Videos from The Women Who Create Television Conference

Last week, I shared the videos from our Transforming Hollywood: The Future of Television conference. This year, we had a pre-conference event hosted at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and sponsored by the Annenberg Innovation Lab as part of its Geek Speaks series. We brought together a diverse set of women who have been showrunners, creators, head writers, and/or executive producers on television series, examining both the challenges that still confront these women working in what remains a male-dominated space and their creative contributions to the current state and future direction of this medium. The conversations which emerged were lively, provocative, and substantive: they gave us lots to think about. Thanks to all of the participants, but especially to Sophie Madej from the Annenberg Innovation Lab staff for all of her work in making the conference possible, and to Erin Reilly and Francesca Marie Smith for serving as moderators.

Geek Speaks: The Women Who Make Television (Part 1) from USC Annenberg Innovation Lab on Vimeo.

Panel 1 Creative Process (Moderator: Erin Reilly, Annenberg Innovation Lab) Melanie Chilek, The Ricki Lake Show, The Dating Game, Judge Hatchet Felicia Henderson, Moesha, Gossip Girl, Fringe Alexa Junge, Friends, United States of Tara, Best Friends Forever Julie Plec, KyleXY, The Vampire Diaries, The Originals Stacy L. Smith, Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism

Geek Speaks: The Women Who Make Television (Part 2) from USC Annenberg Innovation Lab on Vimeo.

Panel 2 Creative Products (Moderator: Francesca Smith) Jenny Bicks, Sex and the City, Men in Trees, The Big C Meg DeLoatch, Family Matters, Brothers, EVE, Single Ladies Winnie Holzman, My So-Called Life, Wicked, Huge Robin Schiff, Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, Down Dog

Transforming Hollywood: The Future of Television Conference Videos (Part Two)

Last time, I shared videos of the opening sessions of the Transforming Hollywood: The Future of Television conference, recently hosted at UCLA, and organized by myself and Denise Mann (UCLA). I am grateful to David McKenna for his epic work in editing, mixing, and uploading these videos so quickly. Today, I am sharing the video from the final two sessions of the conference -- including my one-on-one exchange with Sleepy Hollow's Orlando Jones around the ways he has been using social media to interface with his fans and the politics of diversity and creativity in the contemporary television industry.

TMH5, Panel Four: Indie TV - Where Creators & Fans Pilot New Shows from UCLA Film & TV on Vimeo.

Indie TV: Where Creators and Fans Pilot New Shows

The Internet broke the network bottleneck. Through platforms such as YouTube and Vimeo, creators release series directly to fans who follow shows and share them with friends. Web-content creators can write stories in whatever length, style and genre they choose, on their own schedule, and with actors of their choosing. The result is a truly open television ecosystem, where creators, talent and fans work together to realize stories they want to see. Each of the producers on this panel contributes to this new vision of television by producing series for the Internet that are being shaped for traditional TV as well; (several of these web series are being developed for HBO). Issa Rae created The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl with a small team and expanded the show using a successful crowdfunding campaign. Rae went on to produce additional series, including Amy Rubin’s Little Horribles, which Rubin released via her own Barnacle Studios. In the process, Little Horribles has become a hit with fans and with critics at Variety, LA Weekly and Splitsider, among others. Dennis Dortch and Numa Perrier launched the Black & Sexy TV network to showcase indie comedy, releasing their own hit series The Couple, and releasing additional series created by other emerging Hollywood talent. Jay Bushman helped The Lizzie Bennet Diaries grow into a deeply engaging transmedia phenomenon, which prompted viewers of the Jane Austen-inspired series to follow characters from YouTube to Twitter and Pinterest. Raising tens of thousands of dollars from fans, Adam Goldman created and wrote two critically-acclaimed dramas, The Outs and Whatever this is, exploring the realities of being insecure in New York City. After showrunner Brad Bell co-created Husbands with Jane Espenson, the indie hit caught the eye of CW executives, who used the series to launch their new online network. As these examples convey, the Internet has become an incubator for talented, next-generation web creators and web celebs, who, in combination with fan followers, are reinventing television for the digital age.

Moderator: Aymar Jean Christian, assistant professor, Northwestern University

Panelists: Brad Bell, co-creator and star, Husbands Jay Bushman, producer and writer, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries Adam Goldman, writer and director, Whatever this is Numa Perrier, co-founder, Black & Sexy Issa Rae, creator and star, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl Amy Rubin, creator and star, Little Horribles

TMH5, Panel Five: Discussion on fandom and the future with Orlando Jones, the star of Fox’s “Sleepy Hollow” from UCLA Film & TV on Vimeo.

Fandom and the Future of Television Orlando Jones, Star, Writer, Producer, Sleepy Hollow with Henry Jenkins

At the opening of the panel, I share the story of how I first connected with Orlando Jones. Orlando, who is ever-present on Twitter, had referenced my book, Textual Poachers, which seemed to be a ready invitation to engage. I wrote back to say that I was following his new series, Sleepy Hollow, closely and enthusiastically. A few minutes later, I wrote back to see if he might be willing to visit my PhD seminar on fandom, participatory culture, and Web 2.0 the next time he was in Los Angeles, and within the course of 30 minutes, we had met, shared our mutual admiration, and he had agreed to do a guest lecture (already had his people working with me to pull this off). And of course, fans online were already speculating about whether there might be a Henry/Orlando ship forming (Horlando, perhaps?) and the answer is wouldn't you like to know. His visit with my USC students was captured on video and today, I am finally able to share it with you also, so for my fellow Sleepy Hollow fans out there, this is a double dose of Orlando's magic. And for everyone else, I hope you will agree with me that he is an extraordinary individual -- deeply respectful of his fans, outrageously funny at the drop of a hat, and deeply thoughtful about his craft and about the changing media environment a second later. I've learned so much from my two conversations with him so far and am very happy to be sharing these exchanges with a broader public via this blog. Enjoy!

Orlando Jones from USC Annenberg Innovation Lab on Vimeo.

Transforming Hollywood: The Future of Television Conference Videos (Part One)

Today, we are releasing the first batch of videos from our April 4 conference, Transforming Hollywood: The Future of Television, jointly hosted by Denise Mann (UCLA) and myself (USC) and held in UCLA's James Bridges Theater. Special thanks to David McKenna for his epic work in editing, mixing, and uploading these videos so quickly. PANEL 1 Virtual Entrepreneurs: Creators Who are Reinventing TV for the Digital Future

In Fall 2011, Google announced plans to invest $100 million dollars to forge original content partnerships with a number of talented YouTube creators in order to enhance the production value of their work and their value to brands. This panel gives voice to two new types of virtual entrepreneur: Individual web creators who are reinventing entertainment for the digital age, and the CEO of a new type of web-based multi-channel network (MCN), which is forging deals with individual web-creators in exchange for providing them with infrastructural support in the form of sound stages, green screens, higher quality cameras and editing equipment, enhanced social media marketing tools and brand alliances. Early entrepreneurs in this newly commercial, digital economy include Felicia Day and Sheri Bryant (Geek & Sundry), Freddie Wong (“Video Game High School”) and Dane Boetlinger (“Annoying Orange”), each of whom has catapulted themselves into the top tier of web celebs with huge fan followings. Many of these entrepreneurial web creators have sought out deals with MCNs such as Fullscreen, Maker Studios and Machinima in order to expand their budding entertainment enterprises. However, other creators are chafing inside long-term contracts with MCNs, frustrated by what they see as onerous terms — the split of advertising revenues and intellectual property rights. Today’s panel debates the viability of these new creative and business models, asking whether they represent a radical rethinking of entertainment that puts power back into the hands of creators or if they are transitional systems that will eventually be absorbed by Hollywood’s big media groups.

Moderator: Denise Mann, co-director, Transforming Hollywood / associate professor, head of Producers Program, UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television

Panelists: Sheri Bryant, partner/co-founder, Geek & Sundry Allen DeBevoise, chairman and CEO, Machinima, Inc. Amanda Lotz, associate professor, University of Michigan George Strompolos, founder and CEO, Fullscreen, Inc.

TMH5, Introduction & Panel One: Creators Who Are Reinventing TV for the Digital Future from UCLA Film & TV on Vimeo.

PANEL 2 The Programmers of the Future in an Era of Cord-Cutters and Cord-Nevers As consumers spend more of their free time online, viewing and sharing content on social networks such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Vimeo, Tumblr and Vine, what does this mean for the future of television? Cord-cutters and cord-nevers represent a very real threat to the current big dogs of digital distribution — the multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs), also known as subscription cable systems (Comcast, Time-Warner), satellite carriers (DirecTV, Dish) and telcos (AT&T U-verse, Verizon FiOS). At the same time, the MVPDs have been waging too many public battles with Hollywood broadcasters over their high re-transmission fees, resorting to theatrics by pulling favorite sporting events and sitcoms — behavior that alienates consumers and tests the patience of government policy-makers. These policy-makers are making little effort to curb the reckless deal-making taking place at over-the-top (OTT) premium video services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus and YouTube (as well as among other players such as Microsoft Xbox), as each makes moves to expand globally while freeing themselves from their dependency on Hollywood licensing deals. By creating their own libraries of critically-acclaimed original programming (Netflix’s House of Cards and Orange is the New Black; Amazon’s Alpha House and Betas) — the OTT services are creating legions of new, loyal consumers, paving the way for a future that may or may not include Hollywood’s premium content licensing deals going forward. Furthermore, the OTT services are attracting A-level talent by offering greater creative autonomy than their micro-managing counterparts at the studios and networks. Do these new programming and streaming options foretell the end of an era in Hollywood or the beginning of a revised set of practices for creators and additional viewing options for binging viewers? Only time will tell. Moderator: Andrew Wallenstein, editor-in-chief, digital, Variety

Panelists: Belisa Balaban, senior vice president, alternative and live programming, Pivot/Participant Media Jamie Byrne, director, content strategy, YouTube David Craig, clinical assistant Professor, USC, and producer, Media Nation Joe Lewis, head of original programming, Amazon Studios

TMH5, Panel Two: The Programmers of the Future in an Era of Cord-Cutters and Cord-Nevers from UCLA Film & TV on Vimeo.

PANEL 3 Second Screens, Connected Viewing, Crowd-funding and Social Media: Re-imagining Television Consumption As the television industry has been remapping the flow of media content, as new forms of producers and distributors enter the marketplace, there has also been an accompanying effort to rethink their interface with media audiences. Over the past decade, we’ve seen a renewed emphasis on audience engagement strategies which seek to ensure consumer loyalty and social buzz as a way for individual programs or networks to “break through the clutter” of the multiplying array of media options. New metrics are emerging for measuring the value of engaged viewers and the kinds of social and cultural capital they bring with them when they embrace a program. So, for example, the rise of Black Twitter has been credited with helping to rally support behind new programs with strong black protagonists, such as ABC’s Scandal, Fox’s Sleepy Hollow and BET’s Being Mary Jane. Second-screen apps are becoming ubiquitous as television producers seek to hold onto the attention of a generation of viewers who are prone to multitasking impulses. The successful Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign opens up the prospect of fans helping to provide funding in support of their favorite stars, creators or series. Yet, for all this focus on engaged audiences, does the industry value some form of viewers and viewership more than others? Which groups are being underrepresented here and why? Are the new economic arrangements between fans and producers fair to all involved? Moderator: Henry Jenkins, co-director, Transforming Hollywood / provost professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Arts and Education, USC

Panelists: Ivan Askwith, lead strategist, “Veronica Mars” Kickstarter Campaign Vicky L Free, chief marketing officer, BET Networks Stacey Lynn Schulman, senior vice president, chief research officer, TVB Sharon L. Strover, professor, College of Communication, University of Texas at Austin

TMH5, Panel Three: Second Screens, Connected Viewing, Crowd-funding and Social Media: Re-imagining Television Consumption from UCLA Film & TV on Vimeo.

Further Information About Transforming Hollywood: The Future of Television

UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television and

USC School of Cinematic Arts

Announce

Transforming Hollywood: The Futures of Television, April 4, 2014, UCLA 

Co-directors:

Denise Mann, UCLA

Henry Jenkins, USC

Presented by the  Andrew J. Kuehn  Jr. Foundation

Media Sponsor: Variety

Friday April 4   2014

James Bridges Theater, UCLA

TRANSFORMING HOLLYWOOD: THE FUTURE OF TELEVISION

Conference Description

This year, the fifth installment of Transmedia, Hollywood has been given a new name—Transforming Hollywood: The Future of Television—to reflect our desire to engage more fully with the radical changes taking place in the American television industry for creators, distributors and audiences. When future generations of historians write their accounts of the evolution of the American television industry, they will almost certainly point to the 2010s as a moment of dramatic change: We’ve seen the entry of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and YouTube as major players shaping the production of original programming, gaining critical praise, courting industry awards, and perhaps, most dramatically, starting to compete, in terms of number of subscriptions, with the top cable networks. We’ve seen Kickstarter emerge as an alternative means for “crowdfunding” television content, allowing fans to exert a greater role in shaping the future of their favorite series. We’ve seen a continued growth in the number of independent producers creating and distributing their content through the web. With these other changes, we are seeing the industry and academia struggle to develop new insights into what it means to consume television content in this connected and yet dispersed marketplace. This conference will bring together key creative and corporate decision-makers who are shaping these changes and academics who are placing these shifts in their larger historical and cultural contexts. What does all of this mean for those of us who are making or watching television? 

 

Schedule

9:00-9:10 a.m.: Welcome and Opening Remarks – Denise Mann and Henry Jenkins

 

9:10-11:00 a.m.: PANEL 1
Virtual Entrepreneurs: Creators Who are Reinventing TV for the Digital Future
In Fall 2011, Google announced plans to invest $100 million dollars to forge original content partnerships with a number of talented YouTube creators in order to enhance the production value of their work and their value to brands. This panel gives voice to two new types of virtual entrepreneur: Individual web creators who are reinventing entertainment for the digital age, and the CEO of a new type of web-based multi-channel network (MCN), which is forging deals with individual web-creators in exchange for providing them with infrastructural support in the form of sound stages, green screens, higher quality cameras and editing equipment, enhanced social media marketing tools and brand alliances. Early entrepreneurs in this newly commercial, digital economy include Felicia Day and Sheri Bryant (Geek & Sundry), Freddie Wong (“Video Game High School) and Dane Boetlinger (“Annoying Orange), each of whom has catapulted themselves into the top tier of web celebs with huge fan followings. Many of these entrepreneurial web creators have sought out deals with MCNs such as Fullscreen, Maker Studios and Machinima in order to expand their budding entertainment enterprises. However, other creators are chafing inside long-term contracts with MCNs, frustrated by what they see as onerous terms — the split of advertising revenues and intellectual property rights. Today’s panel debates the viability of these new creative and business models, asking whether they represent a radical rethinking of entertainment that puts power back into the hands of creators or if they are transitional systems that will eventually be absorbed by Hollywood’s big media groups.
Moderator: Denise Mann, co-director, Transforming Hollywood / associate professor, head of Producers Program, UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television
Panelists:
Sheri Bryant, partner/co-founder, Geek & Sundry
Allen DeBevoise, chairman and CEO, Machinima, Inc.
Amanda Lotz, associate professor, University of Michigan
George Strompolos, founder and CEO, Fullscreen, Inc.

 

11:10 a.m.-1:00 p.m.: PANEL 2
The Programmers of the Future in an Era of Cord-Cutters and Cord-Nevers
As consumers spend more of their free time online, viewing and sharing content on social networks such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Vimeo, Tumblr and Vine, what does this mean for the future of television? Cord-cutters and cord-nevers represent a very real threat to the current big dogs of digital distribution — the multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs), also known as subscription cable systems (Comcast, Time-Warner), satellite carriers (DirecTV, Dish) and telcos (AT&T U-verse, Verizon FiOS). At the same time, the MVPDs have been waging too many public battles with Hollywood broadcasters over their high re-transmission fees, resorting to theatrics by pulling favorite sporting events and sitcoms — behavior that alienates consumers and tests the patience of government policy-makers. These policy-makers are making little effort to curb the reckless deal-making taking place at over-the-top (OTT) premium video services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus and YouTube (as well as among other players such as Microsoft Xbox), as each makes moves to expand globally while freeing themselves from their dependency on Hollywood licensing deals. By creating their own libraries of critically-acclaimed original programming (Netflix’s “House of Cards” and “Orange is the New Black”; Amazon’s “Betas”) — the OTT services are creating legions of new, loyal consumers, paving the way for a future that may or may not include Hollywood’s premium content licensing deals going forward. Furthermore, the OTT services are attracting A-level talent by offering greater creative autonomy than their micro-managing counterparts at the studios and networks. Do these new programming and streaming options foretell the end of an era in Hollywood or the beginning of a revised set of practices for creators and additional viewing options for binging viewers? Only time will tell. 
Moderator: Andrew Wallenstein, editor-in-chief, digital, Variety
Panelists:
Belisa Balaban, senior vice president, alternative and live programming, Pivot/Participant Media
Jamie Byrne, director, content strategy, YouTube
David Craig, clinical assistant Professor, USC, and producer, Media Nation
Joe Lewis, head of original programming, Amazon Studios

 

1:00-2:00 p.m.: LUNCH BREAK – LUNCH OPTIONS AVAILABLE ON CAMPUS

 

2:00-3:50 p.m.: PANEL 3
Second Screens, Connected Viewing, Crowd-funding and Social Media: Re-imagining Television Consumption
As the television industry has been remapping the flow of media content, as new forms of producers and distributors enter the marketplace, there has also been an accompanying effort to rethink their interface with media audiences. Over the past decade, we’ve seen a renewed emphasis on audience engagement strategies which seek to ensure consumer loyalty and social buzz as a way for individual programs or networks to “break through the clutter” of the multiplying array of media options. New metrics are emerging for measuring the value of engaged viewers and the kinds of social and cultural capital they bring with them when they embrace a program. So, for example, the rise of Black Twitter has been credited with helping to rally support behind new programs with strong black protagonists, such as ABC’s “Scandal,” Fox’s “Sleepy Hollow” and BET’s “Being Mary Jane.”  Second-screen apps are becoming ubiquitous as television producers seek to hold onto the attention of a generation of viewers who are prone to multitasking impulses. The successful “Veronica Mars” Kickstarter campaign opens up the prospect of fans helping to provide funding in support of their favorite stars, creators or series. And the commercial success of “50 Shades of Gray,” which was adapted from a piece of “Twilight” fan fiction, has alerted the publishing world to the previously underappreciated value of women’s fan fiction writing as a recruiting ground for new talent and as a source for new creative material. Yet, for all this focus on engaged audiences, does the industry value some form of viewers and viewership more than others? Which groups are being underrepresented here and why? Are the new economic arrangements between fans and producers fair to all involved?
Moderator: Henry Jenkins, co-director, Transforming Hollywood / provost professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Arts and Education, USC 
Panelists:
Ivan Askwith, lead strategist,Veronica Mars” Kickstarter CampaignVicky L Free, chief marketing officer, BET Networks
Stacey Lynn Schulman, senior vice president, chief research officer, TVB
Nick Loeffler, director of business development, Kindle Worlds
Sharon L. Strover, professor, College of Communication, University of Texas at Austin

 

 

4:00-6:15 p.m.: PANEL 4
Indie TV: Where Creators and Fans Pilot New Shows
The Internet broke the network bottleneck. Through platforms such as YouTube and Vimeo, creators release series directly to fans who follow shows and share them with friends. Web-content creators can write stories in whatever length, style and genre they choose, on their own schedule, and with actors of their choosing. The result is a truly open television ecosystem, where creators, talent and fans work together to realize stories they want to see. Each of the producers on this panel contributes to this new vision of television by producing series for the Internet that are being shaped for traditional TV as well; (several of these web series are being developed for HBO). Issa Rae created “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl” with a small team and expanded the show using a successful crowdfunding campaign. Rae went on to produce additional series, including Amy Rubin’s “Little Horribles,” which Rubin released via her own Barnacle Studios. In the process, “Little Horribles” has become a hit with fans and with critics at Variety, LA Weekly and Splitsider, among others. Dennis Dortch and Numa Perrier launched the Black & Sexy TV network to showcase indie comedy, releasing their own hit series “The Couple,” and releasing additional series created by other emerging Hollywood talent. Jay Bushman helped “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” grow into a deeply engaging transmedia phenomenon, which prompted viewers of the Jane Austen-inspired series to follow characters from YouTube to Twitter and Pinterest. Raising tens of thousands of dollars from fans, Adam Goldman created and wrote two critically-acclaimed dramas, “The Outs” and “Whatever this is,” exploring the realities of being insecure in New York City. After showrunner Brad Bell co-created “Husbands” with Jane Espenson, the indie hit caught the eye of CW executives, who used the series to launch their new online network. As these examples convey, the Internet has become an incubator for talented, next-generation web creators and web celebs, who, in combination with fan followers, are reinventing television for the digital age.
Moderator: Aymar Jean Christian, assistant professor, Northwestern University
Panelists:
Brad Bell, co-creator and star, “Husbands”
Jay Bushman, producer and writer, “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries”
Adam Goldman, writer and director, “Whatever this is”
Numa Perrier, co-founder, Black & Sexy
Issa Rae, creator and star, “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl”
Amy Rubin, creator and star, “Little Horribles”

 

6:30-7:15 p.m. Fandom and the Future of Television

Orlando Jones, Star, Writer, Producer, Sleepy Hollow

with Henry Jenkins

Followed by:

RECEPTION – Lobby of the James Bridges Theater

 

For more information, see:  http://www.liquid-bass.com/conference/

For conference Registration, see : https://transforminghollywood5.eventbrite.com

Announcing The Women Who Create Television Event

A few weeks back, I announced the upcoming Transforming Hollywood 5: The Futures of Television conference to be held at UCLA on April 4.  Today I want to announce a pre-conference event, "Geek Speaks: The Women Who Create Television," which will be held at USC, SCI 106, on April 3, 4-7:30 p.m. You can register for this conference here. This event is being hosted as part of the ongoing "Geek Speaks" series, which I help to organize in my role as the Chief Advisor to the Annenberg Innovation Lab, and in this case, the event is being co-sponsored by the USC School ofCinematic Arts, which is graciously allowing us to use their facilities.

