Questions of Quality and Quantity in Prestige TV

So now that summer is over, including that show with the dragons, you may be wondering, “What shows are actually coming back this year?”

Jen Trolio and Caroline Framke over at Vox have answers.

This is one of those perennial Vox pieces I’m glad they do every year, because there’s a lot of shows. In fact, some might say there’s a glut of shows out there, which has led to occasional questions of whether we’re at “peak TV.”

Incidentally, I previously linked to a piece discussing what “peak TV” might mean anyway, but I find the way Variety tracks it is works for me: the number of scripted series. The concern, then, is not necessarily that we would exhaust the supply of talented storytellers making the various series, but that the series become so numerous that too many of them fail to find an audience and economic security (i.e., continued survival).

Todd VanDerWerff explores this more in-depth (also in Vox), including both the cyclical nature of notions of TV being horrible and then wonderful as well as the ways in which the quantity of media coverage on a particular TV show does not necessarily track to its quality.

Recommended Reading: Universal Basic Income as a Way to Grow the Economy

Between Labor Day and chatting with some very bright people about the future of finance at Escape Velocity this weekend, it felt like a good time to post something about the future and universal basic income (UBI).

One of the things I like about Dylan Matthew’s article in Vox about the Roosevelt Institute’s recent study on the potential effects of implementing UBI is that he explores the premises behind both the study and the critics of said study.

I’ll update with related articles on the study if I come across them.

The Kirby Centennial

Monday, August 28th (yesterday) marked Jack “King” Kirby’s 100th birthday.

He isn’t still around to celebrate it, but we certainly have a tremendous body of work with which to celebrate his storytelling.

I had made a comment on social media, but he seems to have cast a large enough shadow across pop culture that people may well be celebrating his centennial all week.

One of his assistants, Mark Evanier, who also wrote the biography Kirby: King of Comics, has a nice remembrance of the man and the impact he had.

Comic-con also has an impressive 60-page PDF of artwork and anecdotes about Kirby.

There’s also pieces you can read in Forbes, the Washington Post, CBR, and Techcrunch among others. Bleeding Cool has its picks for his top five creations.

( I personally have a soft spot for Kamandi).

Finally, Jeet Heer has a great article in the New Republic about Kirby and his impact, which dwarfs his outsize artwork.

 

This Summer Means Hollywood is Doomed…. Again

Every summer –for at least a decade or more– the Hollywood film industry has been doomed.

I would imagine they must get sick of all the doom, what with being doomed with the advent of television, the disintegration of the studio system, the rise of VCRs and video stores, online streaming, streaming services like Netflix making their own content — and possibly avocado toast.

Nevertheless, within the traditional ‘doom’ narrative, there may be trends, so I read a recent piece by David Sims in The Atlantic with interest about Hollywood’s “bad movie problem.” Just like last year, there seem to be a slew of high-profile blockbusters that underperformed domestically. This year, however, Sims hypothesizes that executives are running out of gas with their strategy of mining known IP for all its worth regardless of demand. He bases this not a generic “doom” observation, but that the studios are using tactics internationally, specifically the Chinese market, that are netting less overall profit. Oh, and the films are still doing bad domestically (ahem: bad movies).

Indeed, over in the Hollywood Reporter, Scott Roxborough and Patrick Brzeski detail the wave of political slings and arrows that may sour all the Chinese-American film synergy. Moreover, several of the media monoliths now owned by Chinese concerns are experience firsthand on their balance sheets what it means for North American box office revenues to slide. In fact, John Nolte over at The Daily Wire suggests that, yes, it really is a bad movie problem. The American viewing public has figured this out and both box office and home video revenues are slumping accordingly.

So is this the Final Doom?

I mean, Spielberg released the BFG, so maybe…

It strikes me that movies and related “more passive” visual entertainment are still a potent pop culture delivery device. They’ll be around for quite some time until companies figure out how to make virtual reality more economical and interwoven with our habits like turning on the TV in the evening or going to films on weekends. If or when that happens, expertise in films and such will likely pour into those interactive productions. The companies that exist today could definitely transform into interactive powerhouses through building up their own capabilities or through acquisitions.

Though, frankly, I love films and TV as-is and hope there’s always going to be a place for them (same with books as my bulging bookshelves can attest). And I hope some of the studios pick up on what Sims pointed out in his article: that some of the best grossing films so far this year have been non-franchise original works… that not coincidentally didn’t cost as much to produce.

Tune in for a similar article next summer!

Will the Oil Industry Collapse in Less than a Decade?

