Tuesday March 19, 2019

I watched HBO’s Theranos documentary last night. It’s fascinating on many levels. And Elizabeth Holmes is a lying piece of trash who deserves to spend time in a cell next to Jussie Smollett.

Here’s how others are reacting.

Amy Schumer’s new Netflix special is available to stream in the event you think she’s funny.

Rob Lowe’s new Fox “game show” premieres tonight. It’s called Mental Samurai. I IMPLORE you not to watch.

NBC premieres The Village tonight. “Welcome to The Village, an apartment building in Brooklyn that appears like any other from the outside but is quite unique inside. The people who reside here have built a bonded family of friends and neighbors. Sarah's a nurse and single mom raising a creative teen; Gabe's a young law student who got a much older and unexpected roommate; Ava must secure the future of her young, U.S.-born son when ICE comes knocking; Nick's a veteran who's returned from war; and the heart and soul of the building, Ron and Patricia, have captivating tales all their own. These are the hopeful, heartwarming and challenging stories of life that prove family is everything - even if it's the one you make with the people around you.”

Here’s a review.

A new season of Tosh.O premieres tonight on Comedy Central.

Rachel Bilson is heading back to the network where she got her big break. The former O.C. star has landed the female lead in Lovestruck, a dramedy that unfolds over a single night at a wedding. Bilson will play the bride, Daisy Valentine, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed. Daisy is described as a "bolt of pure sunshine." She's sweet, thoughtful and assertive and works in music education. Bilson joins a cast that also includes Andie MacDowell and Richard Roxburgh as Daisy's parents, along with Kathleen Turner, Madeline Wise and Usman Ally. Lovestruck (formerly the untitled Tom Kapinos drama and Let's Spend the Night Together) is based on a French series, Quadras, and is described as a "structurally inventive" series with all the action taking place over one night. As viewers get to know the wedding party, they will learn about both their present and past and that things aren't always as they seem as the show explores the complicated bonds of love, friendship and family at different stages of life.”

Hopefully this will be the last anyone has to hear about Mama June. Jail awaits.

Anderson Cooper has a two-book deal and plans to collaborate with historian-novelist Katherine Howe. Harper announced Tuesday the 51-year-old CNN anchor and 60 Minutes correspondent will work on two books of nonfiction with Howe, who specializes in novels about witchcraft, including The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs and The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. The first release is scheduled for 2022. Harper declined to share further details.”

“CBS hopes to get a bigger bang out of the very last episode of The Big Bang Theory. The network is seeking between $1.2 million and $1.5 million for a 30-second ad in the finale of the veteran series, according to two people familiar with negotiations between CBS and its advertisers. Those figures would represent a price approximately five to six times higher than the average cost to run an ad in the show this season. The last original episode in the series is slated for broadcast on May 16.”

From EW: “Now you can decide whether Bear Grylls survives the wild or not…

“Well, sort of. Netflix is bringing interactivity to the survivalist experience with a new series featuring the Man vs. Wild host. Titled You vs. Wild, the series puts viewers in the driver’s seat as Grylls embarks on adventures around the world.

“As they follow Grylls through jungles and forests and across deserts and mountains, viewers will have the opportunity to make crucial decisions at key moments over the course of eight episodes. Whether or not Grylls succeeds or fails in his adventure is now entirely in audiences’ hands.

“‘I’m about to embark on one of my most epic adventures, and this time you’re going to be in charge,’ Grylls says in the series’ trailer. ‘So get packing, get ready, because every jungle, desert, mountain that I’m in, every decision is your decision. You’re going to dictate what I do.’

“The interactive trailer goes on to give a glimpse of the type of decision making in store. Every episode will feature myriad choices, such as what Grylls eats, encounters, and experiences.

“‘I’m so proud to deliver this first-of-its-kind live-action interactive series, really giving viewers an all-access pass to explore the world and its landscapes in my boots,’ Grylls said in a statement. ‘The stakes are high in this one!’