In 1973, American Public Television aired The Men Who Make the Movies, which showcased authorship in the Hollywood studio era through indepth interviews between Richard Schickel and such directors as Howard Hawks, Frank Capra, John Ford, and Alfred Hitchcock. The event's title pays tribute to this transformative series, but also stresses the needs to push beyond its focus on masculine creativity.  As we look back on a year plus of developments which have transformed television as a medium,  This conference seeks to showcase a range of highly creative women who are now working the American television industry as creators, executive producers, head writers, and showrunners, women who now exert some degree of creative control over what we watch on television. These women represent a broad range of different forms of television programing, including sitcoms, dramas, and fantasy/science fiction programs, and have worked for both Broadcast and cable networks. Women still face an uphill struggle to gain entry into the television industry, yet these women have shattered through the glass ceiling and can now stand as role-models for the next generation of women and men who want to change what kinds of stories television tells and what kinds of audiences it addresses.

Across these two sessions, we will be talking with these women about their careers, their creative visions, and the medium through which they work, along the way seeking to provide insights into the current state and future potentials of American television.

The first session, Creative Process, (4-5:30 p.m.) explores their paths into the industry, their relationships to their mentors and creative partners, and the changing contexts in which television is produced, distributed, and viewed.

The second session, Creative Products, (6-7:30 p.m.), deals with the content of their programs, their relationship to their genres, issues of representation, and their perceptions of the audiences for their work.

We are still announcing participants and will provide a fuller schedule here closer to the event, but below you can find bios for the speakers who have already agreed to participate. Participation is always tentative pending always  unpredictable production schedules. Likewise, some speakers may be added as we get closer to the event.

Schedule

4:00 Welcome -- Henry Jenkins

4:15  Panel 1  Creative Process (Moderator: Erin Reilly)

Felicia Henderson

Alexa Junge

Kim Moses

Julie Plec

Stacy L. Smith

5:45-6 p.m. Break

6-7:30 p.m.

Panel 2: Creative Products (Moderator: Francesca Smith)

Jenny Bicks

Meg DeLoatch

Winnie Holzman

Robin Schiff

Jenny Bicks started her career in advertising in New York City and went on to write radio comedy before she began writing for film and television.  Her television series credits include Seinfeld, Dawson’s Creek and HBO's Sex and The City. She wrote on Sex and The City for all six seasons, rising to the rank of executive producer. Her work on the series earned her many awards, including an Emmy® Award, multiple Golden Globes and Producers Guild Awards and three WGA nominations.  After Sex and The City, Bicks created and executive produced Men In Trees, starring Anne Heche, which ran for two seasons on ABC.  She recently wrapped Executive Producing and Showrunning Showtime’s critically acclaimed The Big C, starring Laura Linney.  The show, which ran for four seasons, earned her a Golden Globe and humanitas nomination and a Golden Globe and Emmy win for Linney.   She is currently developing television with 20th Century Fox and recently sold Hard, a dark comedy about the porn industry, to HBO.  In the feature world, her body of credits include What a Girl Wants, and many uncredited rewrites.  Her short film, Gnome, which she wrote and directed, had its premiere at the Berlin Film Festival and went on to win awards at multiple festivals.  She recently completed writing a feature film musical for Fox based on the life of PT Barnum, with Hugh Jackman set to star.   A born and bred New Yorker, Bicks divides her time between New York, Maine and Los Angeles.

Meg DeLoatch has written and produced a variety of hit shows during her career.  Highlights include working with Bette Midler, Jennie Garth and Ice Cube.  Her credits range from family friendly shows like Family Matters and One on One to adult comedies Bette and Brothers.  She also created and executive produced UPN's romantic comedy, EVE, starring Grammy Award-winning Hip Hop artist Eve.  Refusing to be boxed into just the comedic arena, Meg recently wrote and produced on VH-1’s hit drama, Single Ladies, and is completing a middle grade fantasy novel about a boy who fights demons.  Currently a Co-Executive Producer on Disney Channel’s Austin & Ally, Meg has just created her most personal project to date – her three month old son, Maxx.

Felicia Henderson graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles with a BA in Psycho-Biology. Henderson spent five years in business, and later attended the University of Georgia for an MBA in corporate finance. U After working as a creative associate at  NBC, Henderson realized she wanted to become a writer, and soon became an apprentice on the sitcom Family Matters and on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air two years later. She co-produced  Moesha and Sister, Sister, and developed Soul Food for television, which became the longest running drama in television history to star a black cast, and earned several NAACP Image awards. She and three other black women in the entertainment industry created the Four Sisters Scholarship in Screenwriting, Henderson worked as a co-executive producer for the teen drama series Gossip Girl and a co-executive producer on the first season of the  science fiction television series Fringe,   before leaving to begin as a writer on the DC television series Teen Titans and  Static Shock.

Winnie Holzman is the writer (with acclaimed songwriter Stephen Schwartz) of the hit musical Wicked. For television she created My So-Called Life which starred Claire Danes. Winnie got her start performing and writing in a comedy group, and writing syndicated comedy sketches for Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara. Her big break came when she was invited by Marshall Herskovitz and Ed Zwick to join the writing staff of their groundbreaking TV series thirtysomething. Her work on that show earned her a WGA nomination and a Humanitas award. She went on to collaborate with Herskovitz and Zwick again, first on My So-Called Life, and later on Once and Again. More recently she created the short lived but much loved ABC Family series Huge with her daughter, Savannah Dooley. Her less well known musicals (with composer David Evans) include Birds of Paradise, Back to Back, and Maggie and The Pirate. She has written one unproduced feature film and one produced one: ‘Til There Was You. Also an actress, she played Larry’s wife’s therapist on Curb Your Enthusiasm and the chocolate-obsessed divorced woman in Jerry Maguire. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, actor Paul Dooley.  Their ten minute play Post-its: Notes on a Marriage is performed frequently across the country. They recently wrote and starred in their first full length play, Assisted Living. She is currently working on a new play. Winnie is a graduate of Princeton University, the Circle in the Square acting school, the NYU Musical Theatre program, and is a member of the Dramatists Guild.

Alexa Junge is a television writer, producer and screenwriter. She is best known for her work on the series Friends. Four-time Emmy and WGA Award nominee, Junge grew up in Los Angeles, attended Barnard College and continued her education at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.  Junge wrote for Friends from 1994-1999. Nominated for two Emmy Awards and two Writers Guild of America Awards,  Junge also won the National AOL Poll for writing the "All Time Favorite Friends Episode" for  "The One Where Everybody Finds Out." Junge went on to write for Once and Again, Sex and the City, West Wing  (where she was nominated for two Emmys and two WGA Awards) as well as Big Love  and the BBC comedy Clone. Junge also wrote lyrics for Disney's Mulan 2, screenplay and lyrics for Disney’s Lilo and Stitch 2.  A frequent contributor to National Public Radio's  This American Life,  Junge performed live for their 2008 "What I Learned From Television" tour. She served as Executive Producer and Showrunner for the first season of Showtime's series The United States of Tara  and worked on Tilda for HBO. Junge is currently the Executive Producer and Showrunner for NBC's  Best Friends Forever.   

Kim Moses has developed and served as an executive producer on over 600 hours of primetime television programming.  She is currently serving as executive producer of two upcoming series, Reckless, a new CBS Network drama developed and produced by Sander/Moses Productions in association with CBS Studios; and Runner a FOX Network drama developed and produced by Sander/Moses Productions in association with FOX Studios.  Recently, she served as the executive producer and occasional director of Ghost Whisperer, which ran for five years on CBS. She also co-authored the book Ghost Whisperer: Spirit Guide and created and wrote the award-winning Ghost Whisperer: The Other Side web series.  As founder of SLAM Digital Media, Moses pioneered the Total Engagement Experience (TEE), which is a business and creative model for television that uses each show as a component of a broader multi- platform entertainment experience. Using Internet, mobile, publishing, music, DVDs, video games, AOP (Audience Outreach Program) and more, TEE establishes an infinity loop that helps to drive ratings, increase revenue streams, and create viewer loyalty.  Moses has been named to the Newsweek’s Women and Leadership Advisory Committee and was honored with the WOMEN IN FILM’s Woman of The Year Award in 2011.

Julie Plec skillfully juggles work in film and television as both a producer and a writer.  She is the co-creator and executive producer of The Vampire Diaries and is currently the Executive Producer of two new series for the CW: she created The Vampire Diaries spin-off, The Originals, which tells the story of history’s first vampire family, and she collaborated with Greg Berlanti and Phil Klemmer on The Tomorrow People, which is the story of a small group of people gifted with extraordinary paranormal abilities, making them the next evolutionary leap of mankind.Plec got her start as a television writer on the ABC Family series Kyle XY, which she also produced for its three-year run. She will produce the feature @emma with Darko Entertainment.  Past feature production credits include Scream 2 and 3 Greg Berlanti’s Broken Hearts Club, Wes Craven’s Cursed and The Breed.

Robin Schiff has been working as a Hollywood writer-producer for more than twenty years.  She has numerous credits (feel free to imdb her), but is best known for the cult classic Romy And Michele's High School Reunion starring Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino.  She is currently writing a pilot for Amazon called Down Dog, which she will produce.  Robin was a member of famed The Groundlings comedy troupe.  She has served two terms on the Board Of Directors for the Writers Guild Of America west.  She also does an interview series once a year for the Writers Guild Foundation called Anatomy Of A Script where she and Winnie Holzman (writer of the musical Wicked)  discuss the craft with other well-known writers.  Robin also teaches a writing class with Wendy Goldman (who she met at The Groundlings) called Improv For Writing.  In her free time, Robin likes to watch TV and nap.

Stacy L. Smith (Ph.D., University of California, Santa Barbara, 1999) joined the USC Annenberg faculty in the fall of 2003.  Her research focuses on 1) content patterns pertaining to gender and race on screen in film and TV; 2) employment patterns behind-the-camera in entertainment; 3) barriers and opportunities facing women on screen and behind-the-camera in studio and independent films; and 4) children’s responses to mass media portrayals (television, film, video games) of violence, gender and hypersexuality.  Smith has written more than 75 journal articles, book chapters, and reports on content patterns and effects of the media.  Smith’s research has been written about in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post, Newsweek, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, Slate.com, Salon.com, The Boston Globe, and USA Today to name a few.  She also has a co-edited essay in Maria Shriver’s book, A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything (2009). Since 2005, Dr. Smith has been working with a team of undergraduate and graduate students to assess portrayals of males and females in popular media.  Over two-dozen projects have been completed, assessing gender in films (e.g., 500+ top-grossing movies from 1990 to 2009, 180 Academy Award® Best Picture nominations from 1977 to 2010), TV shows (e.g., 1,034 children’s programs, two weeks of prime time shows), video games (e.g., 60 best selling), and point-of-purchase advertising (e.g., jacket covers of DVDs, video games). Currently, Smith is the director of a research-driven initiative at USC Annenberg on Media, Diversity, and Social Change.  The initiative produces cutting-edge, timely, and theory-driven empirical research on different entertainment-based minority groups.  Roughly 20-30 undergraduate and graduate students are conducting research on gender and race in her lab each year.  Educators, advocates, and activists can access and use the research to create sustainable industry change on screen and behind-the-camera.

 

Moderators:

Erin Reilly is Creative Director for Annenberg Innovation Lab and Research Director for Project New Media Literacies at USC's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism.  Her research focus is children, youth and media and the interdisciplinary, creative learning experiences that occur through social and cultural participation with emergent technologies.Having received multiple awards, such as Cable in a Classroom’s Leaders in Learning, Erin is a recognized expert in the development of resources for educators and students and conducts field research to collect data and help shape the field of digital media and learning.  She is most notably known for co-creating one of the first social media citizen science programs, Zoey's Room.  Her current projects include PLAY!, a  new approach to professional development that refers to the value of play as a guiding principle in the educational process to foster participatory learning and The Mother Road, a chance to explore collective storytelling through the development of the Evocative Places eBook series.

Francesca Marie Smith has been a part of the Hollywood entertainment industry for nearly 25 years, beginning her career as a young actor involved with film and television projects for Nickelodeon, Disney, DreamWorks Animation, Pixar, and a variety of other studios and networks. Currently, she is a Provost's Fellow pursuing her PhD at the University of Southern California, where she is also a research associate with the Annenberg Innovation Lab, situating her work at the intersection of academia, technology, and media industries. Her research (as well as her teaching and public speaking) has spanned a range of topics--from argumentation, ethics, mental health, and public shootings to 1980s computer advertisements, Sherlock Holmes, and Batman's Joker. Currently, however, she focuses primarily on issues of transmedia storytelling, rhetoric, and (dis)ability. As one of the early Google Glass Explorers, she is avidly interested in the role of second- and multi-screen technologies, especially as they might be used in entertainment contexts. More broadly, she is working to trace the contours of the oft-ambiguous concept of "engagement" and how it might be facilitated and/or measured across a spectrum of audiences, narratives, and technologies.

Deciphering Black Masculinities: An Interview with Mark Anthony Neal (Part Two)

You argue that Avery Brooks, as a performer, was, despite often being cast in stereotypical roles, able to “draw on the full range of black expressive culture, often in opposition to the intent of the show’s writers and producers.” This claim has strong implications at a time when black men exert much greater influence on our culture as performers than they do as “writers and producers.” Can you say more about the forms of agency that surface in this analysis?

 As I mention in the book, Brooks was granted agency around the character, because the writers and producers really didn’t have a sense of who and what the character (created by the late Robert Parker) was.  I think what Brooks’ did with the character spoke a great deal about both his classical training and his investment in Black arts—he was of a generation that was a direct product of the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s, he was deeply involved in the National Black Theater Festival, for example.  I think that in the last generation, Black performers have had more access to mainstream success and thus have had less need for the kinds of Black organizations that Brooks’ generation cultivated.  Whereas Brooks may have always been clear that his work was in conversation with a Robeson, Belafonte, or a Diana Sands and Rosalind Cash—to name just a few—contemporary artists don’t have the same relationship with previous generations of Black performers—and thus I think it limits their ability to really drawn fully and freely from “the culture” (whatever that means).  The irony is that in the era of Youtube, they actually have much more access to those earlier performers, than any other generation.  One of the things I appreciate about Beyonce’s art is that she has spent serious time in the “archive,” if you will, though she’s often criticized for not being original.  I see it as a real tribute to those folk, some of them obscure,  that come before her.

You express throughout the book some deep ambivalence towards hip hop culture which you describe in your introduction as “a cottage industry of problematic images of black masculinity” but refuse to dismiss altogether as a vehicle for exploring alternative forms of black masculinity. When and how have performers or audiences been able to escape or at least challenge the more problematic aspects of hip hop culture? What contemporary performers do you think offer the best source for alternative articulations of black masculinity?

There’s an “inside baseball” aspect to this re: “corporate sponsored” entertainment geared to American youth, and what some would deem more “authentic” (however problematic that term is) rap music and Hip-Hop culture. I will only say that the latter is far less accessible to young people and the former is far more visible. From a pedagogical standpoint, I find all of it of value, provided we can equip audiences—young folk in particular—with a critical framing that allows them to contextualize what they are consuming.  Looking for Leroy is largely about providing some of that framing and hopefully encouraging even more framing from others.  Of contemporary artists, I find the work of a Jasiri X compelling, because of his ability to humanize some of the political realities of Black life globally, but even he is challenged to not simply be seen as the “protest” rapper.  I think in a purely artistic sense, beyond his place in celebrity culture, Kanye West is pushing past some boundaries particularly in indexing trauma, mental health struggles, vulnerability and loss within Black male life.  Indeed, his willingness to find raw sonic material from beyond the typical pop music archive, speaks to his searching to find sonic examples that best represents his emotions.

You draw in the book on Manthia Diawara’s notion of “homeboy cosmopolitanism”, a phrase which seems intentionally oxymoronic, given the rootedness in a particular location or community implied by “homeboy” and what you describe as the “desires for physical, social, and economic mobility” implied by the concept of cosmopolitanism. How can we resolve these contradictions? What forms of culture best express this concept?

 Part of the genius of Hip-Hop culture is that when many of these artists began to travel globally, they brought the ‘hoods they grew up in and the “hood” that they are all perceived to be from, with them.  I don’t think any of them saw this as a contradiction, in part because many of their ‘hoods, were always/already cosmopolitan, if we consider immigration patterns from the Caribbean, West Africa and migration from the American south as challenging the concept of a monolithic “blackness” or Hip-hop, for that matter.

Mark Anthony Neal is Professor of African and African American Studies at Duke University. He is the author of several books, including New Black Man and Looking for Leroy.  He is the host of the weekly webcast Left of Black. 

Deciphering Black Masculinities: An Interview with Mark Anthony Neal (Part One)

This is another in a series of interviews with the authors of books published as part of the Post-Millenial Pop book series which I edit with Karen Tongson for New York University Press. Mark Anthony Neal's weekly webcast, Left of Black, produced by Duke University's John Hope Franklin Center of International and Interdisciplinary Studies,  is a powerful example of the roles academics can play as public intellectuals, brokering important conversations  the culture needs to be having, highlighting key scholarly and cultural works that deserve greater attention than they are apt to receive from mainstream media, and asking the most urgent questions his regular fans want answered about race as embodied by both lived experience and contemporary popular culture. Among topics recently addressed on the series include the thirty year history of the Urban Bush Women dance troupe, the story behind "We Shall Overcome" and other anthems of the civil rights era, the role of black barbers and barbershops in constructing the black public sphere, and parenting in a "post-racial" America.

Neal brings his diverse knowledge and interests to bear on various performances of black masculinity in his newest book, Looking for Leroy. Here, he argues that many constructions of black male identity in American culture are far too "legible", reproducing the same lethal stereotypes where black male bodies are rendered as criminal, needing to be subjected to police authority and containment. Yet, he's interested in the ways that some performers construct personas which are less legible, which challenge our expectations and force us to think differently about identity politics. The book ranges from Jay-Z and R. Kelly to Barack Obama, with stops along the way to talk about The Wire, Star Trek, Fame, and the Oscars. The writing throughout is direct, engaging, witty, and broadly accessible, which helps to explain why his work is attracting readers and listeners far beyond the university book store circuit. At the same time, he is the master of close reading, offering interpretations that are nuanced in their attention to detail and yet encompassing in their ability to link the specifics of individual performances into larger career trajectories and into their political contexts.

Neal is one of the busiest people in the field of cultural studies today, so I am grateful that he could spare some time to address my questions.

Let’s talk about your title, “Looking for Leroy.” Can you share with us what it was about the figure of Leroy in Fame which inspired this particular path through black masculinities? In what sense are characters like Leroy “illegible” figures  when compared to more stereotypical representations of black masculinity?

 

My connection to Gene Anthony Ray’s character “Leroy” from the movie and series Fame was personal.  The series debuted just as I was developing a sense of who I was as a young man (I had just turned 16 at the time) and as the primary Black male character on the show I had a natural affinity for him.  Yet it was clear, at least to me, that the character or perhaps Ray were gay—this in an era when there were only a handful of gay characters on network television.  As a 16-Black kid from the Bronx, who was regularly “queered” because of my choice of clothing and the way I spoke—which was read amongst some of my Black male peers as both too soft and also too White (this was the era of the Preppie)—something about Leroy always resonated to me.  It was fitting that he would be one of the primary inspirations for the book and my own grappling with illegibility.

 

Given the harsh realities confronting many black men in this country, why should we be concerned with popular representations of black masculinities? In other words, what relationship are you positing between the constraints experienced by black men and the cultural construction of black masculinity?

As someone whose academic training is in Cultural Studies, I’m always concerned about whether my work addresses (in any way) the real crises being faced by young Black men in particularly.  Whether we’re looking at sports, the criminal justice system or even national politics, it’s clear that so many perceptions of Black masculinity are framed by media depictions of Black men and boys.  Hoping my work is but one intervention, poised to acknowledge the range of Black masculinities and also deconstructing (on some level) the most visible images of Black masculinity.  I think there is real connection between the limited view of Black masculinity available in US media and the limitations placed on Black men and boys in their everyday lives.

 

What motivated the choice of these particular case studies? What do these performers and characters, individually and collectively, help us to see about popular representations of black masculinity?