As the engines of disruption continue in the form of automation, one trend I keep following is the coming changes to transportation. No, I don’t mean the fabled hyperloop (though I’m following that too). I’m thinking of electric vehicles.

Seth Miller over at an outfit called NewCo Shift hypothesizes that a major shakeup in the oil industry and our car culture is coming sooner than we might have thought — all based on replacing the internal combustion engine. You can compare his predictions with what the car companies themselves have predicted.

I’d say their predictions would place the collapse or restructuring would happen closer to the 2025 – 2030 timeframe, but it I’m wondering how many more cars any of us will individually own in the future.

In Which a Domino’s Patience is Rewarded

Some of my past few Monday posts on motivation have been a bit on the grimmer side, so I wanted to share something that was more in the “You Can Do It” vein.

On Scriptnotes a couple weeks ago, John August’s One Cool Thing was a physics paper about the power of dominoes to topple bigger dominoes. In fact, the domino the size of a sliver can start a process by which dominoes the size of tombstones topple.

Can you extrapolate this to mean your tiny efforts can lead to big results? Of course you can! That’s the 20 minutes a day of writing. That’s doing at least one film project a year or every Christmas.

It adds up.

Many, Many Bewildered (and Sad) Breakfast Faces: RIP, Sam Shepard

There will be a general lack of toast in the neighborhood this morning. And by “toast” I mean theater-related joy. And by “the neighborhood,” I mean “American theater.” And by “this morning,” I mean… well, I don’t know how long, but it’ll be longer than a morning.

Actor, playwright, and director Sam Shepard has died at the age of 73.

I first learned about it in a piece in Broadway World, which is worth checking out. You can also read about his life and work in:

Many of us picked up this book yesterday and leafed through it.

I’m not the only one of my generation of theater folk who feel this loss on a personal level. There are many playwrights like Shakespeare or Pinter or Wilson of whom I’ve either read or performed or seen productions of nearly all their works. But Sam Shepard is somewhat different.

Shepard has a distinct, American voice that resonated with so many of us. It was years since I had read or seen all of Kaufman and Hart. It would be years before I would connect with the work of Eugene O’Neill (that’s another tale). Sam Shepard was alive now and pushing his creations out into the world, where we too were training and working to make our marks.

Decades before Neil Gaiman was to tantalize us with his tales of American Gods, Sam Shepard was constructing a uniquely American mythology with plays that were simultaneously gritty and real, yet surreal and absurd. His characters often lived on the edge of society and frequently violated societal norms. There were no gods so much as forces of nature and Fate that his fabulously flawed characters would contend against when they weren’t fighting with one another.

I had many classmates who never looked at me quite the same way after they had seen me play “Mike” in a college production of “A Lie of the Mind.” It’s a disturbing yet incredibly human fairy tale set in a immediately recognizable yet unknowable America. At first, Mike seems like a more sensible character than his parents or brain-damaged sister. By the time he carries half a deer carcass on stage, you realize just how quietly crazy and savage Mike might truly be (and his exit from the play, presumably to start a whole new dysfunctional family cycle, is uncomfortably real). Sam Shepard wrote characters that rich into which actors can dive and explore, with motivations so plausible, audience members can wonder where the character ends and the actor begins (hence my classmates’ apprehension).

And those plays are still with us, thank goodness. If you haven’t checked any of them out (or any recently), do as Craig Mazin advocates: locate a copy of True West and read it out loud. His many parts in films are likewise, thankfully preserved for the ages — and his appearance always bodes well for whatever film in which he appears. Outside of Gregory Peck’s Atticus Finch, is there a better film icon for American manhood than Sam Shepard’s Chuck Yeager?

(Come on! I can’t be the only guy who watched The Right Stuff repeatedly growing up).

Yeah Harold Pinter had acting turns too, but he subverted the sound barrier with pauses, not breaks. You see, I’ve studied Shakespeare, I’ve enjoyed Pinter, but with Shepard, you had someone to aspire to, with a voice from your tribe. On the one hand it’s silly and illogical and not something to motivate you… but in the best tradition of so many of his characters, by God it did.

He was inspirational as a playwright. He was moving as an actor. As both, he connected story to audience in a way you long to do as an artist.

Is that a man? Damn right it is.

Threat Alert Thursday: Cyber Attacks on Small Businesses

Since mentioning yesterday about creatives needing to put their marketing hat on and be the small businesses they are, it seemed like a good idea to share this article from The Hartford about various types of cyber attacks that can befall small businesses. Our creative endeavors often fall into this realm.

