Preview: Losers and Winners of Q3 2019

It’s been quite a quarter; the last one before the Great Entertainment Semi-Finals fire their starting gun and truly get underway. Controversies! Anniversaries! Paradigms falling!

But when the quarter ended and the dust settled, there were a few clear winners – for the moment – and a lot more losers. But if it’s never a great time to be a loser; it’s not a terrific time to be a winner either. Do well, show some promising signs, have a few hits and your reward is going to be a bunch of people asking, “So where’s that supposed to get you?” As though there is any path to a downshifted life of comfortable money-printing lying ahead for anyone now.

The Winners trophy right now is engraved with the slogan, “Oh yeah, so what now Bozo!?”

Still, better to get the trophy than to watch someone else get it, is the founding principle of Hollywood.

Given that, here’s a few who topped the lists this quarter:

LOSER: NAMES

Disney Plus is now followed by the new frontrunner for the Branding Flubs Hall of Fame, HBO MAX, or HBO SUPERMAX, or HBO TO THE MAX, or whatever. And then there’s Apple TV. What all of this new breed has in common: You like this brand, now get the something else of this brand. But who wants to watch the Plus, or the Max, or the TV for that matter? People want to watch Disney, or they want to watch their show and get your silly service out of my way.

In one metaphorical snapshot, you can see Netflix’s advantage. The Netflix service is just “Netflix.” Like Xeroxing before it, the act of streaming is so identified with that service that many think watching streaming shows = watching Netflix.

In contrast, Plus, Max, TV . . . these sound like add-ons someone is trying to force down your throat, like $47 for two inches of extra legroom, plus a disposable headset and insurance in case you trip on the jetway. 

At least you know what you’ll be getting when you sign up for Disney. Maybe you used to be able to say that about HBO, but that was at least two PowerPoints ago in the Telephoney progression.

LOSER: ACCOUNTABILITY

When the MeToo tides first washed over Hollywood, there was a sense that the reckoning was coming not just for the predators, but for the people who had facilitated, abetted, and sponsored their behavior over the years. Two years later, the warnings are unmissable to the predators themselves, but for all the people who helped make their horrors possible—hey, we’re all friends here.

Take for starters the newly reunited ViacomCBS and its newly anointed number two, Joe Iannello. As Les Moonves’ long-time right-hand man, as the CFO who wrote the checks, presumably he knew something about the behavior and the steps the company was required to go to to keep it hushed up. But not only did the promised investigation and house-cleaning never materialize, the departure of his mentor has only given Joe the opportunity for another step up. Hollywood is not only never having to say you’re sorry, it’s never having to acknowledge there might be anything to be sorry for.

Even more to the point: the case of Matt Lauer, about whom there are apparently new revelations from new accusers in Ronan Farrow’s forthcoming book. Harvey Weinstein and Les Moonves had free rein because they had no bosses, no one to say: You're not treating people this way on the company dime. Matt Lauer, morning TV star though he might have been, was not CEO of Comcast. He reported to someone, who reported to someone, who reported to someone. Presumably complaints were filed somewhere along Lauer’s trail. Who brushed them under the carpet? Who made the decision to let him stay on board and keep abusing people with the full protection of the Today, NBC, and Comcast names backing him up? Presumably that decision was made and reaffirmed by many people over the years, but good luck thinking we’ll be hearing any apologies from them. I can think of a Today Show overseer or two who have travelled far far up the corporate ladder since. It would be very illuminating and cleansing to hear a bit about what they knew, when they knew it, and whom they might’ve paid to make sure no one else ever found out about it.

WINNER: SHARI REDSTONE

As the year began, she was roundly mocked as a dilettante with the temerity to question the greatest executive in the history of modern business. Now she’s gotten everything she wanted, stands as the most powerful woman in Hollywood today, and has a seat at the table of The Great Entertainment Semi-Finalists. But as with all the winners of this quarter, there’s no time for victory laps in these last days of legacy media. Particularly not in this case. The newly recombined company may be stronger together than the two standalone companies, but even together it’s an entirely unanswered question of how this cash-poor, rickety contraption competes with the behemoths of the Great Semis. So congratulations Shari—and what now?

