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Whedonesque - a community weblog about Joss Whedon
"Here at Command Central, not so much with the hilarious. More with the 'What the Hell am I Doing'"
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March 09 2006

The television will not be revolutionized. "Good shows, like Firefly and Veronica Mars, will prosper if freed from the whims of TV executives."

I think at this point in time, it'd be possible for someone like Joss or JJ Abrams (or heck, maybe even Warren Ellis) to create a download-only episodic series that bypassed networks altogether. Ricky Gervais is trying it right now and although many believe his price point is too high, the idea of subscribing to new content - not just stuff like Lost that is also airing on a network - is definitely going to catch on.
I agree. I've been saying for a couple of years now that the Jossverse is ripe for direct-to-DVD or better yet download episodes, free from network exec interference.
I agree with his point...but I honestly, judging from that article, think he needs to learn how to write better. I dunno. That bugged me the entire article.

And his description of Veronica Mars as a "highly-rated show" is unfortunately very inaccurate.

1.4 million viewers and shrinking... :-(
UnpluggedCrazy, the article didn't strike me as poorly-written. Not dazzling us with stylistic flourishes, to be sure, but the author has a nice plain-spoken way.

And I think "highly-rated" in this context (and it may be a British usage) means "well-reviewed/critically-applauded."
Unplugged: Veronica Mars is highly rated by critics, it just doesn't get high ratings.
Well, 'to rate' something is UK slang for thinking it's cool and even fairly formal speech might have an exchange like 'How would you rate their chances ?', 'Not highly, to be honest' so it could mean well thought of rather than achieving high viewing figures. Or it could be a mistake ;).

(it's also worth pointing out that, hard though it may be to believe, 1.4 million viewers is actually not terrible for say BBC2, Channel 4 or Channel 5 though neither is it massively successful - when first shown Buffy got about 2.5 million viewers on BBC2, peaking at around 3.5 million, and on Sky - the UK satelite broadcaster - Angel would get around 0.8 million since there are far fewer Sky subscribers than BBC viewers)
Ah, sorry about my lack of British terminology knowledge!

But I still don't think it's very well-written. And, unfortunately, 1.4 million viewers is pretty bad by U.S. standards, but it may be okay by UPN...not really sure.
I knew VM's ratings weren't that good but I didn't know they were shrinking. Maybe they'll pick up next season on the Crack Whore network.
I'm torn on this concept. There's a reason why show business has existed the way it has for a century. Since before the days of burlesque you had the show and you had the business. The artsts were the show and the moneymonkeys were what kept the artists on that stage and kept the lights lit and together they kept people in their seats.

If you're going to launch a franchise in a medium outside conventional delivery, but you cut out the present-day middleman of moneymonkey, you got to find some way to build an entirely new infrastructure. I mean Whedon is a powerfully talented and imaginative artist, who does have a head for figures and understands the bottom line, but he's admitted himself that from the Buffy Pilot to Serenity and beyond, it's when he's under financial and time constraints that necessity creates opportunity.

The shot in the movie Serenity where he had to aim down on Summer as she is walking on Miranda, and you get that beautiful jellyfish visual as her dress billows in the wind. He shot down because he didn't have time or money to mess with the green screen that otherwise he would have had to put behind her. Such limitations force him to be ingenious and sometimes just downright snarky, and the result is more often than not a joy to behold on screen.

If he were given carte blanche, really, would his stuff be as good? If there weren't someone walking behind him counting the numbers and giving him boundaries, what would he bounce his ideas off of? How would magical moments like that happen?

The business end of show business, which I often see as a necessary evil, is still necessary. What I hope to see as this perhaps inevitability of straight-to-DVD ascension and Internet connected TVless TV takes place in near-future visual storytelling, is that we don't lose the necessity of moneymonkeys. We just take out the evil of it. It's not that Hollywood or TV City is bad. It's that many of the people running movies and television today are. The real answer isn't to avoid the obstacle entirely. You gotta find a way to make the obstacles work for you instead of against you. Hollywood just needs to weed out its bad apples.
So, ZachsMind...should we be worried that his Wonder Woman will suck? :-(
Zachsmind, I don't think the people in Hollywood are evil or bad apples. They are just a part of the American corporate system that for good or bad have their primary responsibility to shareholders.