Virtually all the choices I make in the book with regard to case studies, represent figures that I had some personal affinity to. In the case of “Leroy” or Avery Brooks, they really were figures that impacted how I viewed Black masculinity as a younger man.  It was that affinity to Brooks’ “Hawk” that made Idris Elba’s “Stringer Bell” legible to me.  In the case of Luther Vandross and Jay Z, as a fan who had consumed so much of their art, they allowed the opportunity to do the kind of close readings that I wanted to do.  And admittedly, there are any number of other figures I wanted to bring into the mix—Kanye West, Erik LaSalle’s character on ER (though that will show up in a later project), Rob Brown 16-year-old character in Finding Forrester, and a whole host of “Queer” Soul and Gospel (which will also show up in another project)—but I’d still be working on the book, LOL.  What I hope I have presented is just an opening, for more work to be done, in terms of thinking about the publicness of Black masculinity.  In that regard looking forward to new books from Jeffrey McCune and C. Riley Snorton.

 

 Mark Anthony Neal is Professor of African and African American Studies at Duke University. He is the author of five books, What the Music Said: Black Popular Music and Black Public Culture (1998), Soul Babies: Black Popular Culture and the Post-Soul Aesthetic (2002), Songs in the Keys of Black Life: A Rhythm and Blues Nation (2003), New Black Man: Rethinking Black Masculinity (2005) and most recently, Looking for Leroy: Illegible Black Masculinities (2013).  He is the host of the weekly webcast Left of Black.

Announcing Transforming Hollywood: The Futures Of Television

UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television

and

USC School of Cinematic Arts

Announce

Transforming Hollywood: The Futures of Television, April 4, 2014, UCLA 

Co-directors:

Denise Mann, UCLA

Henry Jenkins, USC

Presented by the  Andrew J. Kuehn  Jr. Foundation

Media Sponsor: Variety

Friday April 4   2014

James Bridges Theater, UCLA

Conference overview:  This year, the fifth installment of Transmedia, Hollywood has been given a new name—Transforming Hollywood: The Future of Television—to reflect our desire to engage more fully with the radical changes taking place in the American television industry for creators, distributors, and audiences. When future generations of historians write their accounts of the evolution of the American television industry, they will almost certainly point to the 2010s as a moment of dramatic change: we've seen the entry of Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and YouTube as major players shaping the production of original programming, gaining critical praise, courting industry awards, and perhaps, most dramatically, starting to compete in terms of number of subscriptions to the top cable networks. We've seen Kickstarter emerge as an alternative means for "crowdfunding" television content, allowing fans to exert a greater role in shaping the future of their favorite series. We've seen a continued growth in the number of independent producers creating and distributing their content through the web. And with these other changes, we are seeing the industry and academia struggle to develop new insights into what it means to consume television content in this connected and yet dispersed marketplace. This conference will bring together key creative and corporate decision-makers who are shaping these changes and academics who have been trying to place these shifts in their larger historical and cultural contexts. What does all of this mean for those of us who are making or watching television?

For more information, see:  http://www.liquid-bass.com/conference/

For conference Registration, see : https://transforminghollywood5.eventbrite.com

 

Panel one: “Virtual Entrepreneurs—Creators Who are Reinventing TV for the Digital Future." 

9-9:10 Opening Remarks

Henry Jenkins, USC and Denise Mann, UCLA

9:10-11:00AM

Moderator: Denise Mann, UCLA

 

In the fall of 2011, Google announced plans to invest a hundred million dollars to forge talent partnerships with a number of talented YouTube creator in order to enhance the production value of their work and their value to brands. This panel gives voice to two new types of virtual entrepreneur: individual web-creators who are reinventing entertainment for the digital age, and the CEO of a new type of web-based multi-channel network (MCNs), which is forging deals with individual web-creators in exchange for providing them with infrastructural support in the form of sound stages, green screens, higher quality cameras and editing equipment, enhanced social media marketing tools, and brand alliances. Early entrepreneurs in this newly commercial, digital economy include Felicia Day and Sheri Bryant (Geek and Sundry), Freddie Wong (Video High School), and Dane Boetlinger (Annoying Orange), each of whom has catapulted his or herself into the top tier of web-celebs based on huge fan followings.  Many of these entrepreneurial web-creators have sought out deals with MCNS, such as Maker, Fullscreen, Maker, Machinima, and The Collective, in order to expand their budding entertainment enterprises. However, other creators are chafing inside these long-term contracts with the MCNs, frustrated by what they see as onerous terms—the split of advertising revenues and intellectual property rights. Today’s panel debates the viability of these new creative and business models, asking whether they represent a radical rethinking of entertainment that puts power back into the hands of creators or are they transitional systems that will eventually be absorbed by Hollywood’s big media groups.

 

2."The Programmers of the Future: Video Streaming on Demand." 

Moderator: Andrew Wallenstein, Editor-in-Chief, Digital, Variety

11:15AM-1PM

Overview: As consumers spend more of their free time online, viewing and sharing content on social networks such as YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Vimeo, Tumblir, and Vine, what does this mean for the future of television? Cord-cutters and cord-nevers represent a very real threat to the current big dogs of digital distribution—the multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs), also known as the subscription cable systems (Comcast, Time-Warner, Comcast), the satellite carriers (Direct TV), the telcos (AT&T U-verse), and the wireless companies (Verizon FiOS). At the same time, the MVPDs have been waging too many public battles with the Hollywood broadcasters over their high re-transmission fees, resorting to theatrics by pulling favorite sporting events and sit-coms--behavior that alienates consumers and tests the patience of government policy-makers.  At the same time, these policy-makers are making little effort to curb the reckless deal-making taking place in the video streaming on demand (VSOD) space as Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu Plus, and new players, such as Microsoft X-box, make aggressive moves to expand globally while freeing themselves from their dependency on Hollywood licensing deals. By creating their own libraries of critically-acclaimed original programming—House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, Betas—the VSOD services are creating legions of new, loyal consumers, paving the way for a future that may or may not include Hollywood's premium content licensing deals going forward. Furthermore, the VSOD services are attracting A-level talent by offering greater creative autonomy than their micro-managing counterparts at the studios and networks. Do these new programming and streaming options foretell the end of an era in Hollywood or the beginning of a revised set of practices for creators and additional viewing options for binging viewers? Only time will tell?

 

3. "Second Screens, Connected Viewing, Crowd-funding, and Social Media: Re-imagining Television Consumption."  

2-3:45PM

Moderator: Henry Jenkins, USC

 

Overview:  As the television industry has been remapping the flow of media content, as new forms of producers and distributors enter the marketplace, there has also been an accompanying effort to rethink their interface with media audiences.  Over the past decade, we’ve seen a renewed emphasis on audience engagement strategies which seek to insure consumer loyalty and social buzz as a way for individual programs or networks to “break through the clutter” of the multiplying array of media options. New metrics are emerging for measuring the value of engaged viewers and the kinds of social and cultural capital they bring with them when they embrace a program. So, for example, the rise of Black Twitter has been credited with helping to rally support behind new programs with strong black protagonists, such as Scandal, Sleepy Hollow, and Being Mary Jane.  Second screen apps are becoming ubiquitous as television producers seek to hold onto the attention of a generation of viewers who are prone to multitasking impulses. The successful Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign opens up the prospect of fans helping to provide funding in support of their favorite stars, creators, or series. And the commercial success of 50 Shades of Gray, which was adapted from a piece of Twilight fan fiction, has alerted the publishing world to a hitherfore underappreciated value of women’s fan fiction writing as a recruiting ground for new talent and as a source for new creative material. Yet, for all this focus on engaged audiences, does the industry value some form of viewers and viewership more than others? Which groups are being under-represented here and why? Are the new economic arrangements between fans and producers fair to all involved?

  

4. Indie TV: Where Creators and Fans Pilot New Shows

Moderator: Aymar Jean Christian, Northwestern University

4-5:45PM

 

Overview: The Internet broke the network bottleneck. Through platforms like YouTube and Vimeo, creators release series directly to fans, who follow shows and share them with friends. Web-content creators can write stories in whatever length, style, and genre they choose, on their own schedule, and with actors of their choosing. The result is a truly open television ecosystem, where creators, talent and fans work together to realize stories they want to see. Each of the producers who appear on this panel has contributed to this new vision of television, producing series that are developed for the Internet but are also being shaped for traditional TV as well (several of these series are being developed on HBO). Issa Rae developed The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl with a small team and expanded the show using a successful crowdfunding campaign; she went on to produce a number of series with other creators,including Amy Rubin’s Little Horribles. Released by her own Barnacle Studios, Rubins sitcom became a hit with fans and critics at Variety, LA Weekly and Splitsider, among many others. Dennis Dortch and Numa Perrier launched the Black & Sexy TV network to showcase indie comedy, releasing their own hit series, The Couple, and many others from emerging Hollywood talent. Jay Bushman helped The Lizzie Bennet Diaries grow into a deeply engaging transmedia phenomenon, where viewers of the Jane Austen-inspired series followed characters from YouTube to Twitter and Pinterest. As these examples convey, the internet has become an incubator for talented, next-generation web-creators and web-celebs, who, in combination with their fan followers, are reinventing television for the digital age.

 

Speakers to be announced.

SAVE THE DATE. WATCH THIS BLOG FOR FURTHER UPDATES

 

Situating Bollywood: An Interview with Aswin Punathabekar (Part Three)

Despite your description of the range of media industries and practices which construct Bollywood today, it is clear that cinema remains the center around which all of these other media systems operate, and you also argue that cinema remains core to understanding the connections between Indian diasporic identity and media. So, what accounts for the continued centrality of cinema to the narrative you are constructing, given the other pressures towards transmedia and transnational logics you describe?

There are several reasons for the privileged position cinema occupies. The first is simply the enduring popularity of films and film music (mainly Hindi language cinema from Bombay) among South Asian families who migrated to the U.S. following changes in immigration law in 1965. From the late 1960s, when enterprising families began screening films in university halls and other venues, to the recent forays into film exhibition by Bombay-based media companies like Reliance Entertainment, Hindi-language Bollywood films continue to dominate the Desi mediascape.

These film screenings were usually held in university halls rented for a few hours during the weekend, with films screened off 16mm, and later, 35mm reels. These weekend screenings, with an intermission that lasted 30-45 minutes, were an occasion, apart from religious festivals, for people to wear traditional clothes, speak in Hindi or other regional languages, and participate in a ritual that was reminiscent of “home.”

During a period in which there were no cultural institutions in place, and little on offer in mainstream media that resonated with their emotions, nostalgic longing, and cultural values, leave alone addressing the difficulties of life in a new cultural space, these screenings were marked as an exclusively Indian space, away from mainstream society, where families could meet and participate in a ritual of sharing personal and collective memories of life in India.

A second reason that films and film music figure prominently in discussions of Desi youth culture relates to Desi youth appropriating and re-mixing film songs and dance sequences in college events, dance clubs, and so on.

Third, it is in and through cinema that diasporic writers and directors like Hanif Kureishi, Mira Nair, and Gurinder Chadha began addressing the complexities of claiming and defining South Asian identities in countries such as the U.K. and the U.S.

But you’re right that we are beginning to see some major changes in the diasporic mediascape. One question to ask is: do we even have a space for diasporic south asian films?

Mira Nair’s The Namesake does deal with diasporic themes, but it is a Bombay-based company that produced and distributed the film. Further, we are not at a point in the cultural life of the South Asian diaspora where media from the Indian subcontinent is only one part of a very diverse mix. Finally, with a range of actors of Indian-origin making their way into American and British public culture, one might argue that the diasporic sensibility that marked the work of cultural producers during the late 1980s-mid-1990s has given way to engagement with mainstream media.

 You begin your discussion of Bollywood fans by setting up the contrast between grassroots forms of media circulation that get labeled “media piracy” and various forms of industry cooperation which get labeled “crowdsourcing.” Is there a meaningful “space in between” these two paradigms? If so, what does it look like?

Part of the difficulty involved in charting the terrain of participatory culture surrounding Bollywood, especially in an era of networked audiences and publics, stems from the sheer range of sites and modes of participation one encounters. And in the Indian context, our understanding of participatory culture remains tied to a very specific history of fan associations and their links to electoral politics in south India. This narrative of fan/cine-politics has been so dominant that other modes and sites of participatory culture have not been considered, leave alone studied in systematic fashion, for no apparent reason other than their seemingly “non-political” character.

In fact, the topic of fan activity has not even been raised in relation to Bollywood. So in the book, I drew on some research I’ve done on fans of A. R. Rahman to argue that we need to move beyond narratives of political mobilization. The major Rahman fan community online includes fans who are primarily interested in film music, fans based in Malaysia for whom participation in the Rahman fan community is part of a larger process of claiming a Tamil ethnic identity, fans in India who work with Rahman, some fans who are, yes, “pirates,” and some who go so far as to police music stores (makeshift stores set up on pavements in busy shopping areas, in shopping complexes, and so on), threatening to call the police if pirated CDs of Rahman’s music are not taken off the shelf.

This is, as you put, a very complex “space in between” piracy and crowdsourcing. And we simply do not have the critical vocabulary to describe and theorize what’s going on in this space.

While my own recent work has sought to map the emerging links between fandom and activism, you argue that these links have totally dominated discourse around Bollywood film fans to the extent that they crowd out understandings of film consumption in the context of everyday life practices. American fan studies has often been accused of not being sufficiently political, of being too interested in the personal, cultural, affective, and social dimensions of popular culture. What might these two groups of scholars learn from each other?

The crucial difference we need to first acknowledge is between film studies and TV/media and communication studies in the Indian context. Film studies is the disciplinary location within which there has been at least some discussion of fandom, even if it has been studied primarily in the south Indian political context.

TV/media studies in the Indian context is yet to take the question of participatory culture seriously. I do not know of a single book-length study of participatory culture surrounding television in India. This is beginning to change in part because the past decade in India has been marked by some very interesting instances of participation surrounding reality TV, for instance, that has intersected with larger political issues.

In my own work in this emerging area, I’ve tried to be very careful to not make easy ‘political’ readings simply because I know next to nothing about the sociable dimensions of participation. And this is what I admire so much about scholars’ work on pleasure and participation in the American context.

As I see it, what we have here in the US is a wealth of historically grounded material on audiences and fans that provides a necessary foundation for examining links between participation and politics. But despite this archive that we have to work with, I feel strongly that it is only when we fully comprehend how participation and everyday life – say, in relation to our current digital and mobile context - are braided together that we can meaningfully pose questions about political impact.

 Your final paragraph includes a very provocative statement, which I was hoping you might expand upon here: “to look broadly at fan participation is to imagine transnational media worlds that are intimately tied to, but not always constrained by, statist or industrial imperatives.” Do tell.

As I've already explained, fan activity surrounding cinema in India - south India, in particular - has always had very close connections to the realm of politics. This cine-politics take on fandom has tended to dominate our understanding of participatory culture in India.

However, this cine-politics frame has given way to an extent under the influence of the incredible expansion of the mediascape since the mid-1990s. One of the key changes that the proliferation of television channels engendered was a shift in how audiences were imagined. Television channels like MTV-India, Channel [V], Star Plus, ZEE, and others invited audience participation. Of course, audience participation was tightly controlled and managed expertly - from talent shows to programs like Lift Kara De that leveraged fan labor for ostensibly humanitarian ends.

These changes made it clear that fandom was now an integral part of the corporate media apparatus. What I tried to signal with that last statement is the need to look beyond these two dominant frameworks - politics/state and market - without ignoring their structuring effects. I wanted to make a case for approaching fandom in India from a position of trust rather than suspicion (as my friend and colleague Paddy Scannell argues, media studies tends to operate with a hermeneutics of suspicion). Or to draw on your work, I want us to hop on this realm of pop, not stomp all over it.

For e.g., there is a group of fans who have painstakingly collected and subtitled numerous videos - film clips, TV appearances, interviews, advertisements, etc. - of the Bollywood star Shahrukh Khan. For anyone who might not understand the Hindi language, this website - srkpagli.net - was a wonderful resource. To approach the work that these fans have done by - a) dismissing it as apolitical or b) as simply a part of the Shahrukh Khan/corporate Bollywood system - is too reductive. I simply wanted to clear the space so we can begin to acknowledge the astonishing range of practices that constitute 'fandom' in the Indian context, and in doing so, develop richer and more nuanced accounts of participatory culture.
Aswin Punathambekar is an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He is the author of From Bombay to Bollywood: The Making of a Global Media Industry (2013), and co-editor of Television at Large in South Asia (2013)and Global Bollywood (2008). He is now conducting research on the politics of mediated activism in India as part of a collaborative SSRC project on "Media, Activism, and the New Political."

Situating Bollywood: An Interview with Aswin Punathambekar (Part Two)

You spend a significant amount of time in the book exploring the role that MTV India has played in shifting how films are marketed and how Bollywood understands its audiences. What factors have allowed MTV India to become a core player in this space? What has been their impact on Bollywood's media strategies?

MTV did play a crucial role in shaping Bollywood’s industrial identity and marketing strategies, but it didn’t happen overnight. A range of new television channels that entered the Indian market during the mid-1990s attracted audiences with a range of film-based programs. ZEE, Star Plus, and other channels introduced a number of innovative film music-based shows like AntakshariSa Re Ga Ma, and Videocon Flashback, weekly countdown shows like BPL Oye and Philips Top Ten, and shows that reviewed popular films and evaluated their box office performance.

In fact, MTV-India went off the air for a period of two years and returned in 1996 with a redesigned brand identity and, most crucially, with the recognition of the importance of Hindi film music and “localized” programming to its fortunes in the Indian market.

Suggesting that the makeover was not exactly an easy process, one MTV-India executive explained to me that the decision to start with the “look” of the channel, especially the on-air promos, turned out to be the right one and crucial in terms of reaching out to directors and producers in the Bombay film industry who were skeptical, if not dismissive, of music television. As this executive put it, their goal was to “dovetail cool with Bollywood.”

Beginning in 1997-98, with a clear mandate to forge ties with the film industry, MTV-India executives began initiating conversations with a range of producers and directors in the Hindi film industry. And it took well over two years before the film industry began responding to television executives’ overtures. Once they had their foot in the door, however, MTV-India began making the case that their particular brand identity and programming sensibility would make the difference in what was a very cluttered television landscape. And by the early 2000s, Bollywood producers began setting aside a larger percentage of the budget for marketing and promoting films.

 

What roles did the internet play in shifting the relations between domestic and diasporic audiences for Bollywood films? To what degree is the contemporary media industry being shaped by a desire to court and capture “NRI Eyeballs”?

The trouble with saying anything about Bollywood-internet connections is the pace at which things change! My research does not take into account the impact that social media has had on marketing, stardom, participatory culture, and so on. But I can say that dot-com companies did play a central role in establishing the “overseas territory” as a key economic and cultural site for Bollywood. Simply put, television and marketing professionals working in Mumbai were not in a position to shape Bollywood’s relationship with overseas markets.

Speaking a language of web-metrics and capitalizing on the growing interest in marketing and promotions, dot-com companies began generating knowledge about overseas audiences’ engagement with Bollywood that was hitherto unavailable to filmmakers and stars operating primarily from Bombay. More crucially, dot-com professionals were able to forge connections and establish themselves within existing social networks in Bombay’s media world. And in doing so, dot-com companies emerged as powerful knowledge brokers who shaped the imaginations and practices of film industry professionals for whom envisioning an overseas territory had come to constitute an increasingly important dimension of going global.

Exploring this terrain raised a very interesting question for me regarding the dynamic relation between the expansion of capital into new territories and the work of rendering those new territories more imaginable. What Bollywood got was, in fact a very limited “spatial fix” as dot-com companies interpreted and resolved the problem of space—of imagining the overseas territory—in terms of overseas audiences’ cultural temporality with the nation. In other words, these companies only thought about the overseas territory in terms of non-Resident Indians. It is only over the past 4-5 years that these industry professionals have begun taking into account Bollywood’s popularity beyond South Asian communities.

 

What do you see as the use value of the concept of “transmedia entertainment” for exploring the ways that convergence has impacted the Bollywood industry? What do you see as missing from such an approach?

 

I don’t think “transmedia entertainment” is particularly useful at this point. I have yet to see a media producer in Bombay truly grasp the potential for transmedia storytelling. At the moment, it is largely driven by a marketing sensibility: pushing Bollywood content across platforms. To be sure, there have been a handful of interesting marketing campaigns and there was also an ambitious attempt to draw on India’s rich mythological tradition to drive film content. But we are yet to see a major push for storytelling across media.

Writers have started to talk about “Bollystan” to describe this new configuration of diasporic cultural identity. What does this term mean and is it a good description of the changes you are discussing in your book?

 

The term comes from a widely circulated article titled “Bollystan: The Global India,” in which the author Parag Khanna reflected on how processes of globalization had reframed relations between India and the vast Indian diaspora. Khanna wrote: “Increasingly linked by culture and technology, they form a Global India, which I call Bollystan. ‘Bolly’ connotes culture (e.g., Bollywood), and ‘Stan’ (Farsi for “land”) represents the transcendence of borders and sovereignty.” Khanna’s neologism first appeared in the Fall 2004 issue of Another Magazine, a now defunct publication targeted at “young, upwardly mobile South Asians.” Featuring Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai on the cover, the magazine declared: “Bollystan is a state without borders, defined by a shared culture and common values.”

Using the term Bollystan to refer to a vast space of trans-national cultural production that included everything from henna tattoos and remix music to literature and films, Khanna and other writers sought to map how rapid flows of people, culture and capital across national borders have rendered difficult any easy separation between nation and diaspora. In fact, Khanna proceeded to argue that Bollystan is “cosmopolitanism’s inversion: instead of one person being at home anywhere, it is re-rooting Desis everywhere in a real and imagined shared cultural space.”