WINNER: NETFLIX OSCAR CONTENDER

 A month ago, The Ankler predicted how this would go:

The Irishman would be released on its handful of screens in two cities, where the crowds will flock and sitting through three-plus hours will become a momentary happening for a certain subset of a subset. We’ll have no clue of box office or what that adds up to. The critics will give Marty his de riguer 98% RT score. Two weeks later, it will play on The App and the following Monday, the App will duly announce it has smashed every record in existence. Every single Netflix viewer on all 20 continents watched it in full eight times! (And by “watched it in full” we mean was aware of some portion of it for some number of seconds that we’re not at liberty to specify, information you’ll find in paragraph 78 of the trade story headlined: “IRISHMAN SMASHES ALL NETFLIX RECORDS DEAD”)

Film Twitter is outdoing itself, having created new categories of superlatives to genuflect adequately before the achievement. Masterpiece plus! Asking the critical establishment what they think of a three-and-a-half-hour Scorsese epic starring De Niro, Pacino, and Pesci is like asking Inuits what they think of ice. It’s basically the foundational material of their very existence. Which isn’t to say it’s bad ice—it might well be the best ice ever frozen—just that Inuits are very prone to seeing the importance of ice in a way that might not see the charms of . . . bouillabaisse, for instance. In any event, if there was any thought that this film wouldn’t be instantly propelled to the top ranks of the Oscar lists, if not to frontrunner status (especially lacking a heavyweight alternative), that can now be dispelled. Once again, The App finds itself at the top of the Oscar heap. For now.

Because once again, it’s going to wrestle with the same problem as this past year. The film struck jubilation into the hearts of criticdom, who saw it at the Lincoln Center premiere and the like, but once again, very few people are going to see this on the big screen. How will a three-and-a-half-hour drama play for Oscar voters at home? Not that they don’t already watch too many movies via screener at home already. But how will the fact play with them that the public can’t see it in a theater? How will it play with them that there’s no evidence of a public groundswell (they love those public groundswells), apart from The App’s don’t-look-too-closely/no-questions-please assurances that 78% of humanity watched The Irishman in its more or less, kinda entirety within 20 minutes of it debuting on The App.

Netflix had let it slip that the Power of Marty would make the theater owners cave and the windows would crumble before the might App; a notion that many in the media seemed to believe was likely, about which they all should’ve known better. 

The App’s FYC magazine pretty nicely encapsulates how far up its own entrails this whole awards train has gone, led by its NDSE (Neflix Drunken Sailor Era) spending habits. Having purchased a theater, an awards consultancy, and a billboard company, The App seems to have looked around and said, what else are awards campaigns made of? What about those giant doorstop special awards season issues everyone does? Why don’t we have one of those too!? Forgetting first of all that “everyone” in this case isn’t the competitor studios, but rather the actual press, which technically isn’t officially an arm of the studios, so I’m told. 

Anyway, it’s not like those publications put out those special editions because there’s enormous reader outcry demanding: Give me more awards season puff pieces!!Where can I read what Willem Dafoe first thought when he first read the script to The Florida Project?! You call yourselves newspeople?! No, they publish those things, because they need more vehicles for the studios to write them checks, to enlarge the FYC playing field to 200,000 yards in the name of more fences to post billboards on. And so the writers and editors, limping along every inch of the way, publish these unread, unnoticed special issues, uncared about by anyone other than publicists. Until the day Netflix came along and said: Hey, why don’t we get to have one of those! It’s only money after all!

LOSER: NETFLIX EMMY CONTENDER

Oscar may be the better trophy and it’s the show that still actually has viewers, but in the end, is it better to be shut out of the field that you’re actually in, so that you can be a big contender in somebody else’s screwed up field?

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