The Fast Five: Experimental Storytelling, Bringing 'Friends' Back and 'Hunters' Brings 1970's NYC to LA
February 18, 2020
I hope everybody enjoyed their Presidents Day long weekend and is ready to get back to work. Let’s start with catching up on five stories that may have slipped under the radar while you were wearing your Abraham Lincoln hat and chopping down cherry trees. I assume—I’m Canadian, so I have to guess what your holiday traditions are.
THE 2020 WRITEHER LIST PUTS THE SPOTLIGHT ON FEMALE STORYTELLERS
As the industry continues to strive for inclusion, various groups have taken to releasing lists to help shine a light on underrepresented writers. WeForShe, an advocacy group that wants to help the television industry hit gender parity, has just announced its annual WriteHer list that profiles available TV pilots based on nominations from industry executives and managers trying to help their clients. I know some people roll their eyes at the abundance of lists that seem to be coming out, but it can be career-changing for the writers featured. The WriteHer list has led to writers finding representation and was the boost some needed to finally get staffed.
WHAT’S IN A NAME? BIRDS OF PREY HOPES THE ANSWER IS “MORE MONEY”
After the R-rated Suicide Squad spin-off opened to an underwhelming $33 million, Warner Bros. was quick to find an excuse. Was the R-rating a barrier for a film with an aesthetic that appeals to girls under 17? Did the poor critical reception of Suicide Squad keep fans away from the semi-sequel? Or would the rose that is Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn by any other name smell sweeter? That’s the one Warner Bros. is going with. The studio believes the title kept fans in the dark that this was a Harley Quinn movie, even though Margot Robbie’s character is front and center on every poster, trailer and TV spot. But then again, do young audiences actually watch anything with advertisements anymore? And if they’re too young to see the TV spots because they don’t watch TV, then wouldn’t that R-rating be a problem anyway? We’ll see, because Warner Bros. has changed the movie’s title to Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey. Right now, the change seems to only be for online ticket sales so that people will see the name “Harley Quinn” instead of “Birds of Prey (and the Fant…” before the title gets cut off. Expect to also see the new title once the film is released digitally. This isn’t the first time a title change has been tested for home video. Dark Phoenix became X-Men: Dark Phoenix, Ghostbusters became Ghostbusters: Answer the Call and Edge of Tomorrow became Live. Die. Repeat. after those movies’ poor box office performances.
NETFLIX TRIES ITS HAND AT EXPERIMENTAL STORYTELLING
Actors Ben Schwartz and Thomas Middleditch (known for Parks and Recreation and Silicon Valley respectively) have a popular long-form improv company called Middleditch And Schwartz, and they’re bringing their experimental live show to Netflix with three different specials. Long-form improv has been traditionally hard to film, which is why short-form shows like Whose Line Is It Anyway? are so popular. It’s easier to cut together a show when you have dozens of three-to-four minute sketches to choose from, rather than one or two 20-to-30 minute sketches. Also, if you have a disastrous sketch that’s three minutes you can just axe it. If you have a disastrous sketch that’s almost a half-hour, that’s most of your show. Middleditch and Schwartz filmed multiple performances and will release three different shows all at once, so audiences can experience just how different long-form improv performances can be.
AT&T is only months away from launching its new streaming mega service HBO Max, and it’s going to need a big piece of event programming to lure eyeballs. The service has ordered dozens of new shows from talented creators, taken rights to South Park away from Hulu, and will become the home to almost all shows under the WarnerMedia umbrella. But is that big enough? Apparently not, because the service will reportedly pay the cast of Friends between $3-4 million each to participate in an hour-long reunion special. Friends’ recent success on Netflix with new viewers is proof that relatable characters can appeal to any generation. Even though much of the show screams “90s,” Gen Z audiences are discovering it in droves and reacting the exact same way millennials did when they first watched it. The show found its humor through situations and relationships that fans have found themselves in, instead of relying on current pop-culture references to get a laugh. Some shows that are very referential don’t age well and it’s a good lesson for writers. How many of your jokes are referencing a current event or require the audience to have knowledge of a specific celebrity? Those jokes may be easier to write, but they may age incredibly fast.
AMAZON ALWAYS FINDS EXCITING WAYS TO PROMOTE ITS SHOWS
Interested in experiencing 1970s New York City? If you’re in Los Angeles, you can head down to Highland Park this weekend for a free screening of Amazon’s upcoming show Hunters at Highland Theaters that’s being completely redesigned as 70s era cinema, The Empire. Then, to keep the immersion going, you can head across the street to Hunters Alley where you have the opportunity to live the show without having to hunt Nazis with Al Pacino. Want to play a game of three-card monte with a hustler or buy a knock-off watch from a street vendor? Well now’s your chance. In a competitive streaming world, it’s easy to have your show lost in the shuffle. Especially if all episodes drop at once. Shows tend to live in the zeitgeist for about three days before something new takes over. That’s why HBO will never move to a binge model. It gets that three days of discussion for a hit show every time it drops one episode, whereas high profile streaming shows seem to disappear from public consciousness faster and faster. Which is also why Netflix is experimenting with a release schedule for Love Is Blind that has multiple episodes drop once a week for three weeks. This keeps the binge culture Netflix created, but also allows the show to be relevant for a longer period of time. Amazon has hosted a similar event for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and that show has been a huge success for the streamer. Can it get the same success with Hunters? The show launches February 21st, and if people are still talking about it on February 28th, we’ll have our answer.
Written by: Conrad SylviaConrad Sylvia is the creator of the The Week in Television, a private industry newsletter that recaps the week's television news in a humorous and unique manner. Throughout the years he has developed projects for studios and production companies and continues to provide freelance research on the current television landscape and international marketplace. He is also a fan of drinking in the bathtub. A full tub if he's happy, an empty tub if he's sad.