But the fact is that where commercial media ventures are concerned, Bollystan has a very specific Anglo-American cultural geography and as a consequence, re-roots only certain kinds of Desis. The network of cities that are part of diasporic entrepreneurs’ imagination of Bollywood’s global reach include cities such as London, New York, Los Angeles, and Toronto but not, for instance, Durban in South Africa. And even within these cities in the Global North, it is only a certain narrow, largely middle and upper-middle class cultural sphere of South Asians that informs the imaginations and practices of media industry professionals.

Aswin Punathambekar is an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He is the author of From Bombay to Bollywood: The Making of a Global Media Industry (2013), and co-editor of Television at Large in South Asia (2013)and Global Bollywood (2008). He is now conducting research on the politics of mediated activism in India as part of a collaborative SSRC project on "Media, Activism, and the New Political."

What World Wrestling Entertainment Can Teach Us About the Future of Television (Part One)

The following exchange is between my son, Henry Jenkins IV, who is a Creative Development Coordinator at the Alchemists, a transmedia company, and Sam Ford, who is  Director of Audience Engagement at Pepercom Communications, a strategic communications firm. They are both life-long wrestling fans and regular contributors to this blog. They are sharing their thoughts here about some significant new developments in the world of "sports entertainment," which constitute another of those factors this past year, which are transforming television as we know itTom Phillips,  Senior Research Associate contributing to research at University of East Anglia and University of Edinburgh, has written a thoughtful response to this blog post, which can be read here

Henry: World Wrestling Entertainment recently announced the launch of the WWE Network – a 24 hour programming track, and an online archive, that audiences will access through their computers, smart phones, video game systems and DVRs. Many of you may not be wrestling fans, but read on, because this case study has big implications on the future of television and fandom. I’m excited not only as a lifelong fan but as a Hollywood transmedia writer who grew up as the son of Professor Henry Jenkins. I immediately reached out to my longtime friend and colleague, Sam Ford, who I consider to be the world’s foremost professional wrestling scholar, and I asked him if he wanted to write a public dialogue with me about why this is such a game changer in and outside of the wrestling world.

If you can’t quite picture what the WWE Network will be like, that’s because there’s never been anything like it before. The closest comparison would be to Netflix, which can be accessed through many digital devices, but does not show their content over the air. The WWE is likewise putting their entire archive of 100,000 hours of shows on the server for fans to play with. But unlike Netflix, they’re also going to be airing content 24/7 on a cable-style channel,  with a slate of original reality shows and sports desk shows, which you access through your iPhone, Android, Playstation, XBOX, Roku, Apple TV, etc.

This isn’t the first time that the WWE has driven a new TV format. In 1982, Vince McMahon acquired the WWF from his father. The company had been a popular regional promotion in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states since 1963, and his dad intended for it to stay grassroots. His son had visions of national fame, so in 1985 Vince essentially spent the company’s entire fortune putting on a one night show, Wrestlemania. But in a bigger gamble, he relied on audiences to use a relatively untested technology – closed circuit television – in order to watch. The technology was so new that in many cases the WWF had to buy the equipment for the theaters. The gamble paid off. Cinemas coast-to-coast sold out showings of the event; just two years later, closed-circuit theater broadcasts were overtaken by pay-per-view in homes; and now the WWE charges fans $55 a showing to watch 12 pay-per-view events a year. They built their company, but they also created a demand for a new way to watch sports.

The biggest headline for many fans now is the change in price structure. Buying 12 pay-per-views at $55 each costs $660 a year. There are also a limited number of people willing to do it. The WWE Network costs $10 a month – or just $120 a year – and expects to attract six or seven times as many viewers. Cash-strapped families and young fans who cannot spend $660 have been left out, while many adults have turned to illegal downloads. But those same people have been blown away by the possibility of spending $10 a month to get the same content. A weird analogy: The economics of it sound like Obamacare. If millions of people who are currently paying nothing now start paying $10 a month the WWE can afford to charge the average customer less.

Although many sports fans don’t know it, Major League Baseball already has a digital channel. It is not hard to believe that if the WWE Network is successful, other brands will follow suit. Just like movie studios made pay-per-view a part of their business model – releasing films there after theater runs but before DVDs and TV debuts in order to milk additional revenue – it is easy to imagine Warner Bros. putting their entire film and television catalogue on a subscription-based digital archive. Well, the WWE is now removing most of their offerings from Netflix and making them exclusive to their service. What would happen if a company like Warner Brothers did the same? Sam?

Sam: Thanks for inviting me to take part in this dialogue, Henry. Like you, I’ve been a long-time viewer of pro wresting and—while there are a long list of reasons I would hardly call the pro wrestling industry as a whole a progressive one—it certainly has been transformative in the way it deals with storytelling. For those who don’t watch WWE, let me back up for a moment and explain exactly why a 24/7 storytelling model makes particular sense for the WWE and why I think it behooves both those working in the media industries and media scholars to pay especially close attention.

First, pro wrestling has the opportunity to conduct storytelling on multiple levels simultaneously:
  • The pro wrestling match is a narrative into itself—the fictional depiction of an athletic competition with a beginning, middle, and end—governed by rules that have remained fairly consistent across the history of this “sports entertainment” performance genre. So, as opposed to any other sort of fictional programming, almost any individual segment of any pro wrestling show is, in itself, a discrete chapter that could be watched on its own as a “mini-episode.”
  • Then, there is a narrative that spans the course of an individual show. An episode of WWE RAW or WWE Friday Night Smackdown or a PPV event all takes place, typically, in one arena, in front of one live crowd…like an individual sporting event…and there is a script that connects all of the matches and “segments” taking place in any one night together into a discrete whole, as an episode of television.
  • At the next level, there is the ongoing story arc of the WWE, which is typically built in one-month increments and which leads to a climax with the pay-per-view event. In other words, the month of programming leading up to a “big show” basically is designed to set up the rivalries, the tensions, and the background story to get people to tune into the major show that resolves all the questions that the programming has built up to. In the days before there was closed circuit and PPV, this is the same model wrestling promoters like Vince’s father used to drive people to go to Madison Square Garden or the other big arenas in his regional circuit—Boston, DC, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, etc.—to see the big rivalries taking place at the moment. The TV programming plays a promotional element to drive people to the most important shows, where typically the best matches take place, where the championships are most likely to change hands, and where, traditionally, the biggest moments would take place.
  • But, at the next level, of course the storylines coming out of one PPV event typically role right into the next, so WWE maintains a “TV season” that runs all year long—that means there are 6 hours of WWE TV shows on network/cable every week, along with a range of internet, DVD, and on-demand shows—with no “re-run season.” For WWE, the climax of each “season” is Wrestlemania, so the typical flow is that the new WWE season in a way begins the night after Wrestlemania, dealing with the aftermath of the biggest show of the year, and everything from that point forward slowly starts to build to the next Wrestlemania.
  • Finally, since WWE’s season never really ends, there are “meta” narratives that spans the course of time. Since WWE has the advantage of both having a deep well of serialized stories that go back for decades—with at least most of the previous decades’ archives saved—as well as the fact that most of those individual units—matches, interviews, etc.—can be treated as their own discrete segment—they have a way of drawing from their archive that few can. They can tell the story of the evolution of a particular character through the course of that history…and, since they have bought the archives of many of their competitors now out of business, that story can be told by even looking at their history as they’ve jumped from one part of the “pro wrestling” narrative universe to another. They can also tell the history of particular time periods in wrestling, of particular promotions, of particular types of matches, of particular rivalries…there are a wide range of ways they can slice and dice—and move through—their history.
Second, WWE has a unique ability among entertainment franchises in terms of creating an “immersive storyworld.” Elsewhere, I’ve defined “immersive storyworlds” as narratives which include the following attributes:
  1. expansive backstories which can’t be neatly summarized
  2. a vast set of ensemble characters, including a few who may front burner at the moment but with a wide variety who may only show up from time to time
  3. tying current storylines to the extensive history of the narrative world
  4. managed by multiple creative forces, often both at any one time and also through generations of storytellers who have controlled the property at one point or another
  5. a hyper-serialization
  6. a sense of permanence to the narrative world
For WWE, this is conducted by mimicking the sports world. Elsewhere, I’ve called WWE “the world’s biggest alternate reality game,” because they are a fictional story that uses all of the tropes of a real sports league to basically turn our “real world” into the story world for a fictional narrative. Often, wrestlers compete under their real names or draw on a range of elements from their real lives, blurring the line between fiction and reality. The core and longest-lasting part of the pro wrestling business model is the live event, which means stories are told about these wrestlers as they travel from arena to arena—and they are telling stories about themselves through social media accounts that the performers themselves run—as they carry out in real time, in the same world the WWE’s audience lives in. And, if you purchase a ticket, you can even go and watch the next installment of the story live.
This means the potential WWE has for being the true masters of “transmedia storytelling” is unmatched. However, the issue WWE has faced until now is that they have spent much of the past two decades distancing themselves from the sports background—emphasizing the “entertainment” over the “sport.” Now, they are trying to shift that pendulum back and to think through what the unique advantages are of being a fictional property purporting to be a sports league. As they see MLB, NFL, NASCAR, and others negotiate massive TV and sponsorship deals, they realize that they could forge a path between “sports” and “entertainment” that might take advantage of both in a way no other storytelling company could.
Through that lens, I’d say that every other media/entertainment company—and sports company—should watch what WWE is doing because they could perhaps learn a lot from it. However, on the other hand, the potential WWE has here is unique to them, because no other narrative out there is better suited to move to this sort of model. No other narrative has the potential to both take advantage of its video archive in the way WWE does, nor to tell ongoing stories through this sort of model.
But these observations speak primarily to how WWE is uniquely suited to draw on its archive and to move its current way of storytelling to a unique online video distribution model…and why the rest of the entertainment world…as well as media scholars...ought to pay attention to what’s happening here. The question remains…for those of us who care about pro wrestling narratives themselves…what are the narrative potentials this new model affords? What are the narrative challenges? And what will be WWE’s mentality of making the most use of those potentials? As someone now working in the entertainment and storytelling business, Henry, I’d be curious your take on what this might mean for WWE in particular.

 MORE TO COME

Sam Ford has been a fan of professional wrestling since his youth. His fan activities has ranged from fantasy wrestling leagues to putting on costume wrestling shows with his high school friends to even, for a time, being a licensed professional wrestling manager in the state of Kentucky and playing the role of owner of the local “Universal Championship Wrestling.” He has taught courses on pro wrestling in U.S. culture at MIT and at Western Kentucky University and has written about wrestling in publications like Fast Company, CommPRO.biz, Cinema Journal Teaching DossierIn Media Res, and in an essay in the 2012 book Bodies of Discourse. His undergraduate honors thesis at Western Kentucky University was entitled “Grappling with Scholarship on Pro Wrestling: Comparative Media Studies Inside the Ring.” Sam is Director of Audience Engagement at Peppercomm, an affiliate with MIT’s Comparative Media Studies/Writing and the Popular Culture Studies Program at Western Kentucky University, and co-author, with Henry Jenkins and Joshua Green, of the 2013 book Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture.

Henry Jenkins IV is a devoted fan, and critic, of professional wrestling. The son of Professor Henry Jenkins, he dressed up as The Undertaker for Halloween as a child; wrote scripts as an apprentice promoter with the Carolina Wrestling Federation after college; and will attend his eighth Wrestlemania in New Orleans this April. He previously wrote memoir accounts - first of being a child fan in the 80s in the article "Growing Up and Growing More Mature" for Nicholas Sammond's collection Steel Chair to the Head: The Pleasure and Pain of Professional Wrestling and then of a recent trip to Wrestlemania with his dad in "Same Old Shit!": Fan Resistance at Wrestlemania 29. He is a transmedia producer and write for The Alchemists whose credits include The CW drama Cult and the Hulu original series East Los High. He has also written numerous unproduced television pilot scripts which lay the groundwork for transmedia franchises. Last year he performed a five month study on The 20 Greatest Franchises of All Time and summarized his findings in a proprietary white paper for The Alchemists. He ranked the WWE near the top.

Rethinking the "Value" of Entertainment Franchises: An Interview with Derek Johnson (Part Two)

  What do you see as the limits of the concept of transmedia storytelling for accounting for the range of different production practices you discuss in the book?

 It’s often very appropriate to talk about franchising in terms of transmedia storytelling, but as I understood the concept in my reading of your work in Convergence Culture, I felt that transmedia storytelling represented a kind of aesthetically ideal case of franchising, where every element is designed to work together in a coordinated, coherent, integral way, without elements that seem unimportant to an overarching story.  Often, a way to do this is to ensure that your franchise is being guided by a strong authorial, editorial, or managerial vision.  I may be reading what you originally wrote a bit strictly, and I really love how you have since extended the concept to account for a greater range of multiplicity—where one-off interpretations and “what if?” spins on the franchise still make an integral contribution to the whole through their unique take on the formula.  I’m not always sure that creation under a centralized vision is the most interesting or ideal, so I think that acknowledging the pleasures of multiplicity and divergent interpretations really enhances our understanding of transmedia storytelling.

But where I think transmedia storytelling cannot fully account for the full range of franchising is in the inherent messiness of franchising and its push away from integrated forms of collaboration.  I think that all transmedia storytelling is a form of franchising, but not all franchising manages to count as transmedia storytelling.  The industrial relationships of franchising across boundaries of corporation, media form, and production community lead to a resistance to the kind of collaborative creativity transmedia storytelling implies.  For many in the industry who have embraced the idea of transmedia storytelling, I feel that franchising is the “bad” object they want to move away from.  I think franchising is very much with us still, and I’m interested in it a little more because I want to understand the persistent tensions and struggles and unevenness that the ideal of transmedia storytelling often seems to want to move away from.

 

I have often seen Marvel celebrated as an example of the successful and creative management of a franchise. What do you think Marvel has done that has won over fans, even as it has also been commercially successful? How do you see the new SHIELD television series fitting within the history of Marvel media production you trace within the book?

This speaks not just to the world of comics, but also the world of film, television, and video games that Marvel has colonized over the last fifteen years (where I see its success touted most often in a comparative sense against the failure of competitor DC in similarly trying to build franchises around its characters, Batman excepted).  Coming back again to the idea of authority, I think the way that Marvel has won over fans in this effort over the last five or six years in particular is based in some part in reaffirming the idea of centralized control and authorship against the multiple authorship of franchising (similar to the transmedia storytelling ideal vs. franchising bad object described above).

The Marvel case study in my book actually stops at the moment that Marvel starts to move away from licensing Hollywood studios to produce Marvel films, as has been the case in the 20th Century Fox X-Men and Sony Spider-Man series.  But in a parallel article in Cinema Journal, I explored this new moment where Marvel starts to self-finance and self-produce its own films, starting with Iron Man and of course leadings to last years’ The Avengers.  This involved a shift in the way Marvel executives talked about the company, the (gendered) identities of its talent, and its relationship with Hollywood; Marvel singled itself out as the only entity that truly had the experience and expertise to deal with these characters.

What was needed, this suggested, was not the licensing-based franchise model they had been relying upon, but a more centralized form of creativity where the ideas remained under the control of the entity that originated them.  This was a more authority-driven idea that connected with common sense notion about creativity—of course Marvel would do a better job making Marvel movies.  Of course 20th Century Fox would be less desirable than the originator.

I’m not trying to identity who does and doesn’t make more objectively good comic book films, so much as illustrate how the celebration of Marvel (and the much-repeated suggestion from fans that Marvel try to buy back X-Men and Spider-Man rights from its old studio partners) is in some ways tied to our continued investment in the idea that “real” or “the best” creativity lies with the originator, not the licensee or franchisee.  Marvel’s success, then, lies beyond the screen in tapping into our continued investment in creative authority.

Agents of SHIELD though represents an even newer moment.  With Avengers already planned as the culmination of a multi-year production sequence before Disney purchased Marvel in 2009, I think we’d have to be careful about characterizing the build-up to that 2012 film as truly indicative of how Marvel operates under Disney.  Agents of SHIELD is perhaps one of the first high profile projects to come more fully out of the new relationship with Disney, and its subsidiary, ABC.

One of the big fan concerns about the Disney deal was what this would mean for Marvel’s autonomy, and Marvel is now in the position of needing to assert that autonomy in the face of not just Disney, but also the TV network.  At the same time, you have producers like Joss Whedon working to create as much distance as proximity to the familiar success of the film, suggesting that the series will have a different, more everyday focus and that recognizable superheroes won’t be doing cameos every week.  Much of this is about managing fan expectations, I’m sure, but I also feel some dimension of it must be about assuring audiences that this project has a creative raison d’etre of its own, as well as an executive independence.

 

Where-as others speak of “world-making,” you write extensively here about “world-sharing.” What are some of the challenges of constructing a world that will be “shared” by many industry participants (not to mention diverse fan communities)? Does this phenomenon of “world-sharing” mean that the idea of a transmedia experience as coherent and coordinated is a practical impossibility given the current structure of the entertainment industry?

 

I think I hinted at this above when comparing transmedia storytelling to franchising, in that there are definitely structural obstacles to making world-sharing happen in a coherent and coordinated way.  When media producers operate within different markets and corporate cultures, or even just in different silos within a single parent company, it is logistically difficult to manage collaboration—which is why companies like Starlight Runner have emerged to perform that labor, and we see new transmedia producer credits for those working to push production past those hurdles.

What I want to emphasize though is that the obstacles aren’t always structural and/or economic—they are often social and tied to a sense of production culture and identity.  World-sharing in a coherent and coordinated way is a challenge because there is often no economic incentivize to do so.  But it is also a challenge because there is sometimes no creative incentive to do so (in the sense that creativity is a type of identity and not just an aesthetic trait).

Think about television spin-offs where two or more related series are in production at the same time.  In that case, the shared world makes it possible for characters from one show to pop up on another, but it rarely happens because of both practical scheduling matters and corporate concerns about dilution and confusion of distinct sub-brands.  At the additional level of production culture, however, producers often resist these kinds of stories, identifying one series and set of characters as “theirs”, and others as belonging to another creative community.  So in the 1990s when you had multiple Star Trek series in production under a single franchise manager (Rick Berman), but with each under the pen of a different writing staff, there was a sense of intra-franchise competition, not cooperation.  Each writing staff and crew had duties specific to one part of the shared world, and they often wanted their contributions to be seen as the best, competing for accolades and attention.  So there were occasional crossovers, sure, but producers just as often resisted coordination because each staff wanted to generate its own identity and culture.

I don’t think that the tensions involved with “world sharing” make transmedia storytelling a practical impossibility, however.  It’s just requires working against these factors, and my own concern is more about the desirability of doing so, the unchallenged privilege we might accord the idea of central authority over sharing, and whether these competing creative visions and tensions may have some alternative value beyond their failure to always produce coherent narratives.

In the process of discussing "over-design" as an industrial process, you've developed what I see as one of the richest account of the production design process within contemporary entertainment. In many ways, contemporary stories are as much constructed by decisions made by art directors and costume designers as they are by decisions made by screenwriters. Yet, our critical discussion of these productions lags behind, often grumbling about products being overly dependent on "special effects" as if these choices could somehow be isolated from the overall experience of the fictional world. To what degree is it important to see these new franchise properties as "designed" rather than "authored?"

Based on how many times I’ve brought it up already, I think I’d be hard pressed to say that authorship isn’t important, since that idea is often the terrain of struggles over creativity in cultural production.  But the idea of design helps us get past the question of who the author is, and more toward how multiplicity, collaboration, and competing claims to authorship can be supported in creative practices.

I like the framework of “design” because it points to the creation of a system or context in which other things will happen.  That’s how I see a lot of the creative energies of franchising at work, where the creativity that occurs in one instance becomes the context for creativity in another.  It might be a little easier to see these dynamics when comparing different entries in a franchise—the way in which the new Star Wars films will be produced in relation to the design of those that have already been produced, for example.  But even outside of franchising, design could be a useful framework for reconceptualizing authorship more generally, in that we might think about how the creative work of many different labor categories (from directors to production designers to foley artists) occurs in relation to a shared context for designed for collaborative creation.

 

Derek Johnson is Assistant Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at the University of Wisconsin - Madison.  He is the author of Media Franchising: Creative License and Collaboration in the Culture Industries (NYU Press, 2013), as well as the co-editor of A Companion to Media Authorship (Wiley-Blackwell, 2013) and Making Media Work: Cultures of Management in the Media Industries (NYU Press, forthcoming 2014).  His research focuses in the media industries, looking at how cultures of production negotiate creativity, convergence, and collaboration.  Most recently he has started working on a new single-authored book project focusing on children's media industries and the way in which producer identities cohere in relation to ideas about age, taste, and the child audience.  He has published several journal articles and chapters on the subject of Marvel Comics and their cross-media practices, and in his forthcoming publications, he has critiqued the industry strategies behind the HerUniverse web shop as well as the racial logics behind LEGO's licensed film and comic minifigures.

