is literally ALL PROFIT.

Remember, the network paid to make the show in exchange any profits made from the initial airing. So the amount the studio/prodco have invested in the show is literally zero and they get to keep all the money made from syndication.

Which brings me to residuals.

When the revenue from the reruns comes in the usual formula is for the studio/producers to keep 80% of the money while the stars and top-line creative staff, like writers, the pilot's director, and others, divide up the remaining 20%.

Desi Arnez and Lucille Ball who owned I Love Lucy made so much from license fees, rerun revenues, and residuals that they were able to buy RKO studios, turning them into the TV production juggernaut Desilu Productions, before selling the company to Paramount.

Now it's pretty hard for studio/prodcos to claim losses when a show is successfully syndicated. That's not to say they won't try.

Universal Pictures tried to get out of paying back residuals to Jack Klugman the star/producer of the long running crime drama Quincy, M.E.. The show ran for eight seasons and 148 episodes, and despite being off NBC for almost 30 years was still airing in reruns on cable and in at least four foreign markets.

Universal claimed that the series lost money, despite its initial airing being paid for by NBC, and having a robust run in syndication for most of the 1980s and 1990s where the money was pure profit.

Realizing their defence reeked of more bullshit than a rodeo dressing room floor, the studio paid an undisclosed settlement to Klugman.

Then there are other practises that threaten to, if not kill, could wound the golden goose. Since many studios, networks, and cable channels are connected via mutually shared parent companies, they will play all kinds of screwy games.

Let's say Studio A sells a show to Network A and both are part of the A Media Empire. The show is a big hit and has a long run. Around the time of the 3rd season they start making syndication deals for the series. 

Studio A then sells the reruns to local stations owned or affiliated to Network A at a discount from what they might sell it for to another station owned by Network B. They also sell the show to A Channel, their big cable outlet at a discount.

Now the deal with A Channel on cable is that they will pay less per episode every time they air it. That's why you see cable channels air a single episode three times in 1 day. They're filling time and forcibly reducing the amount they will have to pay for future airings. Thus you end up with the stars of hit TV shows looking at residual cheques of $0.02 per episode.

So while TV money is not completely without dysfunction and shady business, it's not the complete cluster-fuck that feature film money has become. Which makes it a much more tempting deal.

I hope that answers your question.

Monday, 14 October 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1081: Will The Cisco Kid Ride Again?


Actress/producer Salma Hayek has inked a deal to bring The Cisco Kid back to television in an updated re-imagining of the franchise. Hayek will serve as producer of this series which will be about an urban vigilante protecting the downtrodden who would otherwise be denied justice.


Now some who know their history will remember Cisco Kid as the first Latino hero to have success as a mainstream franchise. He's appeared in stories, comics, movies, and radio and television adaptations from the 1900s to the 1990s.
O. Henry

An interesting twist to the tale was that in his first appearance in O. Henry's 1907 short story "The Caballero's Way" he was neither heroic, being a sadistic outlaw and murderer, and he wasn't even Latino, having the last name of "Goodall."


But the vagaries of adaptation to the silver screen transformed the character forever. The Anglo villain Goodall became the Latino hero The Cisco Kid. Cisco went on to star in dozens of movies and serials, over a hundred episodes of television, and possibly even more episodes of radio. The last attempt to bring Cisco, and his sidekick Pancho, to the screen was a TV movie/backdoor pilot in 1994 starring Jimmy Smits in the title role.

So let's look at the PROS & CONS!

PROS:

1. The success of similar show Person of Interest shows that there is some life in the urban vigilante genre.

2. Modern television audiences are probably even more ready for a Latino hero than they were back in the 1920s when he made his screen debut.

CONS:

1. The idea of taking an old brand and trying to gloss it over with either modern trappings and/or special effects reeks of the sort of thinking that led to The Lone Ranger disaster.

2. Speaking of branding, Cisco Kid is perfectly fine as the nickname of a wandering Old West cowboy who just happens to find himself in the middle of an adventure wherever he and his sidekick go. As the secret identity of a modern urban vigilante, a la Batman, it sounds kind of silly.

3. Person of Interest does well because it takes what would have otherwise been a hacky premise into a meditation of surveillance, technology, the power inherent in information, the corruption that's attracted to such power, and a society that is both isolated and interconnected in ways never imagined. It takes the action drama to the next level. 
I'm not sure if the people behind the modern urban Cisco Kid know what level they want to go to beyond offering TV budget imitations of big screen action movies.

