20 August 2007

Who'll Stop the Rain

Given the weather around here at the moment, I thought this album — particularly the second side (yes, I still have vinyl) — would be appropriate, especially given the storms Life has thrown at me in the last few days. In any event, on to the Monday Miscellany (and those essays will reappear Really Soon Now):

  • An item from Lee Goldberg's interesting blog A Writer's Life offers an interesting — and unduly optimistic, in my jaded opinion — view of the "Hollywood press." Goldberg complains:

    Mark Harmon is on the cover of TV Guide, illustrating their story on the "turmoil" behind-the-scenes on NCIS. The article is tepid, out-of-date and hopelessly vague… and laughable to anybody in the TV business. It just goes to show completely out-of-touch and irrelevant the reporting on the entertainment industry is in the mainstream media and even in the trade publications like Daily Variety and [T]he Hollywood Reporter. Most of entertainment industry reporting, and I used the term "reporting" lightly, is driven by press releases. There is no actual reporting going on any more… much less anything approaching "investigative" journalism. This week's TV Guide story about NCIS is just the latest, obvious example. The fact is that the "turmoil" on NCIS is hardly anything new and has been common knowledge in the TV industry since the show's first season. Just about every writer/producer but me, it seems, has been on — and quickly off — the show at one time or another. For the last few years, stories about the script woes and costly production problems on the show could be heard at just about any casual gathering of TV writer/producers. Did any of it creep into the press? Nope. And by the time the showdown between Harmon and series creator/showrunner Donald Belisario was reported by the press in a very watered-down form, it was old news and irrelevant to everybody in the TV business.

    The real story is why CBS allowed the ugly and expensive situation at NCIS to continue for as long as it did… but nobody is going to report that story. It would be too interesting and informative… and embarrassing for the studio and the network. There are several other shows that have had, or are presently experiencing, more turmoil than NCIS was… and we aren't hearing about it in the press. And we probably won't.

    "Out of Touch" (17 Aug 2007) (link omitted, typography corrected, slightly reparagraphed) As disconnected from weekly TV production as I am, I knew about this (and predicted it based on the fiasco that was JAG… and the indirect association with USN Public Affairs, but that's another story entirely).

    Sadly, Goldberg's criticism of the "Hollywood press" understates the corresponding problems in the "publishing press." Leaving aside the substantive problems with the reporting (I don't have enough to judge comparatively, but within publishing it's really, really bad), I find it endlessly amusing (and simultaneously disturbing) that the "publishing press" tries to build its own rumor mill up to match that in Hollywood… for an industry segment that, if one believes the respective accounting figures (and probably even if one does not), amounts to at most five percent of Hollywood's annual turnover and less than that in profits. That's right — the publishing industry manages to whine even more about losing money on most of its product than does Hollywood.

  • And the problem is largely one of distribution. One of the many, many reasons that I don't see many films as they first come out is that the filmgoing experience sucks here in multiplexland. (Not coincidentally, I have the same reaction to most musical performances.) Hollywood wants big crowds all at once; I suspect that some of it is the egoboo of being able to see a whole bunch of people at once worshipping at one's feet. Hollywood hasn't figured out yet that people want to be comfortable, and that for many of us "comfortable" does not mean sitting in rows in chairs noncompliant with the Geneva Convention while listening to other peoples' kids shriek, other peoples' teenagers giggle, and other peoples' cell phones ring.
  • Or we could just ask ourselves whether a play by any other name is still a play. What I find endlessly amusing about this particular article — as important as the topic really is — is that it neglects the central problem with Shakespeare. Most of us encounter Shakespeare for the first time when reading it in school, all too often taught by someone who has never seen that particular play performed (or, at most, has seen one of the highly abridged versions on film, and thereby missed a great deal of context and amusement). The text is not the play, though, any more than the screenplay is the film. But perhaps the play's the thing | to prick the conscience of the editor (ok, it doesn't scan, but just leave it alone — it's Monday).
  • Last, and far from least, there's the question of measuring damages in copyright cases. Professor Patry has an interesting take on allocation of statutory damages on his blawg this morning. This leads to an interesting, and disturbing, question: What about the several liability of coauthors who write a musical that infringes upon a previously published literary work, but who have distinct and different roles in their version (one composer/partial lyricist, one partial lyricist/scriptwriter/bookwriter)? Now let's have them put on their own play, and see how many infringements have actually occurred, and try to determine how many awards of statutory damages may be made and against whom…

    Yes, I know that was an evil thing to do on a Monday morning. So sue me.