How to Watch Television: The Walking Dead

Today, I want to showcase the launch of an exciting new book, How to Watch Television, edited by Ethan Thompson and Jason Mittell. The editors recognized a gap in the field of television studies between the kinds of essays we ask our students to write (often close readings focused on specific episodes) and the kinds of exemplars we provide them from scholarly publications (often theory-dense, focused on making much larger arguments, and making moves which it is hard for undergrads or early graduate students to match). Contributors, myself among them, were asked to focus on specific episodes of specific programs, to do a close analysis with limited amounts of fancy theoretical footwork, and to demonstrate the value of a particular analytic approach to understanding how television works. Thompson and Mittell brought together a who's who of contemporary television studies writers and encouraged them to write about a broad array of programs. You can get a sense of the project as a whole by reading the table of contents. I have only read a few of the essays so far, having just recently gotten my author's copy, but so far, the book more than lives up to its promise. I. TV Form: Aesthetics and Style

1. Homicide: Realism – Bambi L. Haggins

2. House: Narrative Complexity – Amanda D. Lotz

3. Life on Mars: Transnational Adaptation – Christine Becker

4. Mad Men: Visual Style – Jeremy G. Butler

5. Nip/Tuck: Popular Music – Ben Aslinger

6. Phineas & Ferb: Children’s Television – Jason Mittell

7. The Sopranos: Episodic Storytelling – Sean O’Sullivan

8. Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show, Great Job!: Metacomedy – Jeffrey Sconce

II. TV Representations: Social Identity and Cultural Politics

9. 24: Challenging Stereotypes – Evelyn Alsultany

10. The Amazing Race: Global Othering – Jonathan Gray

11. The Cosby Show: Representing Race – Christine Acham

12. The Dick Van Dyke Show: Queer Meanings – Quinn Miller

13. Eva Luna: Latino/a Audiences – Hector Amaya

14. Glee/House Hunters International: Gay Narratives – Ron Becker

15. Grey’s Anatomy: Feminism – Elana Levine

16. Jersey Shore: Ironic Viewing – Susan J. Douglas

III. TV Politics: Democracy, Nation, and the Public Interest

17. 30 Days: Social Engagement – Geoffrey Baym and Colby Gottert

18. America’s Next Top Model: Neoliberal Labor – Laurie Ouellette

19. Family Guy: Undermining Satire – Nick Marx

20. Fox & Friends: Political Talk – Jeffrey P. Jones

21. M*A*S*H: Socially Relevant Comedy – Noel Murray

22. Parks and Recreation: The Cultural Forum – Heather Hendershot

23. Star Trek: Serialized Ideology – Roberta Pearson

24. The Wonder Years: Televised Nostalgia – Daniel Marcus

IV. TV Industry: Industrial Practices and Structures

25. Entertainment Tonight: Tabloid News – Anne Helen Petersen

26. I Love Lucy: The Writer-Producer – Miranda J. Banks

27. Modern Family: Product Placement – Kevin Sandler

28. Monday Night Football: Brand Identity – Victoria E. Johnson

29. NYPD Blue: Content Regulation – Jennifer Holt

30. Onion News Network: Flow – Ethan Thompson

31. The Prisoner: Cult TV Remakes – Matt Hills

32. The Twilight Zone: Landmark Television – Derek Kompare

V. TV Practices: Medium, Technology, and Everyday Life

33. Auto-Tune the News: Remix Video – David Gurney

34. Battlestar Galactica: Fans and Ancillary Content – Suzanne Scott

35. Everyday Italian: Cultivating Taste – Michael Z. Newman

36. Gossip Girl: Transmedia Technologies – Louisa Stein

37. It’s Fun to Eat: Forgotten Television – Dana Polan

38. One Life to Live: Soap Opera Storytelling – Abigail De Kosnik

39. Samurai Champloo: Transnational Viewing – Jiwon Ahn

40. The Walking Dead: Adapting Comics – Henry Jenkins

You can order it at the NYU Press website, along with previewing the introduction or requesting a review copy for faculty thinking about adopting it in a class. You can also order it on Amazon. Or please request it at an independent bookstore near you, if you’ve got one.

Thompson and Mitell have shrewdly offered those of us who have blogs the chance to share our own essays from the collection with the idea of helping to build up the buzz around this promising release.  Spreadability at work! So, I am happy to share today my musings about The Walking Dead, written after the end of Season 1. (Don't get me started about the speed of academic publishing: by normal standards, this one had a pretty rapid turnaround, but we still lag behind any other mode of publication. This is why I so value sites like Flow,In Media Res, and Antenna.)

 

The Walking Dead: Adapting Comics

Henry Jenkins

Abstract: One of the key ways that television connects to other media is by adapting pre-existing properties from films, comics, and other formats. Henry Jenkins uses one of the most popular of such recent adaptations, The Walking Dead, to highlight the perils and possibilities of adaptations, and how tapping into pre-existing fanbases can pose challenges to television producers.

The comic book industry now functions as Hollywood's research and development department, with a growing number of media properties inspired by graphic novels, including not only superhero films (Green Lantern, X-Men: First Class, Thor) and both live-action and animated television series (Smallville, The Bold and the Brave), but also films from many other genres (A History of Violence, American Splendor, 20 Days of Night, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World). There are many possible explanations for Hollywood’s comic book fixation:

 

1. DC and Marvel are owned by Warner Brothers and Disney, respectively, who cherry pick what they think will satisfy mass audience interests.

 

2. Comics-based stories are to contemporary cinema what magazine short stories were to Classical Hollywood—more or less presold material.

 

3. Hardcore comics readers fall into a highly desired demographic—teen and twentysomething males—who have abandoned television in recent years for other media.

 

4. Comic books are a visual medium, offering something like a storyboard establishing basic iconography and visual practices to moving image media.

 

5. Digital special effects have caught up to comic’s most cosmic storytelling, allowing special effects houses to expand their technical capacities.

 

6. Contemporary television and comics involve a complex mix of the episodic and the serial, deploying long-form storytelling differently from most films or novels.

 

7. The streamlined structure of comics offer emotional intensification closely aligned with contemporary screen practices.

 

Despite such claims, comic adaptations often radically depart from elements popular with their original comics-reading audience. Mainstream comics readership has been in sharp decline for several decades: today’s top-selling title reaches fewer than a hundred thousand readers per month—a drop in the bucket compared with the audiences required for cable success, let alone broadcast networks. Some graphic novels have moved from specialty shops to chain bookstores, attracting a “crossover” readership, including more women and more “casual” fans. Adapting a comic for film or television often involves building on that “crossover” potential rather than addressing hardcore fans, stripping away encrusted mythology.

AMC's The Walking Dead (2010-present) is a notable exception, establishing its reputation as "faithful" to the spirit if not the letter of the original, even while introducing its original characters, themes, and story world to a new audience. Robert Kirkman’s comic series was a key example of the crossover readership graphic novels can find at mainstream bookstores. Kirkman has freely acknowledged his debts to George Romero’s Living Dead films, while others note strong parallels with 28 Days Later. The Walking Dead’s success with crossover readers and Kirkman’s reliance on formulas from other commercially successful franchises in the genre explain why producers felt they could remain “true” to the comics while reaching a more expansive viewership.

Using “Wildfire,” the fifth episode from The Walking Dead’s first season, I will explore what aspects of the comic reached television, what changes occurred, and why hardcore fans accepted some changes and not others. As a longtime Walking Dead reader, I am well situated to explore fan response to shifts in the original continuity.

To understand what The Walking Dead meant to comics readers, one might well start with its extensive letter column. Here, dedicated fans ask questions and offer opinions about every major plot development. Kirkman established a deeply personal relationship with his fans, sharing behind the scenes information about his efforts to get the series optioned and then developed for television, responding to reader controversies, and discussing the comic’s core premises and genre conventions (“the rules”). Kirkman summarized his goals in the first Walking Dead graphic novel:

With The Walking Dead, I want to explore how people deal with extreme situations and how these events CHANGE them.... You guys are going to get to see Rick change and mature to the point that when you look back on this book you won’t even recognize him....I hope to show you reflections of your friends, your neighbors, your families, and yourselves, and what their reactions are to the extreme situations on this book... This is more about watching Rick survive than it is about watching Zombies pop around the corner and scare you.....The idea behind The Walking Dead is to stay with the character, in this case, Rick Grimes for as long as is humanly possible....The Walking Dead will be the zombie movie that never ends.[1]

If, as Robin Wood formulated, the horror genre examines how normality is threatened by the monstrous, Kirkman’s focus is less on the monstrous and more on human costs.[2] The comic’s artwork (originally by Tony Moore but mostly by Charlie Adlard) offers gorehounds detailed renderings of rotting faces (lovingly recreated for the television series by makeup artist Greg Nicotero) and blood splattering as humans and zombies battle, but it is also focused on melodramatic moments, as human characters struggle to maintain normality in the face of the monstrous. This merger of horror and melodrama may explain why, despite its gore, The Walking Dead comics appeal almost as much to female readers as it does to the men who constitute the core comics market. Early on, some fans criticized the comic’s shambling “pace,” going several issues without zombie encounters. However, once they got a taste of Kirkman’s storytelling, many realized how these scenes contributed to the reader’s deeper investment in the characters’ plights.

Given his intimate and ongoing relationship with readers, Kirkman’s participation as an executive producer on the television adaptation was key for establishing credibility with his long-term readers. Series publicity tapped Kirkman’s street cred alongside AMC’s own reputation for groundbreaking, character-focused television dramas (Mad Men, Breaking Bad) and the reputations of executive producers Frank Darabont (The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption) and Gale Anne Hurd (Aliens, The Abyss, The Terminator franchise) with filmgoers, establishing an aura of exceptionality.

The Walking Dead was a key discussion topic at the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con, a gathering of more than 200,000 influential fans. Posters, specifically produced for the convention, compared the television characters with their comic book counterparts. The trade room display reconstructed an iconic comic location, a farmhouse where a family had killed themselves rather than change into zombies. Both tactics reaffirmed that the series was closely based on the comics. And Kirkman was front and center, promising fans the series would capture the essence of his long-articulated vision. If the producers won the hearts of the hardcore fans, they might count on them to actively rally viewers for the series premiere. Thanks, in part, to the fan support in spreading the word and building enthusiasm, The Walking Dead broke all ratings records for basic cable for its debut episode and broke them again with the launch of Season 2.

By the time The Walking Dead reached the air, Kirkman had produced and published 12 full-length graphic novels, representing more than 70 issues. Yet, the first season of the television series only covered the first six issues. On the one hand, this expansive narrative offered a rich roadmap. On the other, it threatened to lock the producers down too much, making it hard for the series to grow on its own terms. Speaking at the Paleyfest in Los Angeles after season one, Kirkman acknowledged that exploring different paths through the material allowed him to explore roads not taken in his own creative process.

The challenge was to give veteran fans recognizable versions of the established characters and iconic moments. Fans must be able to follow the story structure in broad outlines, even as the producers were changing major and minor plot points, adding new themes and character moments. The audience anticipated that any changes would be consistent with Kirkman’s oft-articulated “ground rules” and yet the producers wanted the freedom to take the story in some new directions. The Walking Dead had built its reputation for surprising its readers in every issue—any character could die at any moment and taboos could be shattered without blinking an eye. How could the television series have that same impact if the most dedicated fans already knew what was going to happen next?

“Wildfire” was perhaps season one’s most emotionally powerful episode, where many core themes came into sharpest focus. It was based upon the final chapter of the first graphic novel, which set the tone for the rest of the comics series. The episode includes several memorable moments from the comics, specifically the death of two major characters (Amy and Jim), yet also several shifts that hinted at how dramatically the producers had revised things. Fans embraced some of these changes, while others violated their collective sense of the franchise.

As “Wildfire” opens, the protagonists are recovering from a traumatic and abrupt zombie attack that killed several recurring characters and forced the survivors to confront the vulnerability of their encampment, preparing them to seek a new “home” elsewhere, a recurring quest in the comics. The attack’s basic outline remains consistent with the graphic novel. For example, Amy gets caught by surprise when she separates from the others, while Jim gets chomped in the ensuing battle. The brutal attack disrupts a much more peaceful “fish fry” scene, which provides an excuse for characters to reveal bits of their backstory. The ruthless battle shows how each character has begun to acquire self-defense and survival skills.

Yet, a central emotional incident, Andrea’s prolonged watch over her dead sister Amy’s body, occupied only two panels of Kirkman’s original comic. There, Andrea tells Dale, “I can’t let her come back like that,” capturing the dread of a loved one transforming into the undead. The television series used this line as a starting point for a much more elaborated character study, built across several episodes as the two sisters, a decade-plus apart in age in this version (though not in the original), offer each other physical and emotional support. The two sisters talk in a boat about the family tradition of fishing and how their father responded to their different needs. Andrea plans to give Amy a birthday present, telling Dale that she was never there for her sister’s birthdays growing up. The image of Andrea unwrapping the present and hanging the fishing lure around her dead sister’s neck represents the melodramatic payoff fans expect from The Walking Dead in whatever medium. The expansion of this incident into a prolonged melodramatic sequence has to do both with issues of modality (the range of subtle facial expressions available to a performer working in live action as opposed to the compression required to convey the same emotional effect through static images) and AMC’s branding as  network known for “complex narratives,” “mature themes,” and “quality acting.”

 “Wildfire” shows Andrea protecting Amy’s body as the others seek to convince her to allow her sister to be buried, We hear the sounds of picks thrashing through the skulls of other zombies in the background and watch bodies being prepared to burn. And, finally, Amy returns to life for a few seconds. Andrea looks intently into Amy’s eyes, looking for any signs of human memory and consciousness, stroking her sister’s face as Amy’s gasps turn into animalistic grunts. The producers play with these ambiguities through their use of makeup: Amy is more human-looking compared to the other zombies, where the focus is on their bones, teeth and muscle rather than their eyes, flesh and hair. In the end, Andrea shoots her sister with the pistol she’s been clutching, an act of mercy rather than violence.

Much of the sequence is shot in tight close-ups, focusing attention all the more closely on the character’s reactions. This is the first time the television series has shown us humans transition into zombies. Several issues after this point in the story (issue 11), the comic revisits this theme with a troubling story of Hershel, a father who has kept his zombie daughter chained and locked in a barn, unable to accept the irreversibility of her fate (an incident which was enacted on screen near the climax of the series’s second season). Here, Andrea’s willingness to dispatch Amy is a sign of her determination to live.

The comic explores Jim’s death, by contrast, in more depth. Jim’s family had been lost in a previous zombie attack: Jim was able to escape because the zombies were so distracted eating his other family members. The book’s Jim is a loner who has not forged intimate bonds with the others, but who aggressively defends the camp during the zombie attack. In the comic, Jim is so overwrought with guilt and anger that he smashes one zombie’s skull to a pulp. In the television series, this action is shifted onto an abused wife who undergoes a cathartic breakdown while preparing her dead husband for burial. On the one hand, this shift gave a powerful payoff for a new subplot built on the comic’s discussion of how the zombie attacks had shifted traditional gender politics and on the other, it allowed a tighter focus on Jim’s slow acceptance of the prospect of becoming a zombie.

In both media, Jim initially hides the reality of being bitten from the other campers. Finally, he breaks down when someone notices his wounds. While the producers used the comic as a visual reference for this iconic moment, there are also substantial differences in the staging, including the shift of the bite from Jim’s arm to his stomach and the ways the other campers manhandle him to reveal the bite.

Jim’s story conveys the dread with which a bitten human begins preparing for a transformation into a zombie. In both the comic and the television series, Jim asks to be left, propped up against a tree so that he might rejoin his family when the inevitable change comes. Here, again, the television series elaborates on these basic plot details, prolonging his transformation to show the conflicting attitudes of the other campers to his choice. The television series is far more explicit than the comic about parallels with contemporary debates about the right of the terminally ill to control the terms of their own death.

In both sets of changes highlighted here, the television series remains true to the spirit of the original comic if not to the letter—especially in its focus on the processes of mourning and loss and the consequences of violence, both often overlooked in traditional horror narratives. Both represent elaborations and extensions of elements from the original book. And both link these personal narratives with the community’s collective experience, as in the scene where many from the camp say goodbye to Jim as he lies against a tree awaiting his fate. Some offer him comfort, others walk past unable to speak.

On the other hand, two other “Wildfire” plotlines represent more decisive breaks with the comics—the confrontation between Shane and Rick and the introduction of the Center for Disease Control. Rick had been cut off from his wife and son when Shane, his best friend, helped them escape, while Rick was lying comatose in the hospital. Believing Rick dead, Laurie and Shane couple until Rick finds his way back to his family. In Kirkman’s original, Dale warns Rick that Shane made advances on Laurie. In the television series, Rick has no idea of the potential infidelity, but the audience knows that Shane and Laurie have made love. In the graphic novel, the two men go out to the woods to have it out. In the final panels of the first graphic novel, Shane attempts to kill Rick and is shot in the head by Rick’s 8-year-old son, Carl. The boy collapses in his father’s arms and says, “It’s not the same as killing the dead ones, Daddy.” Rick responds, “It never should be, Son. It never should be.”

In “Wildfire,” tension mounts throughout the episode as the two men clash over what the group should do next. Both turn to Laurie for moral support, which she is unable to offer, instead saying, “Neither one of you were entirely wrong.” In the television version, Shane initially mistakes Rick for a deer in the woods until he has his friend in his gun sights and then finds himself unable to draw down. Dale, rather than Carl, comes upon the two men, ending Shane’s moral dilemma. When he returns from the woods, Shane seems ready to accept Rick’s leadership. Shane’s survival represents a decisive shift from the original, though by the season’s end, its ramifications were not clear. Perhaps this is a case where Kirkman saw unrealized potentials that, given a chance, he wanted to mine more deeply.

But, in removing Carl from the scene, the television producers could be accused of pulling punches, given how central the sequence of the young boy shooting the adult male (and its refusal to engage in sentimental constructions of childhood innocence) had been in the comic’s initial reception. Carl’s repeated brushes with violence, and his willingness to take action when adults hesitate, is a recurring motif throughout the books. If the comics often shocked readers by abruptly killing off long established characters, here the producers surprised some viewers by refusing to kill a character whose death represented an early turning point in the comics.

The visit to the Center for Disease Control, which is introduced in the closing scenes of “Wildfire” and becomes the focus for the season’s final episode, “TS-19,” has no direct counterpart in the comic book series. One of the hard and fast rules Kirkman established in the comics was that he was never going to provide a rational explanation for how the zombie outbreak occurred. As Kirkman argues in an early letter column:

 

As far as the explanation for the zombies go, I think that aside from the zombies being in the book, this is a fairly realistic story, and that’s what makes it work. The people do real things, and it’s all very down to Earth... almost normal. ANY explanation would be borderline science fiction... and it would disrupt the normalness. In my mind, the story has moved on. I’m more interested in what happens next then what happened before that caused it all.[3]

One reason Kirkman has Rick in a coma at the comic series start is so that the audience is not exposed to the inevitable theorizing which would surround a society coping with such a catastrophe. ( A web series, produced for the launch of the second season, further explored what had happened when Rick was in his coma, offering a range of contradictory possible explanations for the zombie epidemic.)

Many fans were anxious about the introduction of the CDC subplot, which implied a medical explanation. At the same time, the closing scenes at the CDC also represent the first time we’ve cut away from Rick or the other members of his party to see another perspective on the unfolding events (in this case, that of a exhausted and suicidal scientist). For both reasons, many fans saw this subplot as another dramatic break with the spirit of the comic.

And it came at an unfortunate moment—at the end of the abbreviated first season, as the last taste before an almost year-long hiatus. If the series’ publicity and presentation had largely reassured long time readers that the series would follow the established “rules,” these final developments cost the producers some hard-won credibility, especially when coupled with news that the production company had fired most of the staff writers who worked on the first season, that AMC was reducing the budget per episode for the series, and that producer Frank Darbout was also leaving under duress.

By this point, The Walking Dead was the biggest ratings success in AMC’s history, leaving many comics fans to worry whether their support was still necessary for the series’ success. It would not be the first time that a series acknowledged a cult audience’s support only long enough to expand its following, and then pivoted to focus on the new viewers who constituted the bulk of its rating points.

As this Walking Dead example suggests, there is no easy path for adapting this material for the small screen. There are strong connections between the ways seriality works in comics and television, but also significant differences that make a one-to-one mapping less desirable than it might seem. Television producers want to leave their own marks on the material by exploring new paths to occasionally surprise their loyal fans. The challenge is how to make these adjustments consistent not with the details of the original stories, but with their “ground rules,” the underlying logic, and one good place to look to watch this informal “contract” between reader and creators take shape is through the letter columns published in the back of the comics. It is through this process that the producers can help figure out what they owe to the comics and to their readers.

Further Reading

Gordon, Ian, Mark Jancovich, and Matthew P. McAllister, eds.  Film and Comic Books 

(Jackson:  University Press of Mississippi, 2007)

Jones, Matthew T.  Found in Translation:  Structural and Cognitive Aspects of the Adaptation of Comic Art to Film (Saarbrücken:  VDM Verlag, 2009)

Pustz, Matthew. Comic Book Culture: Fan Boys and True Believers (Jackson, MI: University Press of Mississippi, 2000).

 


[1] Robert Kirkman, The Walking Dead Vol. 1: Days Gone By (New York: Image, 2006).

[2] Robin Wood, “An Introduction to the American Horror Film,” in Bill Nichols (ed.) Movies and Methods vol. 2 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 195-220.

[3] Robert Kirkman, “Letter Hacks,” The Walking Dead 8, July 2004.