Do you see any PROS & CONS that I might have missed? Then leave them in the comments.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1080: The Return of Remington Steele

NBC has commissioned a remake-reboot-rehash of their hit 1980s series Remington Steele. Except this time, it's going to be A COMEDY.

I'm beginning to think that NBC doesn't even know anything about the shows they're rebooting in a desperate attempt to win back eyeballs while avoiding originality.

For those who lived in caves in the 1980s Remington Steele was private-eye mystery series starring Stephanie Zimbalist and future James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan.

Zimbalist played an experienced and skilled private eye named Laura Holt who is having a hard time getting clients to hire a woman. 

To convince clients to hire her she makes up a nonexistent boss, named Remington Steele. In the first episode a former jewel thief and con man, played by Brosnan, moves in on the role of Steele, and stays on as the face of the agency, while Laura actually ran things.

Now it's time to for a little explaining about the show and how silly it makes NBC's "re-imagining" look.

The show was essentially a comedy with crime getting in the way.

It used the romantic comedies of the 1930s and 1940s as a model for the relationship between the lead characters while parodying the conventions of film noir and more traditional "cozy" mysteries for the crime plot lines.

Ironically, the show became symbolic of how poorly networks can treat people. First they started screwing around with the scheduling, and meddling with the show's successful format, causing the ratings to drop in the fourth season. NBC then used the drop in the ratings to justify cancelling Remington Steele.

The two leads then moved onto movies. Pierce Brosnan most famously was recruited to replace Roger Moore as James Bond, and Stephanie Zimbalist was hired for the female lead of Murphy's partner in Robocop.

Now Brosnan and Zimbalist's movie work got them quite a bit of attention in the media. That made NBC think that the best thing to do for NBC was to screw both of them royally with a stiff wire brush.

NBC then un-cancelled Remington Steele, invoked the actor's contracts to get back to work or be sued into oblivion. Brosnan had to drop out of Bond, and Zimbalist had to drop out of Robocop.

The last season was a total dud. What once bubbled with energy and √©lan had become a limp and lifeless affair, and whatever magic the show was famous for had been ripped out and stomped on.

Even when Brosnan became a box office star in the 1990s after finally recapturing the role of Bond, NBC still gave him grief when he pitched them a sequel movie.

I guess you could say that Remington Steele could be defined for what it showed people.

When it first started it showed that the tired "private eye" procedural format could be made fresh and fun again.

Then it showed just how bad and even downright mean spirited network meddling can be.

And now it shows just how creatively bankrupt and ignorant the mainstream networks have become.

That's what I think, what do you think?

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1079: Everybody's Doing TV These Days

Everybody's doing TV these days...

Most recently Robert DeNiro's signed on with a legal drama on HBO to take over a role originally meant for the recently deceased James Gandolfini, and Halle Berry's signed on to do a  sci-fi thriller for CBS. Even Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte tried to do it with the HBO series Luck, which was quickly sunk before it could find its feet by the fragility of thoroughbred horses, and Nick Nolte's tendency to bite them.

They join the ranks of other big screen names who have defected to TV, and to name just a few Alec Baldwin, Glenn Close, Bill Paxton, Don Cheadle, Joe Mantegna, Steve Buscemi, Ann Paquin, Robin Williams, Jeff Daniels, Kevin Spacey, Zooey Deschanel, and many many others.

At first the migration began with the top-rank character actors, like Joe Mantegna, Steve Buscemi, William Petersen and Forest Whittaker. But now leads from the movies are doing it to.

It wasn't always like this. Once upon a time it was considered a step down for a "movie actor" to do television and was judged as a sign of desperation. "You heard of so-&-so, the poor guy's so desperate for a paycheque he's agreed to do TV show."

Not anymore.

So let's look at the real reasons why they're doing it.

1. QUANTITY. The major studios are slashing their outputs and show no signs of stopping. Indie companies are having a hard time filling the gaps because it's become so expensive to be heard above the racket made over the majors' blockbusters. If an actor wants to work, then the ever expanding television universe offers lots of it. 

2. QUALITY. Right now TV is going through a golden age. Cable led the way with complex dramas and cutting edge comedies and the big networks are, slowly and unevenly, following suit. 

Can anyone see similar quality coming to the big screen recently in such amounts?