“Grylls has called many networks home, most notably the Discovery Channel for seven seasons of Man vs. Wild and NBC for the celebrity-studded Running Wild. He’s hosted extreme adventure shows around the world, but You vs. Wild is the first to include a choose-your-own-adventure component.

“Netflix previously experimented with interactive viewing via last winter’s Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.

You vs. Wild hits the streaming service April 10.”

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Per Vulture, “[h]ave you ever watched The Good Place and wondered, How do they do that? It’s a fair question. The Good Place is a bit of a marvel of modern TV writing, with its ability to pack so much story, character, and ideas in a network sitcom format. At Vulture Festival L.A. last November, we tried to get to the bottom of that question by hosting a panel with the show’s writers. Moderated by cast member and The Good Place: The Podcast host Marc Evan Jackson, the show’s creator and showrunner Mike Schur was joined by writers Megan Amram, Jen Statsky, Josh Siegal, Dylan Morgan, Matt Murray, Cord Jefferson, Kassia Miller, Dan Schofield, Andrew Law, Christopher Encell, and Rae Sanni:

When assembling the room, Mike, what did you look for? 
Mike Schur: I knew many of these people from Parks and Recreation, but the ones I didn’t, I read the stuff they wrote, obviously. But I think I was most interested in like, I hate the word, but diversity. It’s not ethnic diversity; it’s like intellectual diversity. I remember talking to Andrew about what he studied in college, and I remember talking to Rae about doing stand-up in New York, and it was like there were enough of us who had worked together from Parks and Rec who were coming over to this show where I was like, I know exactly what that crew is, and I was just looking for things that were not what that crew is. And that proved to be a pretty good way to go about it. The reason diversity is a lame word is because it is used as a sort of catchall to just mean people who aren’t white, but the intention was sort of intellectual background diversity.

The show is weird, and we do a lot of weird stuff, and we’re constantly emailing each other like, “Listen to this podcast,” or like, “Read this article that someone wrote.” Like the guy who’s the sort of main philosophical adviser of the show is a professor from Clemson. Dan Schofield found him after we were talking about what happens to a person’s sense of moral philosophy or ethical worldview if that person is immortal, and Dan went and found this guy who had written a book about that exact thing. We read the book, and then I called him and he ended up being our main adviser guy. That is the result of having people who are just intellectually curious — just people who are curious about the world in different ways.

Did anyone of you have backgrounds in philosophy prior to doing this job?
Andrew Law: I was a political philosophy major, which is the only time that that degree has helped anyone. But when I met with [Schur] for my interview, he was like, “Is there any chance you’ve ever read any philosophy?” and I was like, “Oh my God, yeah.” And then he was like, “Cool, because I’ve been reading some Foucault, and so what do you think about that?” And I was like, “Okay, um, so I just I flew in from New York, I’m very tired, and …”

Are there any of you for whom that seemed daunting? To have to go back into, you know, high school– and college-level stuff and have to do the homework?
Everyone: Yeah.

MS: I don’t want to speak for anybody, but the thing is, it paints this picture of us, like, taking long walks around a college campus, deeply engaged in conversation. We read Wikipedia entries. I don’t want people to imagine that this is an intensive, graduate-level course. We mostly listen to podcasts. We find articles. We find little things. When we were starting the show, I put together a packet of a bunch of stuff that I had read, and some of it was arcane, but also, the message that I was saying to everyone who was reading was like, “I don’t know if I understand this, but this seems interesting.” It’s really not this super over-the-top thing. We’re all Eleanors. None of us is Chidi.

Matt Murray: Also, I’ve been doing this now for 18 years and it is refreshing to use your brain in a writers room. It’s like, a lot of shows you’re just making dumb poop jokes — that’s cool too.

