If you missed LAST WEEK TONIGHT with John Oliver on Sunday, the Main Story was about live entertainment, focusing on Ticketmaster, though not limited to them. It was a pleasure to get a bit of a breather with a topic that, while important and gallingly out of control -- the phenomenally high and rising cost of buying tickets to live concerts -- was also a story where your stomach wasn't in total knots, lives weren't at stake, and the humor (of which there was plenty) fit in.
Yesterday, Sen. Angus King (an Independent from Maine, though he caucuses with Democrats) made a suggestion to executives at Netflix, Amazon Prime, Disney Plus, HBO Max and Hulu, asking them to consider making their streaming services free during the holidays. The intention is that with so much free movies and entertainment, it would convince people not to go out and ultimately help lower the risk of spreading COVID-19 and keep infections down.
As you might imagine, the public reaction to this was very positive. And I think it's a very nice idea. In fact, on the surface it's a wonderful idea. I also think that once you get past the razor thin surface it is pretty meaningless.
For starters, I sense that most people who are traveling for the holidays or going out to holiday parties are not doing so because there's nothing to watch on TV.
I also sense, too, that not only do most households already likely subscribe to at least one of those services (Disney Plus alone has 86 million subscribers, which I assume are largely households), but the number of homes that don't subscribe to just one service AND would stay in if they got a temporary free subscription is small enough to not make a dent in health conditions.
Further, consider --
Can you imagine someone calling the parents and saying, "Mom, I won't be coming home for Christmas like we discussed because I got a free subscription to Hulu." Even more to the point -- and this is the Big Logic Problem in this -- if everyone in the country was to get free holiday subscriptions to these services...then you wouldn't have to stay home to use them, but you could keep your travel plans, fly home to your family, and know that you could watch your free streaming movies from there!
(Besides, if a person is so irresponsible to travel during a raging pandemic in the first place, staying inside for any reason, let alone because you could watch movies, is not likely a high priority.)
As for people who weren't planning to travel, but did expect to go to parties or socialize with friends, this streaming service offer has almost no impact on that either.
After all, it presupposes that people will stay at home inside to watch movies 16 hours a day. Every day. For at least a week. You have to assume (have to) that after a while, anyone -- but especially people who were irresponsible enough to plan to go to parties and socialize -- wouldn't, at some point, get tired of watching TV all the time and want to get out, and go do what they were planning to before. Go to holiday parties. Or socialize. And even if they stay inside, watching movies for 16 hours a day, all the time, but just decide they need to get out once -- go to one holiday party, not half a dozen, just one, or get together with friends for one night -- That is All It Takes to Get Infected. Once.
Further, people who were planning to get together with friends for the holidays but now have streaming movies to watch will be under absolutely no obligation to watch them alone. It is not unreasonable to think that people who wanted to socialize with their friends might now say, "Hey, we were planning on watching Hamilton. Want to come over and watch together? We can make a potluck party of it!"
Would there be some people who won't travel and stay at home watching their holiday streaming offer? Or not go to Christmas parties or socialize with friends, and just watch their free streaming services? Absolutely. But those are the people who most probably weren't planning to travel, go to parties or socialize...anyway!
So, all that this would conceivably impact are the few households who don't already subscribe to a streaming service AND would cancel their irresponsible travel plans and irresponsible party plans and irresponsible social plans -- which they know at this point are irresponsible and don't care -- AND stay at home to watch streaming movies alone AND watch them for 16 hours a day, every day, for a week...because without having these streaming services they feel there is nothing else to watch on TV.
The idea that Sen. King suggested is an extremely nice one. It is a nice one as a "thank you" gift to a nation that has been through a hellish year. Businesses are under no obligation to thank the public, of course -- Senate Republicans finally agreeing to pass the $3.4 trillion relief and stimulus package that House Democrats passed back in May would be a really cool and much better "thank you" -- but yes, it would be nice.
But it would have pretty much next to zero impact on the pandemic.
If people do want to help out and have an impact on not spreading the coronavirus, my own suggestion is to wear a face mask for a few weeks. And if you really want to do your civic good, don't go to parties. And if you do go, stay six feet apart. And wear a face mask.
That, or watch Hamilton alone with your family 56 times.
And yes, I know that there are some people who will do that...
A couple months back, I wrote here about the f/X mini-series, Fosse/Verdon about the marriage between Broadway star Gwen Verdon and director Bob Fosse. The series ended a week or so ago, but something has continued to nag me about the ending -- actually, even more than the ending, really the final crawl, most of all, where text rolled up the screen to wrap up the story -- so I thought I'm jump in and address it. For those who saw the series, it might be of interest. For those who didn't...well, at least jump to the video at the end.
Overall, I liked the series quite a lot. It was don't thoughtfully, intelligently and with understated craft, and often even artistry. I also enjoyed the final episode, and a few things very well done in it,.