 

 

A Whale Of A Tale!: Ricardo Pitts-Wiley Brings Mixed Magic to LA

Last February, I announced here the release of Reading in a Participatory Culture, a print book, and Flows of Reading, a d-book extension, both focused around work my teams (first at MIT and then at USC) have done exploring how we might help educators and students learn about literary works through actively remixing them. Our central case study has been the work of playwright-actor-educator Ricardo Pitts-Wiley from the Mixed Magic Theater, who was successful at getting incarcerated youth to read and engage with Herman Melville's Moby-Dick by having them re-imagine and re-write it for the 21st century. You can read more about this project here. And you can check out the Flows of Reading d-book for free here. 
If you live in Los Angeles, you have a chance to learn more about Pitts-Wiley and his work first hand. I've been able to bring Ricardo for a residency at USC this fall, which will start with a public event at the Los Angeles Public Library on September 26. Ricardo is going to be recruiting a mixed race cast of high school and college aged actors from across the Los Angeles area and producing a staged reading of his play, Moby-Dick: Then and Now, which will be performed as part of a USC Visions and Voices event on Oct. 11th. You can get full details of both events below. I hope to see some of you there. We are already hearing from all kinds of artists here in Southern California who have sought creative inspiration from Melville's novel and used it as a springboard for their own work. But you don't have to love the great white whale to benefit from our approach to teaching traditional literary works in a digital culture, and we encourage teachers and educators of all kinds to explore how they might apply our model to thinking about many other cultural texts.
For those who live on the East Coast, our team will also be speaking and doing workshops at the National Writing Project's national conference in Boston on Nov. 21.
Thursday, September 26, 2013 7:15 PM
Mark Taper Auditorium-Central Library
Thu, Sep 26, 7:15 PM [ALOUD]
Remixing Moby Dick: Media Studies Meets the Great White Whale 
Henry Jenkins, Wyn Kelley, and Ricardo Pitts-Wiley

Over a multi-year collaboration, playwright and director Ricardo Pitts-Wiley, Melville scholar Wyn Kelley, and media expert Henry Jenkins have developed a new approach for teaching Moby-Dick in the age of YouTube and hip-hop. They will explore how "learning through remixing" can speak to contemporary youth, why Melville might be understood as the master mash-up artist of the 19th century, and what might have happened if Captain Ahab had been a 21st century gang leader.

* Part of the Library Foundation of Los Angeles and Los Angeles Public Library’s month-long citywide initiative "What Ever Happened to Moby Dick?"

 

Henry Jenkins is Provost's Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. He has written and edited more than fifteen books on media and popular culture, including Spreadable Media: Creating Meaning and Value in a Networked Culture with Sam Ford and Joshua Green. His other published works reflect the wide range of his research interests, touching on democracy and new media, the “wow factor” of popular culture, science-fiction fan communities, and the early history of film comedy. His most recent book, Reading in a Participatory Culture: Remixing Moby-Dick for the Literature Classroom was written with Wyn Kelley, Katie Clinton, Jenna McWilliams, Erin Reilly, and Ricardo Pitts-Wiley.

Wyn Kelley teaches in the Literature Section at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is author of Melville's City: Literary and Urban Form in Nineteenth-Century New York and of Herman Melville: An Introduction. She also co-author Reading in a Participatory Culture: Re-Mixing Moby-Dick in the English Classroom with Henry Jenkins and Ricardo Pitts-Wiley. She is former Associate Editor of the Melville Society journal Leviathan, and editor of the Blackwell Companion to Herman Melville. A founding member of the Melville Society Cultural Project, she has collaborated with the New Bedford Whaling Museum on lecture series, conferences, exhibits, and a scholarly archive. She serves as Associate Director ofMEL (Melville Electronic Library), an NEH-supported interactive digital archive for reading, editing, and visualizing Melville’s texts.

Ricardo Pitts-Wiley is the co-founder of the Mixed Magic Theatre, a non-profit arts organization dedicated to presenting a diversity of cultural and ethnic images and ideas on the stage. While serving as Mixed Magic Theatre’s director, Pitts-Wiley gained national and international acclaim for his page-to-stage adaptation of Moby Dick, titled Moby Dick: Then and Now. This production, which was presented at the Kennedy Center for the Arts in Washington, DC, is the centerpiece of a national teachers study guide and is featured in the book, Reading in A Participatory Culture. In addition to his work as an adapter of classic literature Pitts-Wiley is also the composer of over 150 songs and the author of 12 plays with music including:Waiting for Bessie SmithCelebrations: An African Odyssey, andThe Spirit Warrior’s Dream.

Is School Enough?: Forthcoming PBS Documentary

If you live in the Los Angeles area, I invite you to join me for what promises to be an exciting screening and discussion on Sept. 5 of Is School Enough?,  a new documentary, produced for PBS, which deals with the concept of "connected learning" as it has been articulated by the MacArthur Foundation's Digital Media and Learning Initiative. Details are below. If you do not live in Southern California, I would encourage you to check online here and see when and where this documentary might be airing in your area. Here's a preview of the film.

Many of you will already know New Learners in the 21st Century, which aired a few years back.  You can check out this film online here. For my money, this is probably the best film produced on the new forms of learning that have emerged within a networked culture, one which explains why these approaches matter to educators, researchers, students, and parents, and one which moves far beyond the usual focus on "risks" and "dangers" that have dominated some other PBS documentaries on these topics. I was proud to have been included in the New Learners documentary and even more excited when the filmmaker, Stephen Brown, consulted with me about this new production. I was able to help connect him with the incredible work being done by the Harry Potter Alliance, which becomes a key segment of Is School Enough?, and I ended up being a talking head featured in this film. Indeed, I get the Aaron Sorkin-like final speech summing up the vision as a whole. :-) I've seen the film when an earlier cut was screeened earlier this year at the Digital Media and Learning conference, and I am looking forward to joining this discussion at USC.

 

SCA Events

IS SCHOOL ENOUGH?

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September 5, 2013, 7:00 P.M.

The Ray Stark Family Theatre, SCA 108, George Lucas Building, USC School of Cinematic Arts Complex, 900 W. 34th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90007

Cinematheque108, The Pearson Foundation, and PBS invite you and a guest to a special screening of

Is School Enough?

Followed by a panel discussion with Stephen Brown, Producer/Director of Is School Enough?; Henry Jenkins, Provost Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts, USC; Juan Devis, Public Media Producer, KCET; Sujata Bhatt,  Founder and Lead Teacher, the Incubator School, Los Angeles; and Abby Larus, Member, the Harry Potter Alliance and student at Duke University.
7:00 P.M. on Thursday, September 5th, 2013
The Ray Stark Family Theatre, SCA 108 900 W. 34th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90007
FREE ADMISSION. OPEN TO THE PUBLIC.

Released to PBS stations on September 3, 2013.

About Is School Enough?

While policy-makers and educational experts try to determine the best “system” for delivering a world-class education to tens of millions of students across the country, many young people are finding their own ways of expressing themselves, pursuing interests, and participating in communities that are both on and offline. Largely unmediated by school and teachers, these young people, without really being aware of it, are connecting how they learn with what they care most about. Too commonly, young people are asked to solve problems in the classroom that have no relationship to the real world or relevance to their lives. Memorization and the measurement of what we know is the final basis for evaluating a students’ success; moreover, it’s the final evaluation of a teacher’s success as well. But in what ways do we ask our students to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to something that’s happening in the world outside of it?

In what ways do we reward the authentic learning and work that young people do that is not validated and evaluated by our educational institutions? In this highly connected world that is powered by what we need when we need it, is school really enough?

Designed for parents and educators inside and out of the classroom, Is School Enough? – a one hour documentary - examines how young people are using everyday tools - including today's digital ones - to explore interests, connect with others, solve problems, and change the world around them. It is a call to action that moves the discourse away from how do we fix schools to how can we support, sustain and galvanize learning by helping students solve problems in their everyday lives.

Is School Enough? is a production of tpt National Productions, in association with Mobile Digital Arts. Not rated. Running time: 60 minutes.

Visit the Official Website: http://www.pbs.org/program/school-enough/

About the Guests

Stephen Brown, Producer/Director of Is School Enough?

Stephen Brown is President and Executive Producer at Mobile Digital Arts. Mobile Digital Arts uses film and video production as a way to showcase and advocate for innovative educational practices, digital media programs, and 21st century approaches to learning. Brown produced Reborn, New Orleans Schools, a feature documentary about the school reform movement after Hurricane Katrina; A 21st Century Education, a series of twelve short films about innovation in education; and Digital Media and Learning, eleven short films profiling the work of leading researchers, educators and thinkers on the impact that digital media is having on young learners. Mobile Digital Arts’ production – Digital Media, New Learners of the 21st Century – aired nationally on PBS in February 2011. He is also producing an on-going series of films with the OECD about the world’s best performing educational systems. Brown is currently the General Manager of the New Learning Institute for the Pearson Foundation.

Henry Jenkins, Provost's Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California

Jenkins arrived at USC in Fall 2009 after spending the past decade as the Director of the MIT Comparative Media Studies Program and the Peter de Florez Professor of Humanities. He is the author and/or editor of twelve books on various aspects of media and popular culture, including Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture, Hop on Pop: The Politics and Pleasures of Popular Culture and From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games. His newest books include Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide and Fans, Bloggers and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture. He is currently co-authoring a book on "spreadable media" with Sam Ford and Joshua Green. He has written for Technology Review, Computer Games, Salon, and The Huffington Post.

Juan Devis, Public Media Producer, KCET

Juan Devis is a Public Media producer, whose work crosses across platforms – video, film, interactive media and gaming. His work, regardless of the medium is often produced collaboratively allowing for a greater exchange of ideas in the production of media. Devis iscurrently the Director of Program Development and Production for the largest independent television station in the United States, KCET. Devis has charted the stations’ new Arts and Culture initiative, Artbound, consisting of a television series, an online networked cultural hub and the creation programmatic partnerships with cultural institutions in Southern California. In addition, Devis has spear headed a new slate of series that are either in production or development, some of these include the Presidential Japan Prize Winner Departures, Live @ the Ford among others. For over a decade, Devis has worked with a number of non-profit organizations and media arts institutions in Los Angeles serving as producer, director, educator and board member. Some of these include: The City Project - Outpost for Contemporary Art - PBS World - LA Freewaves - OnRamp Arts - Center for Innovative Education – Los Feliz Charter SchoolFor the Arts.

Sujata Bhatt,  Founder and Lead Teacher, the Incubator School, Los Angeles

Sujata Bhatt is the founder of the Incubator School, an LAUSD-Future is Now Schools, 6-12 pilot school that opened this August aiming to launch the entrepreneurial teams of tomorrow. Inc. reimagines the traditional school day as a mix of individualized computer-based learning and deep, collaborative engagement via design thinking, real world problem-solving, and game-based learning.  The schooldraws upon Bhatt's 12 years' experience working as a Nationally Board Certified teacher in a Title 1 school in LAUSD as well as her background in education reform, technology, and startups. She has developed 'big picture' educational policy as a Teaching Policy Fellow with Teach Plus and with Our Schools, Our Voice, and Future is Now Schools. She has written on education reform in The Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Education Week, Eduwonk, and The Impatient Optimist. She also serves on the Joan Ganz Cooney Center @ Sesame Workshop's Games and Learning Publishing Council and is a member of the founding team of Outthink Inc., a startup that produces gamified science iPad apps.

Abby Larus, Member, the Harry Potter Alliance and student at Duke University

Abby Larus is a second-year student at Duke University. She's been involved in the Harry Potter fan community online since middleschool, when she began working with the Harry Potter Alliance, an organization that encourages civic activism by relating real world problems to the issues in the Harry Potter books. Abby started her work with the HPA as a Chapter Organizer, applying the HPA’s campaigns locally in North Carolina. She later became a volunteer on the organization’s communications staff, before taking on the role of Assistant Campaign Director. Abby has since transitioned to a position outside of the HPA, where she is the Associate Director of Logistics for LeakyCon, the largest annual Harry Potter fan convention. But she hasn't forgotten her roots - a portion of LeakyCon's proceeds go towards the HPA every year.

About The Pearson Foundation

The Pearson Foundation is an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that aims to make a difference by promoting literacy, learning, and great teaching. The Foundation collaborates with leading businesses, nonprofits, and education experts to share good practice; foster innovation; and find workable solutions to the educational disadvantages facing young people and adults across the globe.

More information on the Pearson Foundation can be found at www.pearsonfoundation.org.

About Cinematheque108

Cinematheque108 is an alternative screening series sponsored by the Critical Studies Department at the University of Southern California's School of Cinematic Arts. The series offers a rare selection of events that highlight noteworthy experimental, documentary, and/or foreign films, many of which can not be seen anywhere else. Cinematheque108 is an educational forum that aims to expand understanding of alternative film and media. All screenings are free of charge and open to the pubic.

Check-In & Reservations

This screening is free of charge and open to the public. Please bring a valid ID or print out of your reservation confirmation, which will automatically be sent to your e-mail account upon successfully making an RSVP through this website. Doors will open at 6:30 P.M.

All SCA screenings are OVERBOOKED to ensure seating capacity in the theater, therefore seating is not guaranteed based on RSVPs. The RSVP list will be checked in on a first-come, first-served basis until the theater is full. Once the theater has reached capacity, we will no longer be able to admit guests, regardless of RSVP status.

Parking

The USC School of Cinematic Arts is located at 900 W. 34th St., Los Angeles, CA 90007. Parking passes may be purchased for $8.00 at USC Entrance Gate #5, located at the intersection of W. Jefferson Blvd. & McClintock Avenue. We recommend parking in outdoor Lot M or V, or Parking Structure D, at the far end of 34th Street. Please note that Parking Structure D cannot accommodate tall vehicles such as SUVs. Metered street parking is also available along Jefferson Blvd.

 

Is This the End of Television As We Know It?

The Future of Television- Annenberg Innovation Lab Summit from Annenberg Innovation Lab on Vimeo.

This video captures a really extraordinary and timely conversation that was recently hosted by the Annenberg Innovation Lab as part of its 2013 research summit. The panel was called "Transmedia and the Future of Television," but it was really much more focused on exploring the future of television -- particularly the future of the "program bundle" at a time of tremendous transition in the ways television operates within our culture. (If you want to know more about the research we are doing on transmedia, check out the "T is For Transmedia" report which the Innovation Lab released a few months ago in cooperation with the Joan Ganz Cooney Center).

I was moderator and the panelists were:

  • Gabriel Kahn, Professor of Professional Practice, Journalism, USC
  • Hardie Tankersley, VP of Platforms and Innovation, Fox Broadcasting
  • Aaron DeBevoise, Executive Vice President, Network Programming, Machinima
  • Howard T. Stein, Strategist for Entertainment, Facebook Inc.

The concept of "bundling" -- that is, the selling of a package of networks to subscribers rather than offering them a la carte -- has been a foundation of the cable television industry over the past several decades: cable companies advertise based on the number of channels they offer, lesser interest networks survive because they are attached to high interest networks, and industry insiders claim that this is an approach that supports diversity. Others argue that bundling is to television which block booking was to the Hollywood studio era and that sooner or later, disagregation, which has hit the music and newspaper industries, will hit television also. Part of the premise of the panel was that events over the past year or so have been transformative in how television content gets funded, produced, and distributed, and how we consume it. Part of the goal of the panel was to get people from journalism, from the television industry, and from some of the emerging digital challengers to talk about these changes and how they feel they will impact the future of the medium.

What follows are some of the key indicators that the nature of television is undergoing some radical shifts as we write (some of them are discussed here, some did not get talked about because of time limits, and some have occurred since the conference, but they all represent good background for watching this session).

 

  • YouTube announces that 100 media companies and celebrities have signed up to launch their own channels for content distribution and the company has solicited a broader and more diverse group of people to curate their own playlists, directing attention on content which Wired describes as having a “cable feel” but being “way more niche than cable ever could.”

  • Surpassing the speed and scope of the earlier Susan Boyle phenomenon, Kony 2012,  a 30 minute documentary about child soldiers in Africa, reaches more than 77 million views in under four days through grassroots circulation, drawing more eyeballs that week than the highest rated television series on American television and the top grossing Hollywood box office hit that week, combined. Its success has since been followed by the global circulation of Psy’s “Gangem Style,” which has helped to introduce KPop content into the U.S. Market.

  • Hulu is offering an extensive array of international television programs as exclusive online content to their subscribers, suggesting that national borders are increasingly arbitrary in terms of television consumption, even for U.S. consumers.
  • Amazon announces that it is commissioning eleven pilots for production as web-based television series, with the pilots to be available to the public, which will help decide which ones will go into full production.

  • Some media observers note that brands may have gained greater advantage over their spontaneous social media responses during the Super Bowl blackout than they did for their paid advertising during the event. In any case, most of the brands now release their spots to YouTube and other video sharing sites prior to the Super Bowl event itself.

  • According to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, “Among adults younger than age 30, as many saw news on a social networking site the previous day (33%) as saw any television news (34%), with just 13% having read a newspaper either in print or digital form.”

  • A federal appeals court in New York upholds a lower court ruling in favor of Aereo, Barry Diller's Internet startup company, which streams content from local stations via the internet without compensating the original rights holders.
  • Cablevision and Verizon have filed legal action challenging the bundling of television networks as an unreasonable constraint on trade and a threat to innovation.
  • Facebook invests heavily in becoming the central vehicle for supporting mobile television around the world.

  • Participant Media announces that their new television network, Pivot, will be available to "cordcutters" through a mobile app, whether or not they subscribe to cable television.
  • Prospect Park has brought former ABC soaps, All My Children and One Life to Live, from cancelation via web distribution.

Taken collectively, these shifts represent a significant tipping point in terms of how television is produced, distributed, and consumed. Does this spell the end of television as we know it? What happens when "television" is less a technology than a set of programming practices? What happens when more people "cut the cord" or when the industry no longer depends on the "bundle"? What happens when the intensity of fan response may become as important as the quantity of viewers in shaping which programs remain in production?

As the World Stops Turning: A Conversation with Lynn Liccardo about Soap Operas (Part Three)

Much of your writing has focused on parallels between daytime serialized drama and the rise of "quality" shows, primetime dramas which marry serialized storytelling with higher budgets, deeper production values, and much shorter, season-based dramas which pack intense meaning into typically between 10 and 20 episodes in a season, as opposed to 260 episodes per year. What do you feel is the nature of the connection between today's critically acclaimed dramas on FX, AMC, HBO, Showtime, and elsewhere and the daytime serial drama?  

The success of early primetime serials like Dallas (1978) and Dynasty (1981) redefined the public perception of soap opera. Larger-than-life, over-the-top characters like J.R. Ewing and Alexis Carrington, who more resembled stock characters from the commedia dell'arte, than ATWT's Hughes family, were enormously entertaining to watch, but not because viewers found "meaning and resonance through a deeper connection."  And while Larry Hagman's (J.R) called Dallas as a cartoon rather than a soap opera, to the media and public these guilty pleasures were soaps simply by virtue of their seriality. The popularity of these primetime soaps coincided with Gloria Monty's transformation of General Hospital,, and had at least as profound an impact on daytime soaps. The spirit of Dallas and Dynasty continues in current primetime soaps Revenge and Scandal, and for the teenage demo, Gossip Girl and Pretty Little Liars.

The Best of J.R. Ewing from Dallas

The true heirs of ATWT comprise a long list of often critically-acclaimed, always ratings challenged, and ultimately short-lived serial dramas.  While thirtysomething may not have looked anything like ATWT, the the day-to-day lives of two baby boomer families, the Stedmans and Westons, mirrored those of the Hughes and Lowells 30 years earlier. Thirtysomething ran from 1987-91 and never rose above 40th in the ratings. Its very ordinariness (tensions between career and family, visiting parents, finding a babysitter) made it, and similar shows that followed (My So-Called Life, Joan of Arcadia, Jack and Bobby, Friday Night Lights, Men of a Certain Age, to name but a few), a challenge to promote effectively.

How networks schedule these quiet, slow-paced shows creates another obstacle. Broadcast network programmers, under pressure to win time slots, often shuffle their lineup, making it difficult for viewers to find these shows, which, unlike episodic television, need to be watched in order. Sometimes networks cancel them after a handful of episodes, creating a self-fulling prophecy when fans hear about a promising new serial drama, but fearing yet another heartbreak (not being hyperbolic here:), decide not to watch.

Since cable networks rarely pull a serial drama before the first order of episodes has aired, and are able to place the show in a fixed time slot followed by multiple repeats (sometimes even daylong marathons), viewers have ample opportunity to connect with these quiet, slow-paced shows. But there are still issues beyond the obvious disadvantages shorter seasons create for serial dramas: less time to fully develop characters and their relationships means less time to fully engage viewers. When networks pick up serials dramas, the creators face uncertainty about the number of episodes that can undermine the pace of the storytelling. After a 13-episode first season, Parenthood was picked up for 22 episodes, then renewed for a 18-episode third season and 15 for the fourth. Since the season often ends before the network has announced that the show has been renewed (or not), the season finale could well be the series finale.

Sometimes, scheduling uncertainty can cause a show's demise. When the first season of TNT's Men of a Certain Age ended in February 2010, the show was averaging 2.6 million viewers per episode, enough for the network to order an additional 12 episodes. After the episodes were completed, TNT decided to air them in two batches.  The first set of six episodes ended in January 2011, and the show was holding its own, averaging 2.4 million viewers. But TNT held the second set until June, when average viewership dropped to 1.5 million and the show was cancelled, a fate that might well have been avoided had all 12 episodes aired as the writers intended when they laid out the second season.