How did you come up with Jeremy Bearimy?
Rae Sanni: Jeremy Bearimy thing happened in the room, in part because I am a lot less smart than these people. Mike was trying to explain time, and I didn’t get it for a full afternoon. I’m new on the staff, I’m the least experienced, and I’m boldly interrupting their ability to tell a story because I don’t understand how time works. And Josh just was like, “What about Jeremy Bearimy? That’s how you explain the time.” And so, when Chidi says, “The dot on the i is what broke my brain,” that’s actually what happened in the room. What happened to Chidi’s brain there happened to my brain.

MS: Rae’s being modest, because what was happening was, she was saying, “How can events be happening on Earth, but they’re not happening in the afterlife?” And we were like, “Well, we’re trying to say that this …” And she was like, “Yeah, but that doesn’t make any sense.” And she was totally right. So, we were searching for a way to pithily answer all of the natural questions that would come up. And then, Josh giggled out loud. He actually giggled at his own thought, which is very rare. And he was like, “What if Michael just says that the timeline is just Jeremy Bearimy.”

It was another one of those things where the entire room could have pitched for two weeks of solutions to explain what we needed to explain and nothing would have beaten it. It saved us so much time. It’s basically a middle finger, right? It’s like, “You have a problem with the way that you think time works? Too bad. I don’t know what to tell you.”

Josh Siegal: This is the way I’d wanna learn about that. I believe what I first said was, “Jeremy Jeremy.” And everyone got it right away. “There’s gotta be a B in there.” And then someone over here said, like, “Well, there has to be an iin it, ‘cause then we’re really in trouble, for what that dot over the i is.” And then Megan goes off with it and writes all this funny stuff about Janet’s birthday and that it’s also Tuesdays in July and never. Everyone gets to hang out with an idea. It makes me feel really lucky.

Is it true that what we see onscreen is an approximation of Joe Mande’s handwriting?
MS: Yeah, we spent more time probably writing versions of the name Jeremy Bearimy than any other thing. And then, Joe’s a very talented artist, and we had him do it. But, like, there was a really serious session where Joe Mande had a Sharpie. And it was all these giant poster boards, and he was doing it over and over. And then he would hold it up and we would go, “Hmmm, yes, perhaps a little squigglier on the B” or whatever. He did it like 500 times. The one you see is actually his handwriting, or his work, or whatever you’d call it.

When you’re breaking the season, how do you decide, “Okay, this is what we’re gonna sort of ask this season?”
MS: That sort of comes organically out of the discussion that we have at the beginning of the year. We knew the whole first season before we even started writing it. We were able to talk about season two while we were writing season one. And so, by the time we got to the end, we knew what season two was a little bit. We knew that it was about getting Michael on their team and then him slowly realizing that maybe the point system was unfair. We’re able to know a year in advance what the general idea of what the next season’s gonna be.

And then, it also happens, because, again, people are poking around and finding articles and podcasts and stuff and saying, like, “This is an interesting thing that sort of affects our show.” Someone sent me an article about why Aristotle is really relevant today and was like, “Oh, this is really meaningful.” So, we, right now, have an idea of what season four is in a very, very general way.

Go on …
MS: No. And so the trick is to have some juicy ideas and then go into the season and get the whole brain trust together and start talking about it, but not to decide too early. Because if someone has a better idea, we always want to follow that better idea. It’s having stuff to hold on to, but also being willing to risk throwing it all away if someone comes up with something better. It’s a dicey proposition for a show like this. But, again, we’ve been at least a half a year ahead every year, so it makes it more possible. Long before the season ends airing, we’ll get together for a couple days and talk big-picture stuff about next year. And that’ll begin that process.

Is there a next year?
MS: Oh, I don’t know. I mean, I assume. If they cancel us now, I’d be really pissed. That’d be terrible. Yeah, I guess they haven’t picked us up yet. Goddamn it. All right.”

