Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Just for the Hell of It -- Episode 26


                                       It's heeeeere...

With September just a week away, the 2015 edition of the The West Marin Review is now out and available to be purchased by mail or in a few bookstores.  

And why should this interest you?

No reason at all, truth be told, since it's exceedingly unlikely that any of you have ever heard of this small literary and arts review, which publishes a new edition every year. The 2015 edition marks a milestone of sorts for me, though, because up 'til now, my efforts to achieve publication (other than in the pages of this home-brewed blog) have met with what could charitably described as "limited success." But I can now carve one more notch on the writing belt, because one of my older posts made the cut to appear among the fifteen prose pieces showcased in this year's WMR. Although there's no money involved, I'll have the satisfaction of seeing at least one of my efforts in a print venue other than a newspaper or blog.  

That (and five bucks) will buy me a cup of Starbuck's finest.

There are two ways you can read the piece. The most obvious is to buy a copy of the WMR, which will the allow you enjoy the rest of the writers featured there, or you can simply follow this link to the original post, which many of you have already read.  It was massaged slightly to satisfy the editors of the review, but there's no substantial difference.

Either way, I'll get paid exactly the same -- nothing.

The choice is yours. 

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I’m not a big fan of lists -- ten best or whatever -- and have little patience for those who insist on comparing different eras, whether in the realm of sports, television, movies, or whatever. No matter the subject, things were different way back then because it was a different time. Would Joe Louis have beaten Muhammed Ali, Joe Frazier, or George Foreman in their prime?  Could Joltin’ Joe Dimaggio hit so well against modern pitching? Would Jim Brown run right through NFL defensive teams nowadays?  
Is “Modern Family” a better show now than “All in the Family” was way back when? 
Who knows -- and more to the point, who cares?  Such arguments are the hot air of idle speculation, and if there’s a place for that kind of blather on the bar-room stool, living room couch, or workplace lunchroom, it's just an exercise in mental cud-chewing along the lines of  pondering how many angels really can dance on the head of a pin.

That said, Tim Goodman -- the Hollywood Reporter’s Chief Television Critic  -- is not wrong in describing the current era of television as “the Platinum Age,” arguing that no previous “Golden Age” of TV can hold a candle to what’s on the small screen nowadays.  He’s not subtle about it, either.
“There hasn’t been a more competitive, cut-throat, quality-saturated era in television ever. Period.”
And even though I’d rather watch an old episode of “The Honeymooners” than any modern laugh-track sit-com, I think Goodman is right -- but this is not really good news for the broadcast, cable, or New Media networks. Although the current glut of quality works for the viewing audience (up to a point, anyway), the more good shows are on the Toob, the harder it is for your show to stand out from the herd and attract the viewers desired by advertisers. 

None of the corporate entities who put up the funds required to produce television do so with the aim of making an artistic success that fails to find an audience. They're in it to make money, and that means drawing enough viewers to keep the advertisers paying up -- or in the case of HBO, enough paying subscribers to keep the mother ship in the black.
Goodman’s dissection of the difficulties this glut has created for the industry was part of his reporting on the recently concluded Television Critics Association meetings here in LA, where (thanks to John Landgraf, CEO of FX) the concept of “Peak TV” was introduced to the modern media lexicon. For me, the salient quote in that piece is this:
The Platinum Age of Television. What a clusterfuck of possibilities within an impossible business environment that can't sustain it.”
It’s a good one, and well worth reading.  
There you’ll find links to the rest of Goodman's TCA reports, including this one lecturing the broadcast networks on their many sins over recent years, and this one offering his trademark cranky-pants advice, including the following nugget:
“Spare me the next "star vehicle" you make. They're almost always tar pits of ego.”
Well put, sir, and nicely played.
I’ve been reading Goodman ever since his television criticism appeared in the pages of my hometown paper, the San Francisco Chronicle. Indeed, it was Goodman who commissioned me to write a piece for the Chron ten years ago (for actual money!), which ultimately led to the birth of this blog back in 2007.  Goodman's columns are smart, funny, and take no prisoners.  He's a terrific writer, always worth reading.

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If you ask any writer, director, producer (or recently-graduated film student) in Hollywood why he-or-she chose to enter the film and television industry, odds are they'll give the same basic answer: 

"I just want to tell good stories."

Maybe… but I think the truth is most of them just didn't want to spend their lives working a mind-numbing, soul-crushing  nine-to-five job -- which I totally understand, since neither did I.  Like me, they thought working in the film and television industry would be fun -- and  sometimes it is.  

But for the sake of argument, let's assume that their primary goal really is to tell good stories -- so where does that come from?  I think it comes from seeing, reading, and hearing good stories. After you've experienced the power of a good story, it's hard not to want to try telling stories of your own.  

That's one reason I created the "Essential Listening" list over on the right side of the page, where you'll find links to websites and podcasts that feature compelling human stories of all kinds.*  The latest addition to that list is Snap Judgement, a radio show with a full slate of listen-when-you-want podcasts on its website.  Last week's episode -- titled Crash and Burn -- is one hell of a listen.  

It's a great show.  Check it out -- I think you'll be glad you did...

And in case you hadn't noticed, this JFTHOI post went up on a Sunday, not a Wednesday.  The demands of my current show are such that I can't put out something worth reading more than once a week (if that…), so for the time being, those mid-week posts have gone the way of the Dodo Bird, Passenger Pigeon, and rarest of the rare, the Honest Politician -- all, sadly, extinct.

To quote a much better writer than I'll ever be, "So it goes…"


* Anybody reading this on a smart phone should immediately scroll to the very bottom of the page and click the "Web View" link, which will reveal all seventy-some links -- from "Industry Blogs" to "Industry Resources" and others, including the seventeen websites listed under "Essential Listening."

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