3. SECURITY. If you land a hit series, or even a series that does well, you're going to do great. The pay is good, and regular, and then come the royalties and residuals from re-runs and home video sales/rentals. Sure, it's not as big as the up-front pay-offs given to A-List movie stars, but it's a lot less hassle, and it adds up over time. Now not every show is going to be a success, but when compared to making movies there's a lot less...

4. STRESS. If you're a star trying to get a movie made, good luck. You could be the most popular star in the world, whose home videos of you with a farting dog make a minimum of $300 million domestic it doesn't matter. You could be have a script that literally glows with entertainment brilliance, the hottest director in the industry, and a supporting cast of all stars, all willing to work for scale and still get nowhere. 

Why? 

Because some VP at the studio didn't like the colour of the tie someone wore at the meeting and screwed you out of your green-light. Or, the studio VP loved your pitch, but the Studio CEO axes it, because he doesn't want to green-light anything that will make the ambitious VP look good, and become a possible replacement. So either you're forced to give up, or you have to truck your project to another studio and go through the same thing.

The big four networks aren't much different, but the cable channels are much more streamlined and easier to deal with in the management department.

That's what I think, tell me what you think.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Hollywood Babble On & On #1078: Sexual, Sexy, & Just Plain Sleazy.

Hollywood doesn't know what's sexy anymore.

I've suspected that for some time, but all the hype and furor over Miley Cyrus has convinced me that, as usual, I've been right all along.

Let's take a moment to think of the horror of that performance at the MTV Music Awards. She ran around shaking her bony ass like a baboon in heat, and flicking around her tongue like a lizard, and the media and their toadies in the Parents Television Council go on like it was the peak of sexiness.
Not Sexy, Just Shameless

It wasn't sexy, it was a very poorly done recreation, via mime, of a season of National Geographic Specials.


However, it did follow what I call Hollywood's Rules of What Hollywood Thinks Is Sexy.

They are:

1. Lack of clothing.

2. Figure that's below a certain percentage of body fat. Big boobs preferred, but not essential, especially if it threatens to cross that precious body fat threshold, which can lead to some anatomical oddities.

3. Behaving in such a way that while they're not sexually attractive, they are at least sexually available.

This is creating a weird schizophrenia that's affecting pretty much all corners of popular culture. From ex-child stars turned pop-tarts like Cyrus, to trashy reality TV starlets, and to those Hollywood hopes will be mainstream movie and TV stars.

It's also in comics, where the female anatomy defies the laws of physics and physiology, and their costumes make the outfits worn by strippers look demure.

This all comes from the notion that "sex sells" and to sell more you really have to cram sex down the throat of the audience by exaggerating everything sexual, from clothing, to behaviour, into extremes that go from the realm of the sexual into the realm of the ridiculous.

And that's where we encounter the next problem...

The whole concept of "Sex Sells" is really a myth.

Think about it, when was the last time you bought or watched something because someone associated with any given project presented an image of being sexually available, or that the product itself was promoted as sexually stimulating?

P0rn doesn't count.

I'm talking about mainstream movies, TV shows, and music.

Pop music acts can pull it off for short periods of time, because the core audience is an ever-shifting gelatinous mass of dim-witted, easily malleable teenage minds that is constantly replaced by a new crop every year who honestly think "shocking" sexual behaviour by entertainment is something new, novel, and done only for them. But this doesn't last, causing brief bursts of popularity usually ending in a "Where Are The Now" segment on an entertainment show set at a rehab centre.

However, movies and television are a different matter all together.

The audience for movies and television, unlike pop music, absolutely must include people who, unlike teenagers, don't have brains made of pudding if they're going to be profitable. Try to sell something along the lines of "sexy sex-people doing sexy sex-stuff" and you'll probably crash and burn. That's because when it comes to sex selling it has a limit.

People will buy into entertainment where the people in it are sexually attractive, but if that sexual element is the one being pushed the most the audience gets turned off. Why? Because the audience, as a subconscious mass-mind, is smarter than we give it credit for. They see a network or studio using sex as the main selling point, and their collective subconscious says: "This will be a piece of crap and they're hoping that little skin will distract us from the smell of failure." And the amazing thing is that 95.6% of the time this mass-subconscious is right.

It can also repel customers, because who wants to be known as the person who is into that "sex show."

Will these simple truths inspire Hollywood to change their ways?

Probably not. It took a whole blog post to explain it, while the marketing people still have the old nostrum of "sex sells" which hits about the maximum number of words that Hollywood management can understand in any given sentence.