The real challenge is how to describe these quiet, slow-paced shows, which, by their very nature, defy brevity, and struggle even on premium cable, where In Treatment lasted three seasons on HBO and Enlightened is currently fighting to be heard over the noisier Girls and Showtime's Homeland. When Ray Romano pitched Men of a Certain Age to FX, he was told it "wasn't loud enough." The show wound up on TNT, where it never really fit in with the network' s other original programming, procedurals like The Closer, and the light-hearted Franklin and Bash. When Men... was cancelled, critic Alan Sepinwall admitted , "I don't always do the best job of articulating the greatness of this series, but it's there in those moments I described above, and so many more. It is a series about small details, and those details add up into big things: big laughs and big emotion; big pain and big joy."

Edie Falco (Carmela Soprano) has said that she always saw The Sopranos as a family drama. She's right; but take away the mob and what are the odds that The Sopranos would have been picked up, much less become a cultural phenomenon? Peter Horton (thirtysomethings's Gary) perfectly articulated the situation, describing how networks, cable and otherwise, are driven to create shows where something stands out: "'I'm a mother who sells pot,' (Weeds); 'I'm father, but I'm a meth dealer,' (Breaking Bad); 'I'm a gangster, but I have therapy,' (The Sopranos). There's always a but, whereas thirtysomething is about people," which is exactly how Irna Phillips described As the World Turns.

"Quiet" shows with no "buts" are the 21st-century manifestation of  the "your mother's soap opera" dilemma that ultimately doomed ATWT. The challenge facing today's vertical storytellers and programmers is to develop a brand evoking the appeal of "quiet" and the missing "but," that will stand out in an ever more crowded media landscape without compromising the integrity of the vertical storytelling axis. Developing that brand demands a more precise description and definition of vertical storytelling. That means first breaking down the characteristics of these shows at the elemental, even molecular level, a task hampered by the ambiguity of language that so flummoxed Alan Sepinwall. Virginia Heffernan's insightfull 2008 observation that Friday Night Lights "ferociously guards its borders, refines its aesthetic, defines a particular reality and insists on authenticity," which limits "platforms for supplemental advertising" also applies to these shows, and adds to the challenge, and urgency, of developing a brand for them.

 

What are the most interesting experiments with soap opera storytelling that you feel are capturing the unique nature and potential of the "U.S. soap opera format" of storytelling?

 

And therein lies the fundamental (and vexing) question: what exactly is the unique nature of the "U. S. soap opera format?"  There's a vast difference between the public perception of soap opera as a melodramatic guilty pleasure populated with campy, over-the-top, plot-driven characters motivated by agendas rather than emotions, and mine. I would argue that soaps' unique nature lies in a narrative structure that emphasizes storytelling's vertical axis, revealing characters' interiority, their emotional and psychological back stories, and providing time for viewers to fully absorb that information. All of which creates the opportunity for viewers find meaning and resonance through a deeper connection to characters.

A conversation to be continued. But first, the economic realities and the toll they've taken on soap opera's unique nature.

From the time soaps moved from radio to television, the genre expanded: first adding the visual element, then growing from 15 minutes to a half hour, and in the late 1970s, to an hour . At the time, soaps were still a profit center for networks, and their budgets, while paltry compared to primetime shows, were sufficient to hire large casts with which writers wove rich, densely interconnected stories. After O.J., ratings took a hit from which they never recovered. Networks reduced the licensing fees they paid to the production companies, who cut the shows' budgets. There are a number of ways for producers to reduce the cost of on-screen talent (shifting highly-paid veterans to recurring status and reducing the guarantees for contract players), so smaller budgets didn't necessarily translate into fewer characters. What did happen was that there with fewer actors populating each episode, characters interacted less frequently, which limited opportunities for viewers to experience the full pleasure of the vertical axis. So, what had been a rich storytelling tapestry frayed and eventually shredded into the fragmented storytelling discussed above.

In July 2011, Prospect Park announced that they had acquired the online rights to two cancelled ABC soaps, All My Children and One Life to Live, and planned to launch the shows in early 2012. Grateful fans cheered and the mainstream media took note. But, PP's announcement was premature: they had not yet negotiated contracts with the unions, and their business plan, which retained the shows' hour format, failed to attract sufficient financing. When PP said they were suspending their efforts a few months later, most observers believed the deal was dead.

Fast-forward to last December: PP announced that they had negotiated collective bargain agreements with the guilds and secured sufficient financing to begin production in February. PP had lost a credibility with many fans when they suspended their initial effort, and not surprisingly, the reboot's reboot was met with skepticism (and barely a mention in the mainstream media). Initially, PP took a lot of heat on the boards, but as their plans solidified, veteran actors signed on and distribution deals were struck with Hulu and iTunes, fans began to believe (the mainstream media silence continues). Production began on February 25th.

What PP's done over the the past 18 months is what the networks and Procter & Gamble Productions ought to have been doing before soaps' economic model, so successful for so long, was no longer viable. It took PP to recognize that for soaps to survive into the 21st-century, the Web would have to be more than just an additional platform for showing and promoting shows, then come back from an initial failure to make it happen. Perhaps the most important aspect of this resurrection is that the online reboot streamlines the format: 30, rather than 60 minutes; four episodes a week, rather than five. No doubt scaling back helped to convince investors, but will PP recognize the opportunity it has to exploit the shorter format and recapture the unique nature of soaps that has been lost over the years? I'm encouraged by the relatively small, multi-generational (of the 14 contract players, eight are over 40; of the eight, two are over 50, four past 60) cast that's been assembled for One Life to Live. All of the characters are deeply-connected, with long histories between and among them, so the elements are in place for PP to turn economic necessity into the mother of reinvention. The rebooted AMC and OLTL are slated to premiere some time in April.

When Irna Phillips blazed the trail for serial drama in the 1950s, the television landscape was minuscule, three networks, and relatively expensive to enter -- the $10,000 cost of the ATWT pilot was twice the median household income at the time. Today, as the price of technology continues to drop, anyone can make and upload video to a media landscape incalculably larger than 60 years ago.  Since the mid-1990s, the Web has been flooded with mostly free content of varying quality, including an ever-increasing number of online serials designed to appeal to soap fans. Like their primetime counterparts, these Web-series are most often considered soap operas only by virtue of their seriality.  Despite barebones budgets and minimal monetization, many of these series, juggle large casts of characters squeezed into short (7-12 minute) episodes, limiting possibilities for deep viewers engagement. Only a handful have fully engaged my inner soap fan. My favorite, the critically acclaimed Anyone But Me, premiered in 2008 and ran for 26 episodes over three years before the series finale in January 2012.

Last May, while Prospect Park was off the grid getting its ducks in a row, there was a small news item on the We Love Soaps site announcing a new YouTube channel, WIGS: Where It Gets Interesting. The channel promised "high-end, original, scripted series, short films, and documentaries, all starring female leads." WIGS co-creator, Rodrigo Garcia, had long plumbed the vertical storytelling axis in films like Things You Tell Just By Looking At Her, Ten Tiny Love Stories and Nine Lives, along with  HBO's In Treatment. He brought the same sensibility to the work he created for WIGS.

Blue

Serena

 Celia

 

WIGS co-creator, filmmaker Jon Avnet, shares his partner's storytelling sensibility, but even more important is how the two men went about creating the channel. With first-round seed money from Google, WIGS  became an official YouTube channel, making the project attractive to media partner, News Corp, and advertisers, AMEX and Unilever. As the pieces fell into place, including collective bargaining agreements with the entertainment unions, Avnet and Garcia invited more than a dozen writers and directors to create projects built around a female lead. Established actors, aware that their industry is in flux, were eager to participate even if it meant working for scale.

Before WIGS went live on May 14, Avnet and Garcia had produced enough content to run three episodes a week for almost seven months. Enough time to build an audience: more than 25 million views and 110,000 subscribers. The first season of WIGS included a few documentaries and short films, but the channel's foundation was13 scripted serial dramas made up of 2-15 episodes running 7-10 minutes with small casts -- sometimes as few as two characters.

Last month, FOX Broadcasting signed a multi-year deal with WIGS "to expand the breadth of offerings through the WIGS channel, and test and nurture dramatic concepts and talent in the digital realm..with an eye toward building content that can be programmed on FOX and/or other channels." On March 15th, WIGS returns with a second season of Blue, followed later in the spring by the next installments of Lauren, and a new series Paloma.

Avnet and Garcia created WIGS specifically with women as the target audience. So, what to make of one commenter's question, "what does it say that I, a 35-year old man, find myself addicted to WIGS?" What to make of the substantial number of women who were (and are) deeply engaged fans of Friday Night Lights and Men of a Certain Age, both shows ostensibly for and about men? The appeal of vertical storytelling clearly transcends gender; what about other demographic markers? What are the characteristics of viewers drawn to the vertical storytelling axis?

These questions, and others yet to be articulated, need to be explored before vertical storytellers can identify and maximize their potential audience. The data generated by the 110,000+ WIGS subscribers contain essential information for brand development, which, properly analyzed, can also inform the qualitative insights necessary to fully identify viewership.

 

Where has this project led you? Now that you've put together a personal reflection on your relationship to As the World Turns, what's the next step in your ongoing research about the soap opera's place in our cultural history and in our contemporary culture?

Probably the most frustrating part of writing about soap opera has been the lack of a framework within which to consider soap opera's place in our contemporary culture. Identifying the underlying factors has been challenging because there's no hierarchical relationship among them. Over the past several years, I've posted over 100 short articles on my blog. This piece represents my first effort to begin crafting those pieces into a larger context; I've barely scratched the surface.

I first began writing about soaps as a fan. And it's as a fan, saddened and angered with the premature demise of show after show carrying on (consciously or not) the legacy that Irna Phillips began when she created As the World Turns, that I began exploring what it would take to carve out a place for this kind of storytelling in today's rapidly-shifting media landscape. Personal as my efforts have been, this work can only continue with the collaboration of media scholars and professionals along with institutional support.

On related fronts, I'm currently completing the syllabus for a class, "The Influence and Evolution of the American Soap Opera, I'll be pitching to Boston area schools, and considering the possibility of a book to follow.  Also in progress: a proposal for an Irna Phillips biography.

Lynn Liccardo is a longtime soap opera journalist and blogger. Her critical observations on soaps – their content, the industry that produces them, and the culture that both loves them and loves to ridicule them – connect soap opera’s past and present with its future and begin to form a larger framework within which to more fully examine the genre. She released an ebook of essays detailing the final years of As the World Turns, entitled as the world stopped turning... Among her other publications are "Who Really Watches the Daytime Soaps" (1996, Soap Opera Weekly); "Irna Phillips: Brief life of soap opera's single mother 1901-1973" (2012, Harvard Magazine). Her essay, “The Ironic and Convoluted Relationship between Daytime and Primetime Soap Opera,” was published in The Survival of Soap Opera: Transformations for a New Media Era (co-edited by Futures of Entertainment Fellows Sam Ford, Abigail De Kosnik and C. Lee Harrington).

Sam Ford is co-editor (with Abigail De Kosnik and C. Lee Harrington) of The Survival of Soap Opera: Transformations for a New Media Era (2011, University Press of Mississippi) and co-author (with Henry Jenkins and Joshua Green) of Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture(2013, NYU Press). He is also Director of Digital Strategy with Peppercomm, an affiliate with both MIT Comparative Media Studies and Western Kentucky University's Popular Culture Studies Program, and a frequent Fast Company contributor. Sam serves on WOMMA's Membership Ethics Advisory Panel and was named 2011 Social Media Innovator of the Year by Bulldog Reporter. He is a Kentucky Press Association award-winning journalist and has written for Harvard Business ReviewWall Street Journal,BusinessWeekThe Huffington PostPortfolioChief MarketerThe Public Relations StrategistPR News,Bulldog ReporterThe Christian Science Monitor, and CommPRO.biz. Sam lives in Bowling Green, KY, with wife, Amanda, and daughters, Emma and Harper.

As the World Stopped Turning: A Conversation with Lynn Liccardo on Soap Operas (Part Two)

You provide a very personal account of your own gradual disconnect from enjoying and having an emotional engagement with As the World Turns. How would you describe your relationship to the show, both as a fan and as a critic, and how did that relationship evolve over time?

It's ironic, and no small testament to the power of its storytelling, that I became so deeply involved with ATWT: Since it aired on the East Coast at 1:30, while I was at school, I was far more familiar with, and have far more vivid memories of, Search for Tomorrow and Guiding Light, which were on when my sister and I came home for lunch in grammar school, and Another World, which I could see if I came straight home from junior high school.

 

I only got to watch ATWT on holidays, vacations and sick days, a pattern that continued after I moved to Boston in 1973, found a full time job and worked on my undergraduate degree at night. In those pre-VCR days, what I remember more than specific stories is the familiarity of the characters, who were always there when I was able to watch. That was until I took a year off (1982-3) to complete my degree.  While I had been peripherally aware of the General Hospital phenomenon, I had  no idea that GH's success was why the ATWT on my screen was so different from what I remembered.  But, I actually enjoyed what I saw and never considered abandoning the show. At the time, I was in advertisers' target demo, so from that perspective, the change in direction was a success.

 

But, while I was enjoying the ATWT's new direction, my mother was not. She missed the show she had loved for 25 years and eventually stopped watching. She wasn't the only one; the show lost more viewers than it gained and a couple of years later (1984-5) the Calhoun-Marland team righted the ship and the show rose in the ratings. But, without my mother, although she continued to watch GL.

 

After college, the combination of a flexible job and a VCR allowed me to become a serious fan. I was writing about nursing (like soaps, strongly associated with women and thereby marginalized. Also, like soaps' "not your mother's soap opera," nursing had internalized the belief that to be valued they had to become something else: "professional" nurses who didn't want to be seen as "that kind of nurse," dealing with bodily fluids at the bedside.")  While writing an article for Soap Opera Weekly on how nurses were portrayed on soaps I interviewed Doug Marland. A few months later, what was supposed to be a short news piece about CBS ending its head writer training program morphed into a longer article about the paths of three head writers (including Marland), which got me thinking seriously about soaps.

 

In 1995, I began pitching a piece to coincide with ATWT's 40th anniversary in 1996 to Smithsonian Magazine; it took over a year to convince the editor. By the time I arrived on the set in mid-March when the anniversary episode was taped, there was a new production team in place (see above) and the mantra of the executive producer, head writers and publicist was "we're not 40 years old, we're 40 years young."  I could see that things were falling apart, and while I could identify bits and pieces of what was wrong, I couldn't figure out how those pieces fit together (even if I could, I'm not sure Smithsonian would have been the right place), so I was forced to abandon the piece. I wrote one more article analyzing the demographics of soap opera audience, then turned my attention to writing a screenplay (isn't everyone:) and short plays.

 

It wasn't until Sam Ford asked me to be on his thesis committee in 2006 that I was able to begin identifying the "bits and pieces" that had undermined the Smithsonian piece. The task now is to integrate those elements into a cohesive framework within which to consider the full impact of soaps -- a task made all the more challenging since there is no obvious hierarchical relationship among the elements.

 

The book begins with a deep look at Irna Phillips and how the details of her own life so intensely shaped many aspects of As the World Turns. You also recently published a piece about Irna for Harvard Magazine. What do you believe Phillips' place is in the history of the soap opera in particular, and in the greater landscape of U.S. television?

 

Irna Phillips was a risk taker who, rather than fear failure, learned from it. In 1948, she wrote to P&G's William Ramsey that she had doubts about televising soaps, suggesting that it would be some time before a televised serial could succeed. (She doesn't explain why, but at the time there were roughly 100,00 television sets in the country, most concentrated in the New York area, up from 44,000 the previous year. As the post-war economy expanded, the number of sets increased exponentially; by 1953, over half of US household had a television.) Yet, just a few months later, in January 1949, Irna approached NBC about creating what many consider the first television soap, These are My Children. Accounts vary (some say the network pulled it after five weeks; Irna says she pulled it after 13 weeks when the network shifted its time slot), but by any measure, the television's first soap opera was a failure. Whether the show failed because it was bad (according to Television World) or because the low viewership was a function of too few households with televisions is impossible to determine.

 

The success of two early television soaps on CBS (Search for Tomorrow and  Love of Life), convinced Irna that the time was right to move Guiding Light from radio, where it began in 1937, to television. But GL's owner, P&G believed that only serials created specifically for television would succeed.  Undaunted, Irna revised two GL "highly dramatic" radio scripts (it's not clear if she secured P&G's permission), then spent more than $5000 of her own money (in 1952, the median household income was $3900) to tape the episodes and the show premiered on CBS in June, while remaining on radio until 1956 (when 71% of households had at least one television).

 

When Irna first floated the idea of a half-hour soap the suits were again skeptical. One executive told her, "we don't believe in investing in a possible failure." But, as with GL, Irna persevered, this time collaborating with longtime colleagues, Agnes Nixon and Ted Corday, to write and finance ($10,000) a pilot for ATWT. According to Irna, the nine cast members were so impressed, "they agreed to hold themselves available for six months" until the pilot was picked up.

 

In the early 1960s, Irna became a consultant for what would become the first successful primetime soap opera, ABC's Peyton Place (1964-1969). She then created a primetime ATWT spinoff, Our Private World, which ran for 19 weeks (38 episodes) from May 5 - September 10, 1965. CBS's decision to air the show over the summer, rather than launching it as part of the new fall season, likely contributed to its short run, and may also have reflected a lack of confidence in Irna. Since her unfinished memoir, All My Worlds, ends in late 1963 with her creation of Another World, if Irna had any thoughts about All My Worlds and the two shows she later created, Love is a Many Splendored Thing and A World Apart, they would be in her papers at the Wisconsin Historical Society archives.

 

Much of your book focuses on the ways in which management practices and corporate structure in the last 15 years of As the World Turns' 54-year run damaged both the quality of the story and the relationship the show maintained with its fans. In the course of your research and writing, in what ways were soap opera fans drawing these connections between industry news and what played out on their screens on an everyday basis? And what can media scholars and those who work in or study other media industries learn from studying the ongoing relationship between longterm viewers and a media property like ATWT?

 

When fan magazines covering soaps first appeared in the late-1960s, soaps had been on television for almost 20 years. Those early publications consisted mainly of interviews with actors and features that took fans behind-the-scenes of the shows. It wasn't until Soap Opera Weekly came on the scene in November 1989 that fans had timely access to industry news and serious criticism. In addition to episode recaps, Weekly published spoilers that let fans know what would happen when. According to founding editor, Mimi Torchin, fans welcomed information that allowed them to prioritize. Of course, in a extreme example of unintended consequences, spoilers have become a vexing challenge for all serialized storytelling in the digital age.

Both Weekly and its sister publication, Soap Opera Digest, included "Comings and Goings" and "The Revolving Door," features that alerted fans when actors left roles, or were cast as new characters. This information became a form of spoiler that allowed fans to speculate outside of what they saw on the screen. Producers and writers exacerbated this phenomenon by sharing information about who the new (or recast) character would be paired with, and the direction the story would take.  With the final years of ATWT  characterized by a seemingly endless array of new characters, few of whom were connected to the core Hughes family, when fans heard the news online, many were not inclined to give the show the benefit of the doubt and wait to see how stories played out before passing (usually negative) judgment.

Another factor to consider: the unintended consequences of rebranding, which requires a willingness to to alienate, and even lose, existing customers to attract desired customers. This worked brilliantly for AMC when the network shifted its focus from showing old movies to become the HBO of basic cable. But movie buffs had plenty of options; not so with soaps. Whether it was articulated or not, when ATWT shifted the show's focus in the early-1980s to capture younger viewers, the show seemed willing to lose its existing viewers, like my mother, who left and never returned, even when the show corrected course a few years later. But, with all soaps trying to recreate General Hospital's success, there was no place for disaffected fans to turn. So many stayed, and with the remote controls that came with their new VCRs in hand,  fast forwarded through many of the new characters that populated the ATWT canvas, contributing to the show's increasingly fragmented storytelling. One consequence  of fragmented storytelling is a fragmented audience, with each segment expressing its own spin on the genre's aesthetic. The result: divergent and often conflicting comments that made it difficult to interpret and apply fan feedback.

In 1996 P&G set up a toll-free number to provide viewers with inside information about the ATWT. At the end callers were asked who they wanted to see the troubled Emily Stewart paired with: "press 1 for Diego, 2 for Jeff." Since "other," "none of the above" or,"in the case of this particular character, "a good therapist," were not among the choices, the results were  meaningless. And the way in which the question was posed (the only option to bypass the question was hanging up) made clear that this was not a serious effort on the part of PGP to engage viewers, but rather a ham-handed token.

Another example of the show's tin ear was someone's (probably not the executive producer or head writer, both of whom had worked in soaps long enough to understand the subtle intricacies of how time unfolds on soaps; depending on the circumstances, sometimes compressed, sometimes extended.) literal interpretation of a frequent complaint about soaps: "the stories move too slowly." In 2008, ATWT abandoned soap opera's traditional narrative structure and began a series of short-term story arcs, some of which wrapped up in a single episode. The combination of self-contained episodes and spoilers made at least one fan happy: "Not sure how or why TPTB have come up with this new concept, but is sure is working well. I think I've watched a total of one or two episodes in the last two weeks." An unintended consequence that inflicted considerable damage in ATWT's final years.

