Friday Round-Up: A Time to Kill?

CharacterDeaths_imageWe’ve talked about the evolution of watching and reacting to TV show finales, but what about when a major character meets his or her end? In today’s content culture, we spend a lot of time processing death—of our favorite (or least favorite) TV characters. And process we do. We take our content seriously: we meditate; we grieve; we ask why; we think of what might have been; and we wonder if ultimately there is a greater meaning or purpose. The demise of a really great TV character is, at once, both an intimate experience and one that is shared on global scale thanks to social media.

Spoilers below.

This week marked the latest major character death—the universally reviled King Joffrey on Game of Thrones. Not long before him, Will Gardner was shockingly shot and killed in the courtroom on The Good Wife and the highly anticipated titular Mother of How I Met Your Mother was revealed to be deceased. These stunning character deaths are from the past month alone and join a quickly growing list of high-profile character kill-offs.

More and more, an expertly timed character death is seen as a given on a TV show, but it wasn’t always that way. It was M*A*S*H that gave the American public its first taste of a major character’s tragic death in 1975 with the shocking news that Henry Blake’s helicopter had been shot down in the Sea of Japan. In those long-ago days before Twitter, the producers received more than 1,000 letters ranging from sorrow to complaint. Today, an untimely and tragic death now seems like a staple in the content landscape. The pressure to deliver surprises and impactful emotional moments often means that someone bites the dust.

This trend begs the question: Is death a part of life for content now? Is death needed every once in a while to shake up the storylines and keep viewers tuned in? Do all serious-contender shows have to have that ‘very special episode’ where a character dies? Or has it become a standard ploy to manipulate our emotions? Is it the ‘easy’ default solution to jump-start the writing process? And is the social media outcry all part of the ‘fun’ of content consumption?

Check out a brief collection of coverage from some high-profile TV deaths below and then weigh in on our quick poll!

When a show follows previously written work. If a show is based on an already written work that includes a character’s demise, it is still a creative decision for the showrunners as to when, how, or even IF they follow the source material.

  • Game of Thrones – R.I.P. Lots of people, most recently King Joffrey
    Entertainment Weekly
    “And that’s something we admire from the books. George doesn’t give you want you want right off the bat…At the same time, a deeper side of you wouldn’t really want that because it’s too easy and wouldn’t seem remotely real. There’s something wonderful about reading the book, the way Joffrey dies, because it’s completely unexpected. No hero came back to vanquish the evil king.” Read the full analysis
  • The Walking Dead – R.I.P. Lots of people, most recent major character Hershel Greene
    “It was something that I sensed before the conversations took place — like in episode 403, with the speech he has about the risk of being alive in that postapocalyptic world. In episode 405, when he had so much to do, I knew it wasn’t a good sign for him.” Read the full analysis.

When an actor wants to leave the show. This can really throw a wrench into a showrunner’s plans, as the creative team is faced with a challenge how of to remove a character while maintaining the integrity of the story and characters. The character doesn’t HAVE to die, but more and more this seems to be the popular way to be written off in recent years.

  • The Good Wife – R.I.P. Will Gardner
    “Also there are major story hubs you’re always looking for in building a season: points in the narrative where it changes every character’s trajectory. It keeps the show from feeling stale.” Read the full analysis.
  • Downton Abbey – R.I.P. Matthew Crawley
    The Telegraph
    “The makers of Downton Abbey have moved to console devastated viewers about the ‘untimely and tragic death’ of character Matthew Crawley, after an outpouring of furious complaints about the Christmas special.” Read the full analysis.

When a show is free to kill. Sometimes the showrunners come to their own creative decision that a death is needed to tell the story they intended to tell.

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer – R.I.P. Joyce Summers (Buffy’s mom)
    “Written and directed by series creator Joss Whedon, ‘The Body’ was a soul-shaking portrait of death and grief, with Buffy having to face the unexpected passing of her mother, Joyce (Kristine Sutherland). On another series, the death of Buffy’s mom might have been an excuse to pull out all the Very Special Episode bells and whistles. But Buffy is the ultimate anti-VSE show.” Read the full analysis.
  • Homeland – R.I.P. Sgt. Nicholas Brody
    The Daily Beast
    “His shelf life had expired. It was time. We spent a lot of hours in the story room figuring out what we could do with his character, and a lot of the emotional landscape had been crossed. We didn’t want to repeat ourselves.” Read the full analysis.

