In 2012, Cartoon Network executive Chris Waldron had the idea to introduce an app enabling kids to watch their favorite CN shows and simultaneously play video games based on those shows. The result of his brainstorm? "Millions and millions of downloads," Waldron says. He believes content efforts in the future will continue to merge these different forms of onscreen interactions into a single, synergistic experience. "There are a lot of people doing both at the same time right now," he says. "But there will be more of that. TV manufacturers are introducing apps into their TVs, and that world where you seamlessly move back and forth between interacting and watching TV will only increase." [usatoday.com, 2/6/13]
The availability of television series via services such as Netflix and Hulu has been changing the way people watch TV. And now Netflix has begun creating its own original series (House of Cards is the first), making all the episodes of a given season available simultaneously. It's an attempt to satiate viewers' appetite for what's increasingly being called "binge TV," where fans watch multiple episodes, seasons or even entire runs of television shows in quick succession. "The Internet is attuning people to get what they want when they want it. House of Cards is literally the first show for the on-demand generation," says Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos.
Los Angeles Times writer Dawn C. Chmielewski notes, "Millions of Americans are binge-viewing serialized dramas and comedies, including those that can no longer be found on the network prime-time schedule. Hits like the espionage thriller 24 and cult favorites such as Arrested Development, which both ran on the Fox network, have found new life on Netflix, as have past seasons of FX's American Horror Story and ABC Family's Pretty Little Liars." She adds that House of Cards' multiple-episode release reshapes some fundamental assumptions about how such television fare is crafted. "The instant-availability formula dispenses with cliffhangers designed to prevent the audience from fleeing during commercial breaks and woo them back for next week's installment. There is no need for comprehensive recaps of the previous week's episode because Netflix assumes that viewers won't miss a beat. The absence of ads means that each episode has more time for story lines and relationships—as much as 15 more minutes of story per television hour." [latimes.com, 2/1/13]
"Hollywood is technically in the story-telling business. But it's really in the franchise-building business," writes Atlantic contributor Derek Thompson, in his article about the significance of the new Netflix show House of Cards. He also talks about why he (and others) believes we've entered what he characterizes as a new "golden age of television." "The top 40 movies of all time are practically all sequels, adaptations and reboots," Thompson says. "Most of them have fight scenes and explosions. In a global industry where the top-grossing films make about two-thirds of their revenue outside of the U.S., and marketing budgets stretch into the tens of millions, the surest way to build profit for a studio is to make or buy a franchise. … As Hollywood has gone global and mass-mass-market, different incentives for select television networks have helped to fill the void in quality entertainment."
Thompson quotes investigative journalist Edward Jay Epstein regarding why premium cable channels have become powerhouses in the production of critically acclaimed television series: "HBO executives [created their] own original programming designed to appeal to the head of the house. Here it had several advantages over Hollywood. It did not need to produce a huge audience since it carries no advertising and gets paid the same fee whether or not subscribers tune in. Nor did it have to restrict edgier content to get films approved by a ratings board (there is no censorship of Pay-TV). And it did not have to structure the movie to maximize foreign sales since, unlike Hollywood, its earnings come mainly from America. As a result, HBO and the two other pay-channels, Showtime and Starz, were able to create sophisticated character-driven series such as The Wire, Sex and the City, The L Word, and The Sopranos. As this only succeeded in retaining subscribers and also achieved critical acclaim, advertising-supported cable and over-the-air network had little choice but to follow suit to avoid losing market share. The result of this competitive race to the top is the elevation of television." [The Atlantic, 2/13]
NBC's sitcom 30 Rock, created, written by and starring Saturday Night Live alumna Tina Fey, wrapped its run in late January. Since then, cultural observers have been commenting on Fey's legacy.
Alessandra Stanley of the New York Times writes, "When 30 Rock had its premiere in 2006 Ms. Fey was that rare thing, a female writer starring in her own prime-time network show. … Now of course [Mindy] Kaling has her Fox show [The Mindy Project]; Lena Dunham has Girls on HBO; and Whitney Cummings, who created and stars in Whitney on NBC, also is a co-creator of the CBS comedy 2 Broke Girls. Amy Poehler, who like Ms. Fey is a Saturday Night Live alumna, is one of the writers as well as the lead of Parks and Recreation on NBC."