Without an understanding of not just what's being said, but what it means, soliciting feedback is at best, futile, at worst, damaging. When it came to soap opera, however, there was no guarantee that those who were conducting the research had ever watched soaps. According to one former network executive I talked with, it was the rare researcher who even took the time to familiarized themselves with the show for which they were collecting feedback. So, while their empirical observations may have been accurate, without a shared experiential frame of reference with their subjects, researchers often lacked to tools to infer, then accurately interpret and apply how fans experience soaps.

When it comes to suspending disbelief, the very nature of daytime soaps demands more of viewers than other dramatic media. But as the genre's scope expanded over the years, traditional elements -- intimate relationships between family, friends and lovers -- began to share space with time travel, the supernatural, omnipotent villains and characters whose repeated returns from the dead often defied both logic and the laws of physics. When ATWT's James Stenbeck first reappeared in 1986 after being presume dead, he provided a simple explanation: "I had a parachute."  But as explanations for his subsequent resurrections became more and more preposterous, some fans were angry, feeling that the writers were taking advantage of their willingness to suspend disbelief -- even insulting their intelligence. Others chalked it up to a "it's a soap opera. No one gives a shit if it makes sense" mentality on the part of writers and producers. By 2009, when Stenbeck returned from the dead for the fourth and final time, the writers didn't bother to even go through the motions. And rather than get angry, those fans still watching responded with detached bemusement.

The number of serialized dramas has exploded in the past 15 years, so dominating television programming that a recent piece in TVGuide suggests that serial dramas may be reaching the saturation point. The challenges facing these shows -- maintaining the integrity of the storytelling in the face of network interference and the shuffling of show runners, spoilers, time-shifting, and more recent additions to the lexicon, binge watching and, perhaps most important, hate-watching -- all have their antecedents in soaps. Current and future storytellers facing the challenge of attracting viewers in a media landscape drowning in serial drama have much to learn by understanding how soaps and their fans have dealt with these issues.

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 Lynn Liccardo is a longtime soap opera journalist and blogger. Her critical observations on soaps – their content, the industry that produces them, and the culture that both loves them and loves to ridicule them – connect soap opera’s past and present with its future and begin to form a larger framework within which to more fully examine the genre. She released an ebook of essays detailing the final years of As the World Turns, entitled as the world stopped turning... Among her other publications are "Who Really Watches the Daytime Soaps" (1996, Soap Opera Weekly); "Irna Phillips: Brief life of soap opera's single mother 1901-1973" (2012, Harvard Magazine). Her essay, “The Ironic and Convoluted Relationship between Daytime and Primetime Soap Opera,” was published in The Survival of Soap Opera: Transformations for a New Media Era (co-edited by Futures of Entertainment Fellows Sam Ford, Abigail De Kosnik and C. Lee Harrington).

Sam Ford is co-editor (with Abigail De Kosnik and C. Lee Harrington) of The Survival of Soap Opera: Transformations for a New Media Era (2011, University Press of Mississippi) and co-author (with Henry Jenkins and Joshua Green) of Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture(2013, NYU Press). He is also Director of Digital Strategy with Peppercomm, an affiliate with both MIT Comparative Media Studies and Western Kentucky University's Popular Culture Studies Program, and a frequent Fast Company contributor. Sam serves on WOMMA's Membership Ethics Advisory Panel and was named 2011 Social Media Innovator of the Year by Bulldog Reporter. He is a Kentucky Press Association award-winning journalist and has written for Harvard Business ReviewWall Street Journal,BusinessWeekThe Huffington PostPortfolioChief MarketerThe Public Relations StrategistPR News,Bulldog ReporterThe Christian Science Monitor, and CommPRO.biz. Sam lives in Bowling Green, KY, with wife, Amanda, and daughters, Emma and Harper.

As The World Stopped Turning: Lynn Liccardo Talks About Soap Operas (Part One)

I have often acknowledged that fans are the true experts on popular culture: their passionate relationship with a favorite series or franchise often motivates them to research it more deeply, read it more closely, and interpret it more richly than an academic would be able to do. Not all fans know how to articulate their findings in ways that move beyond the particular details and speak to the larger context and implications of their objects of study, but those who do have much to teach us about their particular corners of the popular culture universe. Lynn Liccardo is an extraordinary soap opera fan, who over the course of her life has moved from a passion for As the World Turns and its creator Irma Phillips, towards more and more active engagement with the soap opera industry (such as it has become) and who has written professionally about soaps for a number of years. I was lucky to meet Liccardo when she served on the thesis committee for one of my MIT graduate students Sam Ford, now co-author of Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Network Culture; she has been coming to our Futures of Entertainment conferences ever since; she contributed to Sam's book on the future of soap operas; and now, she has an e-book of her own, As the World Stopped Turning, which shares some of what she knows about the history, aesthetics, production, and reception of soap operas.

I am the first to admit that soaps are a blind spot for me as a fan and as an academic, though I also would acknowledge that those of us who care about transmedia storytelling and contemporary primetime drama have much to learn from the soap opera tradition about expansive storyworlds and long-form serials in particular. So, I asked Sam Ford if he would interview her for the blog. Below aresome of Liccardo's thoughts connecting As the World Turns to some of the industry trends and developments over the past six decades that have impacted serialized television storytelling.

As the World Stopped Turning is a full ebook of your essays dedicated to the soap opera As the World Turns. Why is this particular daytime serial drama so important to study, in your opinion? What is As the World Turns' particular place in our cultural history?

 

As The World Turns was the first 30-minute serial, doubling the standard 15-minute episode. But  it was more than its length that contributed to the show's impact on the genre and cultural history. When creator, Irna Phillips, conceived the show, she wanted the additional time not to tell more story, but to develop "better story and characterization." Before ATWT debuted in 1956, serials concentrated on a single family; in her new creation, Irna contrasted the stories of two families, one united and solidly middle-class, the Hughes, the other, wealthy and divided, the Lowells, "because by the 1950s divorce and separation were becoming a more pronounced element in our social structure." Irna also believed (more than 30 years before GH's Luke and Laura), that including teenagers as a major part of the story, "added the valuable asset of longevity to the serial."

But what set ATWT apart from earlier soaps was Irna's skillful juxtaposition of vertical and horizontal storytelling axes, with her emphasis on the former (character), which slowed the latter (plot), sometimes to a seeming standstill.  In fact, the first year of the show there was virtually no plot, just these rather ordinary characters going about everyday lives that resembled those of many viewers. The intimacy of the connection between viewer and character was reinforced as the camera moved slowly over actors' faces, laying the groundwork for future audiences to recognize what a character in Ron Howard's film, Frost/Nixon, called "the reductive power of the close-up."

Irna gave voice to her deeply-held belief that "nobody is all good or all bad and each human being can exhibit all of these elements, often at the same time," through stories that gave equal weight to the conflicting emotions within each character,  forcing viewers, in the words of critic Robert LaGuardia, "to grieve over the heartbreak of the human condition rather than to hang on to a fixed value judgement."  In her outline, Irna was emphatic that ATWT "not a melodrama," but rather "a show about people." That ambiguity deeply permeated the cultural ground water and became the foundation of what's now called quality television and complex storytelling, although, as I discuss below, for viewers who only know daytime soaps after Luke and Laura, the connection is not at all clear.

The episode below aired about a year into the show's 54-year run. While it contains none of ATWT's trademark closeups, it is an elegant example (one of the few still available) of how soap opera historically used character to move plot: a narrative structure that ties current stories to back stories and uses history and memory to contextualize current plot and character development. The power of this episode lies in its four deceptively simple scenes, each a conversation between two of the episode's four characters. While almost nothing happens in the episode, when it's over viewers understand the relationships, not just among the characters in the episode, Chris, his father, Pa, and sister,, Edie, who was involved with his law partner, Jim, but between every character on the show: Chris's wife Nancy, his daughter, Penny, who became estranged from her aunt Edie when Penny's best friend, Ellen, revealed that her father, Jim, was involved with another woman, Edie. Even a character who never appeared on the show, Chris and Edie's brother, John, was fully contextualized.

As the World Turns #268 Part 1 

 As the World Turns #268 Part 2

 

What do you believe were the biggest factors in the demise of As the World Turns?

The demise of ATWT actually began in 1978, when Gloria Monty's was hired to fix a show on the verge of cancellation, ABC's General Hospital. At the time, most soap operas followed the model Irna Phillips had created on ATWT: intergenerational families made up of rather ordinary characters living rather ordinary lives that resembled those of most viewers.

 

Monty altered that model by speeding up the pace of the storytelling by shifting the focus from the day-to-day lives of the doctors and nurses of General Hospital to the young, Laura, and the hip, Luke, who, in the process of saving the world from being frozen by the Ice Princess, also saved General Hospital, thereby forever altering the public's perception of soaps. As college lounges  filled with students following the adventures of Luke and Laura, for the first time it was cool for kids to watch soaps.

 Luke & Laura - Lover's on the Run Volume 1

But GH wasn't their mother's soap opera; ATWT was. How CBS and Procter & Gamble responded to the end of ATWT's 20-year reign at the top of the ratings is a lesson in what not to do. Rather than take a deep breath and think about ways to exploit the perception of ATWT as "their mothers' soap opera" to the show's advantage, the new executive producer, Mary-Ellis Bumin, approached her task from what, in light of GH's explosive success, seemed like a logical assumption, but ultimately proved deeply flawed: the only way to attract the younger viewers advertisers coveted was by excluding older characters. So, what had been the ATWT's  greatest assets -- its 20+-year history and the multi-generational Hughes family -- was seen as its greatest weaknesses. Soon after Bunim took over familiar characters were pushed to the sidelines and viewers found themselves watching Tom and Margo (Oakdale's Luke and Laura) chase a dwarf named Mr. Big -- ATWT's version of the Ice Princess.

 As the World Turns: Vintage Tom and Margo

But what had worked so brilliantly for GH never caught on with ATWT's core audience. When Laurence Caso took over CBS's New York daytime operation in 1983, he realized that ATWT would never succeed by continuing to copy what the ABC soaps were doing. He pushed Procter & Gamble to replace Mary-Ellis Bunim with Robert Calhoun, then hired head writer Douglas Marland, who rebuilt the show around Hughes. ATWT thrived until Marland suddenly died in 1993. A year later, the show was still in the process of rebuilding as the country obsessed over the O.J. Simpson murder trial.

ATWT's missteps of the early 1980s have to be understood in the context of GH's unprecedented success, which threw all soaps into uncharted waters. But CBS and P&G had clearly failed learn from history when, in 1995, a new regime once again distanced the show from its history and the Hughes family. As the show floundered until its cancellation in 2010, no one even tried to right the ship by reestablishing the centrality of the Hughes. Even if they had, it might well have been too late. P&G's other two shows, Guiding Light and Another World, were in even worse shape than ATWT. In 2005, P&G eliminated the position of executive in charge of production and subsequently transferred the shows' day-to-day operations to a subsidiary, TeleNext Media. Then, in 2008, the TeleNext logo replaced P&G's in the show credits, sending a clear message that P&G was content to let the clock run out on their soaps.  

 

Lynn Liccardo is a longtime soap opera journalist and blogger. Her critical observations on soaps – their content, the industry that produces them, and the culture that both loves them and loves to ridicule them – connect soap opera’s past and present with its future and begin to form a larger framework within which to more fully examine the genre. She released an ebook of essays detailing the final years of As the World Turns, entitled as the world stopped turning... Among her other publications are "Who Really Watches the Daytime Soaps" (1996, Soap Opera Weekly); "Irna Phillips: Brief life of soap opera's single mother 1901-1973" (2012, Harvard Magazine). Her essay, “The Ironic and Convoluted Relationship between Daytime and Primetime Soap Opera,” was published in The Survival of Soap Opera: Transformations for a New Media Era (co-edited by Futures of Entertainment Fellows Sam Ford, Abigail De Kosnik and C. Lee Harrington).

Sam Ford is co-editor (with Abigail De Kosnik and C. Lee Harrington) of The Survival of Soap Opera: Transformations for a New Media Era (2011, University Press of Mississippi) and co-author (with Henry Jenkins and Joshua Green) of Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture(2013, NYU Press). He is also Director of Digital Strategy with Peppercomm, an affiliate with both MIT Comparative Media Studies and Western Kentucky University's Popular Culture Studies Program, and a frequent Fast Company contributor. Sam serves on WOMMA's Membership Ethics Advisory Panel and was named 2011 Social Media Innovator of the Year by Bulldog Reporter. He is a Kentucky Press Association award-winning journalist and has written for Harvard Business ReviewWall Street Journal,BusinessWeekThe Huffington PostPortfolioChief MarketerThe Public Relations StrategistPR News,Bulldog ReporterThe Christian Science Monitor, and CommPRO.biz. Sam lives in Bowling Green, KY, with wife, Amanda, and daughters, Emma and Harper.

Kickstarting Veronica Mars: A Conversation About The Future of Television (Final Installment)

Suzanne Scott: Thanks, AJ, for doing the heavy lifting by synthesizing the tensions emerging out of this conversation, and for tackling the industrial context. You’re absolutely right, fans and producers both know the score, and I think it’s vital to acknowledge fan agency in this discussion, despite my qualms about how the campaign frames fan participation and labor.  That said, I’d add a couple of corollaries to the core tensions you’ve identified above, drawing on the framing of fans across the past few exchanges.

First, I want to revisit Maurício’s point about the ultimate “winner” of the shifting power dynamics between media audiences, producers, and distributors being the story itself.  Both Maurício and Henry make a strong case for the how this emerging model might be most beneficial for liminal producers and properties, those that don’t fall neatly into the categories of “mainstream” or “independent” production.  But there’s a catch with fan-funded stories, and it’s already visible in the discourses around the Veronica Mars Kickstarter.  It’s baked into the FAQ’s nod to shipping and fan expectations (see image), and it’s directly addressed in this remark from Thomas after the success of the campaign:

“I had some desire, as a filmmaker, to take Veronica in a slightly new direction and do something adventurous with her. Or, there's the ‘give the people what they want’ version. And I think partly because it's crowd-sourced, I'm going with the ‘give the people what they want’ version. It's going to be Veronica being Veronica, and the characters you know and love. Certainly, I think I can make a fun, great movie out of that, and I'm excited about that, but it was a creative debate I had with myself, and I finally made the decision that I'm happy with it, to go with, ‘Let's not piss people off who all donated. Let's give them the stuff that I think that they want in the movie.’”

 

It’s the “give them the stuff that I think they want” that troubles the notion that story emerges the clear “winner” in this particular case.  Whether Thomas is justifiably hedging his bets in response to the intense scrutiny that has accompanied the campaign’s success (“If the movie ultimately sucks, don’t blame me, my vision was hindered by fan service…after all, they paid for it…”) is beside the point.  To return to the first tension AJ identified, fan “satisfaction” is clearly the central concern here, but it’s ultimately framed as a potential detriment to Thomas’ creative control.  There is something empowering about the fact that, in Maurício’s terms, we can now frame fans as studios.  But what I think might be getting lost here is the fact that fans are independent creators too, and it’s often their dissatisfaction with a story, or the industrial structures and strictures that limit it, that drives their textual production.  Henry’s right that fans will always be read, first and foremost, through an economic lens.  But, fans aren’t just storybuyers, they’re storytellers.  They make their own satisfaction.

 

On a second and related point, you all make a compelling case for how distribution on Netflix, or similar platforms, might help reshape industrial investments in media properties, encourage experimentation with transmedia or non-linear textualities, and cater to pre-existing fannish consumption patterns such as binge watching. Our conceptual understanding of what “television” is (who produces and distributes it, and where, when and how we consume it) continues to be radically reimagined in the post-network era.  Within the Netflix television model, the television temporalities of seriality and seasonality are effectively eradicated. This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but I do wonder how these new “telelvision” models might fundamentally alter our conception of television fandom.

 

If fans produce their richest work in the gaps and margins of a television text, they’ve also historically used the temporal gaps and margins between episodes and seasons to their advantage.  I return, time and again, to Matt Hills’ Fan Cultures and his useful notion of “just-in-time” fandom to describe how fan practices have “become increasingly enmeshed within the rhythms and temporalities of broadcasting” (178).  Moreover, Hills cautioned (back in 2002, no less), that eradicating time lags function “ever more insistently to discipline and regulate the opportunities for temporally-licensed ‘feedback,’ and the very horizons of the fan experience” (179).  So, what happens when we begin to reconceptualize the afterlife for cult television series strictly as films, or in one large seasonal installment with no lag time between episodes?  The pleasures of television fandom are deeply tied to its form, and the impact of these shifts deserves further consideration.

 

My concern here isn’t just the horizons of the fan experience, but the horizons of the industrial and cultural framing of fans and fan participation. Whether we’re talking about fan-funded film extension of a cult television series, or an entire new season of a cult show dropping on Netflix, these temporal horizons are potentially less generative for fans, which in turn might make it increasingly difficult to discursively shift our understanding of them as producers of anything but capital.  If I’m being totally honest, as a Veronica Marsfan, what I really want is another season of Veronica Mars.  And as an Arrested Development fan, I will absolutely binge watch the new season (and, let’s be real, I’ll binge watch the prior three seasons as an amuse bouche the day before the launch).

 

Understandably, we all want to focus on what we’re gaining.  I’m admittedly more interested in what’s potentially being lost or overlooked, but I don’t want that emphasis to be mistaken for a lack of enthusiasm about these developments.  I do think they have game-changing potential, particularly as the beginnings of a creators’ rights movement.  I just worry that fans’ legacy as creators in their own right will once again be obscured in favor of celebrating industrially sanctioned modes of fan engagement.

Mauricio Mota:

From all of our contributions so far, the ones that mostly intrigued me were the ones related to roles (fans, producers, distributors) and business models.

And both rely on a discussion that, if not well explored, can become a "chicken or the egg" equation.

Some questions to provoke that discussion:

Would Veronica Mars raise all that money on Kickstarter if it was an independent movie from a new director with an unknown actress about an unknown character?

Do we really need algorithms to figure out that BBC Format + David Fincher + Kevin Spacey + Washington politics is a success formula for House of Cards?

Is 60 thousand people as a Box Office number for a movie a sufficient number for a studio to green light to produce it?

When fans "invest" or donate for IP development and or production they are looking for some sort of creative control or ownership or just wanting the story to come to life?

We are entering - with or without the help from the Studios - an era of what we like to name as  "Grassroots Blockbusting": where IPs are nurtured to the ground up and more independent of the "normal" way of becoming a success. All Studios have what we name "Dormant IPs" - stories that have already a whole world built, good story arches and some sort of audience built through generations. But very few of these IPs (and even less Studios) are being developed in a way that allows them to become something profitable and successful.

Unfortunately it is still naive to come to a studio or any big show runner in town and tell them to "hand over IP". This is not only a conversation about studios focusing on blockbusters and mainstream stories because of shareholders. They are also investing on their libraries and keeping as much control of that IP as possible. Their framework is built around owning as much % of the IPs as possible since the same framework is built around giving more power and control for the part that invests more to make a story happen. And although roles are blurring,  very few creators can say they can make their own shows without a major investment from a studio.

In Brazil, the Government is making an immense effort to grow our TV industries by creating a new law that makes every cable channel to invest massively on original content produced by Brazilian companies (like mine). It is a huge achievement but it has also been very tricky and challenging for the producers to convince studios and networks ( still the most important distribution channels) to give up on a big percentage of an IP they would air because of that new law. Simply because it forces them to not own majority of brazilian original content. So, better said than done.

However, there are independent funds - in the US, Latin America and Asia - that are starting to invest into new green IPs or buying turnaround scripts from studios/production companies to re-start them from the ground using transmedia and the digital tools to start them small and sustainable. Like I said before, lines are blurred, roles are confused and money and knowledge about what works is more democratized.

The existing cases we have been discussing are actually good starters for a possible different model where fans and creators are closer by sharing a common dream and making it happen. And by doing so more and more the Studio system will then have new competitors among the same people they see as consumers. Which is a good thing since humans and companies tend to pay more attention to things and people that threat them than to people that they take for granted. And to AJ's points looks like creators and fans are paying more attention to what is happening around them.

 

Aymar Jean “AJ” Christian is an assistant professor of communication in the Media, Technology and Society program at Northwestern University. His manuscript, tentatively titled Off the Line, Independent Television and the Transformation of Creative Economy, explores the politics and value of the web series market. He edits a personal blog, Televisual, has been published in the academic journals Continuum, Transformative Works and Cultures, First Monday and Cinema Journal, and in the popular press in Slate, Indiewire, The Wall Street Journal and The Root, among others. For more information, visit his site.

Suzanne Scott is a Mellon Digital Scholarship Postdoctoral Fellow in the Center for Digital Learning + Research at Occidental College.  Her work on fandom within convergence culture, transmedia storytelling, and fanboy auteurism has been published in the anthologies Cylons in AmericaThe Participatory Cultures Handbook, and A Companion to Media Authorship, and the journal Transformative Works and Cultures.  She blogs at Revenge of the Fans and tweets @iheartfatapollo.
Mauricio Mota is one the founders of The Alchemists, Entertainment Group responsible for building original transmedia narratives and content for studios, publishing companies, fans and brands. Some of their clients include Coca-Cola, Petrobras, TV Globo, CW, Elle Magazine, NFL, Nextel and the Brazilian Ministry of Education. He was responsible for bringing the concept of transmedia storytelling to Brazil and implemented the Transmedia Communication Department for Globo Television (4th largest network in the world).