Friday Round-Up: Crowdsourcing Content

NBC Comedy PlaygroundWhen American Idol first premiered in the early 2000s, it seemed revolutionary to throw open the doors to the masses of people who believed they had talent. Since then, there has been no shortage of competition series that have offered the lure of fame for the ‘most talented’ singer, chef, comedian, decorator…you name it. The search for stardom eventually led to an open-call for actual content creators—or aspiring ones—to earn a chance to develop and showcase their ideas.

In 2001 Project Greenlight paved the way for amateur filmmakers to get their shot with an HBO documentary, and now Starz is entering the playing field with a just-announced new show that will feature two competing directors tackling the same script. At the NYTVF there is the Independent Pilot Competition that offers guaranteed development deals to the winning entry. And Amazon is no stranger to using feedback from its customers when making decisions about its own original content–in February it launched a rating system for viewers to help determine what shows get the go-ahead.

This week NBC announced the launch of its ‘Comedy Playground,’ a competition (not a competition show, at least not yet) to seek out fresh new comedy content that could air on the network or online. They have attached some well-known and established names to this endeavor and the promise of producing pilot episodes + series orders for the winning entries. How successful a product this initiative will yield is TBD, but in the meantime it fits right into the broader crowdsourcing trend. The general public is given more and more access to pitch, produce and present to the world their ideas. Are we getting better content because fresh voices get a chance? Or are we living life like one big reality show—a lot of smoke and mirrors?

Take a look below at some of the coverage from NBC’s decision this week, ranging from the proponents to the skeptics. Then vote in our quick poll!

NBC Creates ‘Comedy Playground’ Initiative to Launch Two Series in 2015
In unveiling the contest in Pasadena on Tuesday, Salke noted that this long-gestating project serves as an “expressway into the network” and is a direct result of “what’s happening on the Internet and what’s happening at the network.”

NBC Asks Viewers for Better Sitcom Ideas
Entertainment Weekly
The crowd-sourcing concept is yet another way that the television development process is becoming increasingly democratized. Amazon previously broke the pilot season mold by putting all their pilots online for viewer voting.

‘Project Greenlight,’ Network Style: NBC to Crowdsource Sitcom Ideas
Technology Tell
In other words, it’s exactly like regular pilot season, only with amateur instead of professional talent.

Desperate NBC Turns to Internet to Create Next TV Show
The Outhousers
Looks like NBC has finally hit rock bottom. Because the beleaguered fourth place network (motto: at least we’re not the CW) has announced a new contest wherein people on the internet – that’s you – submit ideas for TV shows to them and they pick one they like and make it. Or something.

Friday Round-Up: Who has the Final(e) Word?

Series Finale_himym_image

The HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER series finale sparked intense debate this week.

In our new era of television watching, where DVRs and VOD and online platforms are transforming the way viewers experience their programming—and WHEN they experience their programming—the TV series finale still holds a special power that practically demands live viewing. Especially for long-running and buzz-worthy shows, there is nothing quite like the thrill and anticipation of an epic series finale. Who will live? Who will die? How will it all end? People have asked these questions about plot outcomes for years, whether it was the helicopter taking off in M*A*S*H or Bob Newhart waking up to his wife from his previous TV show. But with the changing times comes changing responses.

Today, we ‘viewers’ are far more actively engaged in the content we choose to consume, and we have the social media means to interact with not only other fans but the content’s very own creators. We don’t simply judge the plot points anymore, but also the creative storytelling decisions and devices used to arrive at these plot points. We have truly become content connoisseurs, or like to think we are.

This week’s final chapter of How I Met Your Mother was the latest series finale to kick off a firestorm of questions, judgments, hysterics and reactions ranging from simple tweets to a fan-made alternate ending. Fans turned the show’s #HIMYMFarewell social media campaign into an insta-platform to dissect every decision and every nuance. It’s more than a water cooler moment when we can now vent, bemoan and sound-off to the show’s cast and crew directly. It really is a whole new world—the same engaged fans that hang on every word of their favorite characters also now expect to have a voice in that content.