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An interesting deep dive if you want to geek out on how Netflix structures deals, per Deadline, “[f]or decades, the success of a TV series had been measured by its longevity. The standard series regular contracts are for six years, which has been considered a threshold for a show to be deemed reasonably successful. Netflix may be rewriting the rulebook with a business model that involves shows often running for two to three seasons.

“The Internet network also is assuring its series will remain Netflix exclusives even after their cancellation, with a moratorium allegedly built into deals that prevents axed shows from moving to a new home. That is despite the streamer readily taking in series canceled elsewhere, like Lucifer and Designated Survivor.

“Netflix on Thursday announced it would not proceed with a fourth season of its lauded comedy series One Day at a Time. Producing studio Sony Pictures TV quickly started shopping it, and I hear there was an inquiry from CBS Corp’s CBS All Access, but the show’s Netflix deal would not allow for the comedy to move to another streaming platform.

“Netflix also recently canceled all of its Marvel series after two or three seasons. They all had developed solid followings and drawn sizable viewership, so there was speculation when they were canceled that  they could migrate to Disney’s upcoming streaming platform Disney+, which will feature a lot of Marvel-branded original content. Disney and Marvel TV executives likely would’ve liked to do that, but again their Netflix contract did not allow them to.

“I hear there is a standard clause in the deals for Netflix series from outside studios that prevents the shows from airing elsewhere for a significant period of time, said to be 2-3 years, making a continuation on another network/platform virtually impossible. That is probably why we haven’t seen CBS TV Studios’ comedy American Vandal — a breakout hit for Netflix when it launched but canceled in October after two seasons — move to CBS All Access.

“I hear the moratorium on OTAAT [sic]is a bit less restrictive than others — a couple of years for SVOD but just a few months for network — which would allow the Latinx family comedy to pursue a fourth season on a broadcast network, for example. (For more on that, read our story.)

“In addition to One Day at a Time, also canceled after three seasons at Netflix were LoveBloodline and Hemlock Grove, with a slew of shows canceled after two. Besides Netflix’s legacy series House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black, the first two originals that put the streamer on the map and generated awards buzz throughout their six-season runs, there is only one live-action series that has lasted that long: comedy Grace and Frankie. In addition to also being an awards-attention magnet for its stars Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, the series comes from Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman, whose presence at Netflix is believed to have helped the streaming platform secure and maintain the sought-after SVOD rights to Friends, one of the most prized off-network assets out there.

The Crown was bought by Netflix as a six-season series chronicling the life of Queen Elizabeth II. Outside of that, out of dozens of original live-action scripted series launched, only three have gone beyond three seasons. One is the reliable awards contender Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which ran for four seasons, earning a slew of major nominations. The two others are multi-camera comedies done under a different business model — Fuller House, which will end after five seasons, and The Ranch,which has been renewed for a fourth season. (Hit drama Narcos was wrapped after three seasons and succeeded by a new series, Marcos: Mexico.)

“I hear at least some of the cancellations on the list were prompted in part because the shows were deemed to have gotten too expensive. That is because of how many of Netflix’s series deals are structured. It is widely known that Netflix employs a ‘cost-plus’ model, offering to pay upfront a show’s production costs plus a premium of 30%+ of the costs. Even after Netflix subtracts a distribution fee, outside studios are at break-even or in a positive territory from Day 1, versus having to deficit finance series for the first few seasons on most traditional networks. But in exchange for the upfront payments, outside studios give up the potential upside that normally comes up with owning a long-running successful series, including off-network and international sales.

“Instead, Netflix’s deals include bump/bonuses after each season that are getting progressively bigger. White the payments are relatively modest after Season 1 and a little bigger after Season 2, I hear they escalate after Season 3, especially for series owned by Netflix — sometimes from hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars — as the studio starts to pay off the shows’ back-end. For series from outside studios, which I hear cost about 20% more than their Netflix-produced counterparts, I hear the built-in payment increases do not skyrocket as much but still are bigger after Season 3, Season 4 and beyond.