In Alicia Cohn's article "Everything I Know About Being a Single Woman I Owe to Liz Lemon (Well, Not Really)" at christianitytoday.com's her.meneutics blog for women, Cohn notes how Fey's character reflects the entertainment industry's current ideas about how women deal with failure. She writes, "[30 Rock] leav[es] a legacy of sitcoms with female leads primarily characterized by their quirks and flaws, such as Jess Day on New Girl and Mindy Lahiri on The Mindy Project. … Funny as they are, these fictional women also set some cultural expectations for women, especially for the type they portray: the post-graduate woman who lives in a city, seeking self-sufficiency and fulfillment in her career and personal life. This season of life actually exists for many women, including me, so it's no wonder this is becoming such a common set-up on TV. Their familiarity gives them the power to sway us to think, 'Perhaps this is how everyone lives.' Even the characters of HBO's Girls, the post-recession Sex and the City that I am told constantly is the 'cultural weather vane' for my generation, regularly hobble along on the same well-worn crutches that TV teaches us [that] all women use." [nytimes.com, 1/30/13; christianitytoday.com/women 1/31/13]
While hosting Saturday Night Live on Feb. 9, Justin Bieber posed as the president of the Miley Cyrus fan club, offering what's being interpreted as a snarky "apology" for smoking marijuana at a party in January. In another skit, he snaps a picture of his penis (down the front of his pants) and winkingly tells Hillary Clinton to check her messages. [hulu.com, 2/10/13; nydailynews.com, 2/10/13; huffingpost.com, 2/10/13; usmagazine.com, 2/10/13]
Harris Interactive recently surveyed 2,128 Americans, asking, "Who is your favorite TV personality?" TV talk show host Ellen DeGeneres nabbed the top spot for the second time, followed by Mark Harmon, Jon Stewart, Jay Leno, Jim Parsons, Bill O'Reilly, Anderson Cooper, Oprah Winfrey, David Letterman and Tom Selleck. [harrisinteractive.com, 1/24/13]
The 55th Grammy Awards featured a diverse list of winners, but few surprises, as the biggest awards were handed out to several bands whose songs dominated the charts in the last year. Gotye and Kimbra nabbed Record of the Year for their smash hit "Somebody That I Used to Know." Album of the Year went to Mumford & Sons for Babel. Song of the Year went to the musicians of fun., Jack Antonoff, Andrew Dost and Nate Ruess (plus producer Jeff Bhasker) for "We Are Young." That group was also named Best New Artist. Alt-rock act The Black Keys took home the most trophies, winning for Best Rock Album, Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance, along with the band's singer, Dan Auerbach, being dubbed Producer of the Year. Other winners included Adele, Kelly Clarkson, Frank Ocean, Skrillex, Usher, Beyonce, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Drake, Carrie Underwood, Little Big Town and Zac Brown Band. Gospel category winners included Matt Redman, Lecrae and tobyMac.
The other story of the night involved artists who flaunted CBS' expressly communicated request to leave racy outfits and messages at home. Last week, the network sent out a memo regarding what was and wasn't acceptable in the clothing department to everyone who might presumably show up on camera (including presenters, award winners and those expected to be in the audience). The memo (similar to those sent in previous years, according to USA Today) said in part, "Please be sure that buttocks and female breasts are adequately covered." It then broke that message down in even more specific anatomical detail, as well as warning, "OBSCENITY OR PARTIALLY SEEN OBSCENITY ON WARDROBE IS UNACCEPTABLE FOR BROADCAST." Deadline.com identified Rihanna, Katy Perry, Deadmau5, D'Manti, Kelly Rowland, Kimbra, Ashanti and Skylar Grey as artists who defied CBS' rules. Jennifer Lopez, notorious for her revealing outfits in the past, may have technically followed the letter of the law with her leg- and shoulder-baring dress, but arguably defied its spirit. "As you can see, I read the memo," she joked onstage. [nytimes.com, 2/10/13; huffingtonpost.com, 2/10/13; usatoday.com, 2/7/13; deadline.com, 2/7-10/13; nbc.com, 2/10/13]