But (here is the long rant)…FOR THE LIFE OF ME, I can’t understand why – in the final crawl, with the text explaining Gwen Verson's final years after Fosse had died – they left it like the legendary Verdon's life was empty, an older actress out-of-work, and basically just an adjunct to Fosse’s career, mentioning only a single credit after he died -- and that as “artistic director” on a musical that was a tribute to his work, and then she moved in with her daughter and died -- when in reality she went to Hollywood, after fighting it for years, co-starred in two big hit Cocoon movies directed by Ron Howard, had a recurring guest-star role on a big hit TV series Magnum P.I. playing Tom Selleck’s mother and had about two dozen movie and TV credits. ALL of which they left out. (In fact, that sense of "emptiness" in the final crawl was even compounded by her last scene which was meeting with her agent where she's told she didn’t get a job, and then about how the struggling actor she’d been living with and left her a couple years earlier -- because of her emotional ties to Fosse -- had himself gotten work, gotten married, and even now has two kids, emphasizing what a full life he went on to, while she’s out of work and alone. And then that empty final crawl that left out the reality,)
It’s not just that it would have been the simplest thing to add one line to the final crawl – “Gwen did go to Hollywood, and starred in…” (which would have helped remind people that they did know her work and even saw her) – but I can’t understand WHY they didn’t but instead made the artistic choice to leave it like her last 15 years were empty and alone.
It was such a good production that I liked a great deal but left me with a profoundly bad taste by omitting just one sentence of text.
The only even remotely possible thing I can think of is that they had a “theme” they didn’t want to waver from, that Fosse and Verdon were so co-dependent on one another, most-specially her. Yet even that doesn’t really make sense in the end because (as valid as some of that is) too much earlier in the show contradicts that. And it’s just a guess that that’s the reason. Perhaps it was the reason, because nothing else really can explain it.
But if so, how deeply irresponsible because the series was done so thoughtfully. And Fosse and Verdon's daughter was an executive producer. As was Lin-Manuel Miranda. Either of them (especially Miranda) could have said, “Hold on there! If you want my valuable name on the credits, you must add one sentence to the crawl.” (If the daughter had that monumental an ax to grind – which I seriously doubt, since Verdon moved in with her and they lived together at the end – Miranda certainly didn’t in the slightest, and is a student of Broadway history and I'm certain knows Gwen Verdon's career well.)
But clearly, that was a theme they were going for. Because not only did they leave all her later work out of the crawl...and not only was her last scene being told she didn’t get a job, while her lover has gotten married and had kids -- but the whole final sequence right before that (her having to call Fosse to help her because the revival of Sweet Charity wasn’t working, and she didn’t know what to do, and he had to save it). And also, during those revival rehearsals, a sad dance scene he forces her to do against her good nature in front of the show's star, knowing it will embarrass the younger woman, that stops when she can't continue on the telling line, “If My Friends Could See Me Now.” And the scene right before that, when her lover says pointedly that everything you do is for Bob, "You can’t ever say No to Bob," and if you take the job for him, I’m leaving. All of it developing a false there that she was empty at the end and so dependent on Fosse.
And the thing is, it’s one thing to say that they each were do-dependent on one another and she couldn’t say no to him. Which, from what I knew beforehand, had truth to it -- though it was co-dependent. But it’s another to say (in the last 30 minutes of an eight-part series) that she was nothing without him. Because the early episodes completely contradict that. Which is why the series was so good. “She’s nothing without Bob” wasn’t the theme of the show, just the last 30 minutes. She was a major Broadway star before meeting him. And she is the person who approved him for his first choreography job – and for his first directing job. And the series regularly showed how much he depended on her, always calling her in to help him out. In fact, they even gave her a tremendous speech in the second-to-last episode where she finally has had enough and tells him off that “you owe everything to ME.” And then the filmmakers throw all that out the window the last half-hour!!
And the thing is, IF they wanted that to be the theme, however irresponsible, that she was supposedly "nothing" without him, totally dependent on him, you can still add something to the final crawl that gives that sense but is at least honest. Saying that she had some later credits doesn’t diminish that theme. It’s just a post-script. Any halfway decent writer could figure out something, even if they wanted to keep that theme, yet still honor the person they thought was important enough to make the series about!! “After Bob died, Gwen never acted on Broadway again. She had roles in some TV shows and movies, and eventually moved back to live with her daughter. She died two months later.” That keeps the false theme, but is still honest.
But we know what they should have written in the crawl. Not something that disingenuous. And not something dishonest. Rather, that she had a renaissance and had some truly wonderful credits that brought her fame with a new audience.
It was a very good series, with a totally inexplicable, irresponsible ending.
And speaking of ending's...
If you think Gwen Verdon was forgotten and without work, here is a surprise appearance by her in her last stage appearance in 1998. She did still some film and TV work after, but this is the last time she appeared on stage. It was a one-night only benefit for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City. They did a special production of Sweet Charity -- which Verdon had originally starred in 32 years earlier, in 1966 -- with about four or five different, famous actresses who'd played the role previously (like Chita Rivera, Debbie Allen and Bebe Neuwirth), each taking the part and switching throughout the night. Verdon wasn't scheduled to be in it, but staged the musical numbers. But for one scene, she surprised the audience and made an appearance -- and the ovation explodes. It's so strong, going on for 45 seconds, that one of the actors on stage, Charles Nelson Reilly, finally shouts an ad-lib over the roars to get the show moving again. So, no, as you'll see, she was most-definitely not forgotten.