So whose content is it anyway? In this unprecedented time of creator-viewer interaction, NATPE decided to take a little look back at responses to some of the noteworthy finales from the past few decades. What made them tick—for better or worse—with their audiences? Check it out below and then take our quick poll! 

A quick trip down finale lane…
We picked just one analysis of each finale below—a piece that offers some thought to the nature of the finale itself, why it worked or didn’t, and how it might be viewed over time.

How I Met Your Mother (2005-2014)
The latest series finale to cause a reaction firestorm is this week’s heavily scrutinized HIMYM ending. Many longtime fans were outraged at the multiple “dramatic twists” thrown in at the end of an otherwise legen-wait-for-it-dary series. From TV critics to fans, Alan Sepinwall’s initial analysis has struck a chord with many. Read his perspective on what happens when a show’s creators push the envelope in an unpopular direction.

“But stories change. Characters change. Shows change. And plans have to change to accommodate that.” Read the full analysis

LOST (2004-2010)
The debates and opinions over the mind-bending LOST finale (and series for that matter) rage on to this day, as evidenced just this year at Paley Fest despite the show going off the air in 2010.  Here is one analysis from the immediate aftermath that discusses whether the finale functioned not merely as a last episode, but as a work of art.

“From its inception, there’s been a huge focus on whether or not “Lost” would be able to adequately answer all of the questions it raised. But in the end, art isn’t about answering questions — it’s about the journey, about the movement from one perspective to another. It’s about creating something intriguing, multi-layered, beautiful.” Read the full analysis

Seinfeld (1989-1998)
The show about nothing had a lot to live up to in its finale. Seinfeld wanted to “go out on top” and the writers chose to bring back its greatest hits in a crazy courtroom circus. Did the finale manage to showcase the right amount of nothing or did it change its formula too much? In the days before social media, read what The New York Times had to say back in 1998.

“The test of believable screen characters is whether we can imagine them going on after the cameras stop. It’s easy to see these four nattering at each other into eternity.” Read the full analysis

Newhart (1982-1990)
Arguably the greatest twist ending of all time, Bob Newhart’s character woke up in bed next to his wife from his previous sitcom, shocking viewers that this series was all but a dream. It is a sign of the times that actual reviews of the episode immediately after it aired could not be found. Rather, the Newhart finale is most often analyzed as the standard against countless other shock-finales that have followed.

“Truly surprising moments are pretty rare on television, but the team behind Newhart cooked up a classic twist ending for the show’s risky series finale, which attracted almost 30 million viewers when it originally aired.” Read the full analysis

M*A*S*H (1972-1983)
It is the most-watched television finale ever. 121.6 million people tuned in to see the end of a war that lasted longer on TV than in real life. Again, before the birth of TV bloggers and the worldwide web, a finale reaction review is not available. But here is one of the show’s writers look back on the 30th anniversary of the episode.

“If I’m being honest, I didn’t love the finale. I thought it was too long (although I could see why the network wanted it long – ka-ching!) and I did not like some of the storylines.” Read the full analysis

Friday Round-Up: The Mouse Meets Its Maker?

Disney_Maker_03282014Another deal, another day! Recently there has been no news shortage of deal or development announcements, whether it was Facebook’s plans to purchase Oculus or Amazon’s hints that a new video streaming service may be on its way. One of the biggest stories of the week focused on the biggest media conglomerate of them all: Disney. It seems that the leader in entertainment is ready to go to tomorrowland by purchasing Maker Studios, one of YouTube’s largest networks and a major base for the millennial audience.  But this is not Disney’s first foray into interactive or social media platforms, and its track record in that area has not exactly paid off.  Tremendous  opportunity is mixed with plenty of uncertainty: is Disney ‘making’ the right move for long-term growth, or has it met its ‘maker’ in another failed interactive approach?

Read this week’s Disney-Maker deal news round-up below for a variety of analyses, and then weigh in on this week’s quick poll! 

5 Reasons Disney Will Pay Up to $950 Million to Be on YouTube
Disney will have direct access to Maker’s viral stars and its 380 million YouTube subscribers. Here are five ways Disney may use Maker to boost its overall business…

Analysis: Managing Maker without Altering the Formula
Success on YouTube is tied to being authentic, in getting to know the audience and interacting with them, says Will Richmond, a leading online video analyst and founder of Any buyer that swallows up a smaller company and tinkers too much with that formula will see that audience — which is already very fickle — turn away quickly, he tells realscreen sister publication StreamDaily. 