The article also links to a brief guide that, in order to get it, harvests your email (again, a reference to yesterday). It’s not a bad trade off in my mind, but relationship disclosure: I’ve used The Hartford for my general business liability insurance and found them great to work with. Therefore, I’m inclined to pay more attention to their articles and am already on their mailing list.

Russell Nohelty Wants to Help You Sell Your Soul

Last week, I pointed out an article about how to promote one’s film via social media. I like occasionally linking to pieces that are straightforward and give one practical tips for when you have to wear the marketing hat.

Because let’s be honest: I know I’m not the only creative who doesn’t love wearing that hat. Oftentimes, it seems to involve activities which are anything but creative and pushed by people who clearly want their photo as part of the dictionary definition of “unctuous.”

I worked for a while on search engine optimization (SEO) and related concerns in the early naughts as part of my job managing web projects. I decided to abandon getting better at it because of the prevalence of “black hat SEO” activities. In fact, many good practitioners of SEO appeared to be, at best, “Grey Hats” using purposely inscrutable, self-serving jargon to advocate strategies that would be outdated with the next tweak to Google’s search algorithm.

I do not consider myself a marketer.

However, I’m convinced that rejecting the marketing hat completely is going to damage my creative career in the long run. Since all of us have different comfort levels with selling ourselves and our work, I don’t want to be too prescriptive, but admitting you need to wear the marketing hat means several things to me.

It means I might not want to tune out everything a marketer has to say. Lord knows a disproportionate number of marketers talk at me, never asking about what my problems are because they’re so sure of the rehearsed solution they’re speechifying. But there are those marketers that listen and share the fruits of all their listening.

It means I might really want to harvest some emails. Yeah, I used ‘harvest’ on purpose. Does it make you feel like some insidious alien spreading sliminess into an unsuspecting populace? Me too. But the truth is that email marketing can be one of the best ways to engage your audience.

It means I need to Vulcan up and admit that my creative endeavors do constitute a business (assuming I want to make a living from my creative endeavors).

Storyteller Russell Nohelty is a lot less reluctant to wear the marketing hat, perhaps because he’s made the jump from writer to writer and publisher.

He’s created a Facebook group for fellow creatives to compare notes and note triumphs. He also does a podcast called The Business of Art that features some great interviews with creatives who are making it work. Finally, he has a forthcoming book called Sell Your Soul, which distills many of the insights he’s talked about via the Facebook group or the podcast (and, well, making his company a profitable concern).

It was reading the first part of his book (which you can do for free at the link above if you allow him to, yes, harvest your email address), that made me think about writing a post. Because, honestly, he shares a lot of great practical advice and resources — and a heck of a lot of it is free. So if you’re working on comics or writing or other creative endeavors, do yourself a favor and check some of it out.

You might find a marketing hat you’re comfortable wearing.

A Modest, Logical Proposal: “Vulcan Up.”

I’m working on a longer piece regarding Star Trek in advance of its 51st anniversary on the air and the upcoming premiere of Star Trek: Discovery.

And while I was writing, I came up with a phrase that I think is too good not to share. In fact, I would be so bold as to suggest it should be spread to hither and yon among all your geek colleagues.

That phase is “Vulcan up” as in, “You’re going to have to Vulcan up and realize the only one responsible for that warp core breach is you.”

Or, you know, the real life equivalent of a warp core breach. Or even just the warp field collapsing. Or things not involving warp fields.

“Vulcan up” easily sidesteps the worst implications of “man up” and fully supports the best implications.

“Man up” has been used for all sorts of things one should do. Moving past the emotion of the moment? Stepping back to take a look at the big picture while stepping up to your responsibilities? Cool.

“Man up” has also been misused for some less than sensible situations. Accepting bullshit projected onto you? Ignoring pain that is in no way gain? Illogical and not cool.

Tuvok is cool, T’Pol is cool, and Spock is surely the coolest of them all. And they are all at their best when they Vulcan up and employ logic to help themselves or others.

So for those of you so inclined to speak geek in your dealings with others, I encourage you to replace “man up” in those dealings with “Vulcan up.” It may get an arched eyebrow here or there, but I think they’ll find it’s reasonable.

Note: based on my experiences studying anthropology, it’s entirely possible that the principle of independent invention is in play. Someone else may have coined this same phrase. For that reason, it would be illogical for me to claim the sole invention… and, in fact, that is not the goal. The goal is that this phrase enter the pop culture sphere for the benefit of all. The needs of the many and all that.