“Netflix is known for giving writers and producers creative freedom and has been relatively patient, picking up a significant portion of its freshman series for a second season, giving them time to find their legs. But as the shows’ prices start going up, the network tightens its renewal criteria.

“‘It’s a combination of things, when we’re investing, we decide how much to invest based on the audience that will show up,’ Netflix’s head of original content Cindy Holland said of the streamer’s cancellation decisions at the INTV conference in Israel last week. ‘If the audience doesn’t show up, we think about the reason to continue to invest in something that doesn’t do as well as we had hope. Obviously critical acclaim is important too, but we’re really about trying to stretch our investment dollars as far as we can and make good on our investors’ money – it’s theirs, not ours.’

“For the most popular shows, like blockbuster hit Stranger Things, renewals are a no-brainer as each new season is an event, driving viewership and subscriptions. (Being owned by Netflix, Stranger Things also is a money maker for the company with auxiliary revenue streams such as theme park attractions and merchandising, including Halloween costumes.)

“But for everyone else, there is intense scrutiny. Netflix is unabashedly data driven, with many of its decisions based on algorithms. That’s how the network reportedly switched from the initial (and traditional) 13-episode seasons to seasons of 10 episodes or less. Word is that those shorter seasons are considered optimal for consumption, and any additional episodes beyond 10 a season do not add value, so they are an unnecessary expense for the network.

“The same goes for the number of seasons. If a show has not broken out in a big way during its first couple of seasons, there has been chatter Netflix does not see significant growth potential beyond Season 3 (and sometimes beyond Season 2).

“As for acclaim, I hear anecdotally that strong critics reviews, which One Day at a Time has in spades, could get a show a second-season renewal at Netflix (but rarely a third). Beyond that, only major awards recognition counts as awards — along with strong worth of mouth/curiosity — are thought to help drive subscriptions. Despite its acclaim, One Day at a Time, maybe hindered by its multi-camera format, has not been able to land big nominations.

“I hear One Day at a Time came close to cancellation last year when the show’s producers and talent rallied fans in a spirited renew-the-show campaign. Netflix ultimately gave it a reprieve, but it came with a warning. Despite the fact that One Day At a Time’s viewership had reportedly grown between Season 1 and 2 and Seasons 2 and 3, word is Netflix brass claimed its numbers still were not where the network wanted them to be.

“I hear that, according to Netflix’s data, beyond Season 2-3, middle-of-the road series — even those with loyal fan base like One Day at a Time — would not generate significant new signups.

“But new shiny things will. Netflix’s strategy to grow subscription base is focused on introducing new series all the time, sometimes multiple ones each weekend. According to industry observers, fans of some of the canceled series would be disappointed by their demise but not upset enough to drop Netflix as there is new product coming out all the time that catches their attention.

“‘At the core of their business is churn,’ one industry insider said, noting that there are always subscribers who drop Netflix after a free trial period or a month or two later, and the goal is to get more people to sign up, which comes mostly thanks to hot new series everyone is talking about.

“As an asset, having 30 episodes of a series (three seasons) is considered enough to satisfy viewers discovering the show. Tacking on more episodes does not add significant value, I hear. ‘A show doesn’t serve a purpose (anymore),” an observer said. “There is no reason for the network to continue to invest in it.’

“That is why so many Netflix series are being outright canceled versus the streamer employing the oldest trick in every network’s bag: trying to renegotiate the terms of its deals. I have heard of instances when Netflix has sought reduction of previously agreed upon fees and bonuses based on a series’ performance. For example, there was some back-and-forth between Netflix and Marvel TV, including the network requesting a season-order trim from 13 to 10 episodes, before the streaming giant pulled the plug on all Marvel series that it had picked up years ago at a very high price. (There were creative issues on some shows as well.) The first Marvel series were a big draw as they were among the handful of original series on the service. Two, three seasons in, the shows didn’t get the same attention because of the huge volume of new product. Netflix has built an adequate Marvel library, which will live on the service, while the Internet company cut a major expense by canceling the superhero series to invest in new fare.