There is no hidden agenda and no conspiracy to stifle art. It simply is what it is. Flawed people trying to make decisions that make money for shareholders. Sometimes art wins in this gamble and sometimes it loses.

Sometimes the people struggling mightily to make the right decisions succeed and sometimes they fail. Sometimes the audience rewards brilliance and art and sometimes they reject it utterly.

I somehow doubt that there are faceless executives out there who decide, "today I am going to kill art and make creative people cry." More often than not they are blinded by too much information and "analysis by paralysis". And too often they have been burned by trusting "artists" who fail completely to realize any type of product that audiences actually want.

It's just a theory, but I don't think anyone gets into this horribly competitive business in Burbank/Hollywood because they want to be evil and to destroy good art and storytelling. I assume it just the opposite.
ZachsMind, this kind of online content couldn't be produced for free, so there will always be money men involved - especially as the potential audience paying for online distributed content is small, so nobody would be spending a fortune until they knew what they could recoup. You are right, of course, new infrastructure would have to be designed - but it's just a matter of time.
I knew VM's ratings weren't that good but I didn't know they were shrinking. Maybe they'll pick up next season on the Crack Whore network

It's gotta make it there first, and while 1.5 million viewers isn't bad for BBC, the U.S. has roughly 5x the population of the U.K. Now granted, V.M. is only available in some areas and often gets pre-empted for local programming, but its return isn't secured and that is sad.

As far as the T.V. shows coming to the computer, it will happen eventually. The studio rights and everything else need to be taken care of, and that will take awhile because everyone wants to get as big a piece of the pie as possible. Eventually, studio's might make more money off downloads then DVD's.

However, this won't mean that highly downloaded shows won't get cancelled. Downloads, like DVD sales, won't pay for production costs. That will still take advertising and shows will still be at the whim of the almighty dollar.
Yes, you still need someone willing to put up the money to get started. And it's not yet clear they would get their money back. According to the article, Firefly has sold half a million DVDs. I'm not sure that would be enough for a DVD-only show to break even.
I agree tichtich, plus an internet only production may struggle to gain enough paying viewers to survive. TV ultimately has network rights, advertising and overseas sales to assist in recuperating of the production costs. There is also the question of how much individuals would be willing to pay for a show? Would these shows be downloaded to the individuals’ hard drive, or would they only be able to watch it online (and if we could download episodes, would we go out and purchase a DVD)? Clearly this is a copyright issue vs one of users being happy with their overall viewing experience.

Whilst I'm sure there are many of us who would be willing to pay to watch Firefly on the web, would this ultimately bring in enough money? (I personally thought the film was going to be a huge commercial success, and look what happened there).

[ edited by ncr on 2006-03-10 16:08 ]

[ edited by ncr on 2006-03-10 16:11 ]
Firefly has sold half a million DVDs. I'm not sure that would be enough for a DVD-only show to break even.

it's definitely a matter of scale. Firefly was costly to produce; maybe you don't take yourself outside the system if you want to spend that much money per episode. but it's clearly becoming the case that for a much smaller investment, you can still reach a large audience online.

advertisers are already seeking out podcasts; there's no reason to think that advertising won't be a part of the mix someday in financing smaller shows, alongside a la carte pricing or subscription models. and it's not really an "all or nothing!" kind of thing. i imagine it being similar to how stephen soderbergh structures his career: work within the system to make big-money, lots-of-fun popcorn movies like "ocean's eleven", then take some of the funds and go shoot "bubbles" where you can experiment with both story and distribution. (and please, this isn't a discussion about the merit of soderbergh's projects, merely that he's been able to do it that way for a long time.)

that's the thing about TV: with film, there's long been a big studio tier and an indy tier. with TV, that indy tier is really nascent.

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