Disney’s Doing Great, So Why Buy a Bunch of YouTube Channels?
“Maker is a crystal ball that Disney is buying,” said James McQuivey, a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research. “Getting into Maker gives them years of data that they can look back at and say ‘What does this mean for the future of video consumption, and what does this mean for the future of video production?’”

What Happens After Disney Buys Maker Studios?
The big picture is easy. Disney = kids and teens. And YouTube = kids and teens, and Maker says it generates 5.5 billion views a month, almost all of them on YouTube. So there’s some very obvious alignment there. Beyond that, here are a couple different options for Disney, which aren’t mutually exclusive…

Anne Sweeney – The Big News, The Bold Move

What’s YOUR TAKE on…
Anne Sweeney – The Big News, The Bold Move

It was the job news heard ‘round the Hollywood world last week: Anne Sweeney announcing that she will step down as co-chair of Disney Media Networks and president of Disney/ABC Television Group to pursue a passion for TV directing—something she has never tried. It’s always big news when word of a top exec shake-up goes public, but this decision in particular really sent media pundits into a frenzy. Whether it is the fact that she is one of the most powerful women in the business, or that she wants to try something seemingly out of her wheelhouse, almost everyone in the industry has an opinion. Did she “lean in” or “lean out”? Is it fair to judge her career choices simply because she is a woman, or do women in high positions have a greater obligation?

Below, we have collected a brief snapshot of top articles representing a range of perspectives as a round-up to help you digest the headlines. Take a look and then weigh in with your take in our quick poll.

Disney Shocker: Top Exec Anne Sweeney to Exit to Become TV Director (Exclusive)

In-depth interviews with both Anne Sweeney and Bob Iger are inter-spliced, detailing how Sweeney came to the decision and her future goals, along with Iger’s reaction and next steps. Sweeney explains, “‘Do the things that scare you the most.’ I’ve always believed that you learn your entire life and you should never pigeonhole yourself. You should also be open to your passion and mine is the creative process and to be a learner again.”

Is Anne Sweeney Leaning Out By Leaving Disney?

“The best way to have more women telling stories about and for women is to have more women at the top controlling the purse strings. The central point of Sheryl Sandberg’s best-selling book Lean In is that the only way to get more women to the top is to have more women at the top. It’s a chicken and egg problem that isn’t made better by top women leaving their positions. It’s one less woman for young up-and-coming female executives to look up to. Did Sweeney have an obligation to stay? Of course not. One of Sandberg’s favorite mantras is ‘What would you do if you weren’t afraid?’ For Sweeney, that answer is clearly be a TV director. But Iger also doesn’t have an obligation to replace her with another female executive.”

Why Won’t Disney’s Anne Sweeney Lean In? Women and Leadership Dilemmas

This decision, personal as it is, is a blow to larger hopes for women’s leadership. And it comes in the very week that we learn yet again that women characters remain persistently sparse in the movies, and a day after Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg launched a #banbossy campaign to encourage girls to shake off naysayers, step up and lead.

Anne Sweeney Quits Powerhouse Job to Do What? Nah!
Huffington Post

Moving on to CEO would indeed be prestigious — bigger office, more money, but also more of the same. Same field, same people, same challenges, same bitter pills, soaring heights and deadly battles. But where in our present societal structure do we make room for folks to think “Is that all there is?” To legitimately check out their life choices, to stop and consider trying something else? Something to discover, for sheer pleasure, for adventure or for another kind of fulfillment?

Anne Sweeney’s Move to Directing: A Top TV Director on Her Odds of Success

Greg Yaitanes, the BANSHEE executive producer and Emmy winner for his direction on HOUSE: “I’d love to see more directors and more producers learn more about management. Because as much as you’re driving the creative process, you’re also running a company with 200 people with the crew of any TV show. Understanding getting the best out of people, understanding what management actually is, is a phenomenal asset. If [Sweeney] can match that with the creativity that she has as an [executive], she’ll be a pretty powerful force in TV directing.”