“Additionally, like traditional networks in the era of vertical integration, Netflix has been ramping up in-house production, redirecting funds from outside productions to in-house series — including shows from its roster of A-list talent under rich overall deals such as Shonda Rhimes, Ryan Murphy, Kenya Barris and Shawn Levy — and thus avoiding the cost-plus surcharge it has to pay to shows from other studios.

“The shorter runs are something spreading to other platforms, where shows also are ending relatively quickly. Amazon recently announced the upcoming fourth season of its flagship drama Man In the High Castle will be its last. Only two original series on Amazon or Hulu, Amazon’s Transparent, which put that service on the map, and Bosch, have gone beyond four seasons, with the majority of shows canceled after two or three seasons. Industry observers see the trend also carrying over to premium networks, which now have a dual play as linear and SVOD outlets.

“‘Fifty is the new 100,’ an industry insider said, referring to the traditional milestone of 100 episodes that used to kick off a financial windfall for studios and profit participants from syndication and other off-network sales. It is now considered unattainable, especially on digital platforms, with 50 episodes pretty much the most you can get there.

“Added another source, ‘they are proving that they are not in the back-end business.’”

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One more deep dive for you, per Variety: “The Writers Guild of America has singled out Hollywood’s largest talent agencies, William Morris Endeavor and Creative Artists Agency, for allegedly soaring profits.

“The WGA, in an acrimonious negotiation over proposed new rules about how agencies represent writers, issued a report called ‘agencies for sale’ on Monday morning — a few hours before a fifth round of talks are scheduled to resume between the guild and the Association of Talent Agents.

“The report claimed that WME and CAA have received ‘billions’ of dollars from private equity firms, sovereign wealth funds, and other institutional investors, leading to them being transformed from agencies with the primary purpose of representing talent to conglomerates singularly focused on expanding their bottom lines and returning value to investors. That’s led to the agencies being in the business of acquiring and owning content — creating a conflict of interest by making them employers of their own clients.

“‘The agency has always and will always put client interests first,’ a CAA spokesman said in response to the report.

“The WGA’s key proposals require that agencies exit both producing and packaging. The WGA and ATA face an April 6 contract expiration deadline to hammer out a new franchise agreement governing the rules for agents representing WGA members. The WGA has scheduled a March 25 vote to implement its own code of conduct spelling out new rules, which will require members to fire their agents if they haven’t signed the agreement.

“The report alleges that WME and CAA’s private equity owners have already seen their investments double and triple in value. The WGA estimates that TPG’s $340 million investment into CAA had more than tripled in value between 2010 and mid-2017. Silver Lake Partners’ $750 million investment in WME had doubled in value to almost $1.5 billion by mid-2016.

“‘As this report makes clear, big investments by private equity firms have pushed the talent agencies into even more conflicted business practices,’ said WGA West President David A. Goodman. ‘It’s no longer just the problems caused by packaging fees. They are also aggressively moving into producing content — making them both the representatives and the employers of their writer clients. The conflicts of interest will only continue to grow if we don’t do something now to realign agents’ economic interests with their clients’ interests. The solution will come from either a negotiated agreement with the Association of Talent Agents or through a code of conduct.’

“The WGA report quotes credit rating agency Standard & Poor’s, which recently wrote of CAA, ‘The explosion of content from over-the-top (OTT) players such as Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu has favorably affected the company’s television revenue, particularly its TV packaging revenue. … The packaging of talent, along with the massive increase in TV content production, has driven most of the growth in the company’s TV segment.’

“Hollywood agents offered counter-proposals last week to the WGA, which brushed them off. The ATA said its ‘statement of choice’ emphasized that writer clients get to decide whether they want to work on a packaged show and that they have the choice to work with an ‘affiliated entity’ — meaning a production company affiliated with the agency.”