Other than a four-bar reprise, she doesn't sing in the scene -- Robert Goulet as a famous movie star has the song here -- but she's wonderfully funny, hiding in a closet so that the actor's girlfriend doesn't know she's there. It's the scene that immediately follows her famous number, as noted above, "If They Could See Me Now," which she very briefly reprises.
Fun side note: the actress playing the girlfriend is...Marla Maples. Yes, that Marla Maples, at the time married to Trump.
Anyway, here is reality: Gwen Verdon in her final stage appearance (yet with even more work still ahead on film) -- working, vibrant, and overwhelmingly remembered with wild cheers.
That's an ending.
A common sight in Los Angeles during "Awards Season" (basically for the Oscars or Emmys) are billboards all over town for movies or shows -- or sometimes actors -- that say "For Your Consideration," directed at voters from the organization in question Or to be more subtle, some just say FYC, since at this point everyone in town knows what it means. And the trade papers of Daily Variety and the Hollywood Reporter tend to be filled with full-page ads for this, as well, and are more often where you'll see "For Your Consideration" ads for individual achievements, including the technical crafts. (Less so in this days of online content, but it's still prevalent.)
A couple days ago, I saw a rare and absolutely refreshing twist on this, killing two birds with one amusing but also admirable stone. It was a billboard promoting the TBS show, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.
The other day, Disney announced its news streaming service Disney Plus which will launch November 12. Pricing will be $7 a month or $70 for an annual subscription, which most news reports commented how it compares favorably to $13 a month for Netflix's most popular tier. The company said that they may eventually bundle Disney Plus with other of their services like Hulu and ESPN Plus. During the first year, they expect to release 25 new series and 10 movies, documentaries and specials. Overall, the Disney Plus library will have over 7,500 TV episodes and 500 movies.
It seems like a fascinating venture, with some plus and minuses. On the plus side, Disney has a huge vault they can draw from, and recently bought the film division of 20th Century Fox, and now have that library, too -- which include the Star Wars franchise, the Avenger franchise and all 30 years of The Simpsons. And among the new productions for the service are a Star Wars spinoff series, The Mandalorian and prequel to Rogue One (for which Diego Luna will reprise his role of Cassian Andor). There will be a series Marvel Studios series Loki, that stars Tom Hiddleston reprising his role,; and a Pixar series Monsters at Work, that takes off after the events of the original Monsters Inc. movie.
On the negative side -- or at least left out of most news stories is that the $7 a month is an "initial" price, most likely to get interest and subscriptions, and it seems probably that that will rise, and the cost-difference with Netflix will narrow. In addition, Netflix has $9 stream plan, as well, which is much closer to Disney's "initial" offering. And a significantly larger catalog -- 1,569 TV shows and 4,010 movies. (Keep in mind that the "7,500" figure for Disney is episodes, not shows. If each Netflix TV series only has two years of 22 episodes each -- and keep in mind that old shows often had around 35 episodes a years and most not only ran for more than just two years, with some like Gunsmoke and Bonanza running for decades -- that works out to 70,000 episodes.
But further, it only compares with Netflix and leaves out Amazon. An Amazon Prime subscription averages out to $10 a month. And that not only includes a very large catalog, including international TV shows -- but most importantly includes free 2-day shipping on Amazon (and free next-day delivery on orders over $35), along with music streaming, cloud photo storage, Prime Now with free grocery and restaurant delivery within range, and more.
And no one should expect immediately competition with Netflix. Disney predicts between 60-90 million subscribers in five years -- while Netflix currently has 140 million subscribers. Disney also says it expect so spend $2 billion a year over most of the next five years, while Netflix spends around $12 billion on content a year.
This is not to say that the Disney Plus service isn't intriguing and won't be a success. In fact, it's very fascinating and seems poised to do well. But as a complimentary service to Netflix and Amazon Prime, rather than one that can knock them out of the box. Mainly, it's to say that most coverage of Disney Plus was pretty sketchy in its description of the landscape.
Besides which, who know how that landscape may be drastically changed in five years.
A couple days ago, my pal Mark Evanier posted the video of a magician on his wonderful site. Now, Mark posted a magic video is nothing special -- he posts a lot of them, and they're all terrific. But this one leaps out.
As Mark explains, it comes from the Fédération Internationale des Sociétés Magiques, which he says is sort of the international Olympics for magicians. The Grand Prix was most recently won by Eric Chien, which is the performance Mark posted on his site.
It's remarkable. And I want to reiterate what Mark makes clear. There is no trick photography -- which knowing that makes it even more stunning. But it's not just me who's stunned. The audience is full of top professional magicians from around the world, and you can hear how enthralled they are throughout the performance.
Check it out. No, really. Just watch and be amazed. Click here -- and...poof!
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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