Tuesday 15 June 2010

MED104 - 2.1 Entertain Me! Who makes your entertainment? Institutions,audiences participatory culture

The reading this week was "The promise is great: the blockbuster and the Hollywood economy. Media, Culture and Society, 31(2), 215-230 by M. Cucco (2009), which covers the origins and main features of a movie "blockbuster" in relation to the Hollywood economy. The first thing that sprang to mind when reading this was the movie Sex and the City II (SATCII), which I was unwittingly dragged along to last week. While I wouldn't previously have considered SATCII to be a "blockbuster", when reading this article it seemed to meet most of the criteria - simple characters, pre-sold identity (ie. it is a sequel and also based on a successful TV series) and a large opening weekend. I found these stats which provide information about the movie's cost, opening weekend takings, number of cinemas shown in, etc. which show that the distributor, Warner Bros, were definitely throwing some money into the movie. On a personal level, as soon as I've mentioned seeing it to friends they've almost all said that they too wanted to see it, even though the nicest description I could provide about it was "I'm glad I saw it so I know what other people are talking about" - as far as movies go I thought it was complete nonsense, but there you go. :>

One interesting aspect of the article was the notion that while in the past a movie would win awards for high quality in all aspects, today's blockbuster tends to be more about who has the best special effects, which I would tend to agree with. On the previously mentioned statistics page is a link to Warner Bros. which displays the top 10 movies they've distributed - 8 of those movies are science fiction or fantasy, which all contain extensive special effects. I don't recall seeing a lot in the way of special effects in SATCII (although the storyline seemed to be complete fantasy in many regards!), but it is certainly making money by having simple, recognisable characters and being pushed to a large number of cinemas, so perhaps Warner Bros decided that that was enough to make it worthwhile making. This week I saw a trailer for a new Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz movie named Knight and Day, distributed by Fox, which I thought was clearly aiming at "blockbuster" status by including a couple of famous leading names, a simple "on the run" storyline enhanced by lots of stunts and special effects. I'm not convinced Tom will ever do better than Top Gun but it seems Fox are hoping he will!

We also watched some videos about vidding - I have to say I'm not much of a fan of fan-fiction like this. I can't help seeing it as making a mess of the real thing. I can appreciate people's passion, and that it provides a creative outlet, and it's good that the internet allows them to collaborate with other like-minded individuals... but the actual process of WHY people do it completely baffles me. All I could think of was how wrong it was to do that to Harry Potter! Possibly I'm missing something. :>

The other thing we were asked to do this week was choose a text and identify the individuals, organisations and technologies involved in the production, delivery and consumption of the text. For this activity I decided to look at the TV series Heroes, which I LOVED. Heroes was created by Tim Kring, and shown on NBC for four seasons from 25th September 2006 in the US, until 8th February 2010. It was shown in Australia on Channel 7, although due to Channel 7's remarkable ability to mess up programming schedules, I ended up doing the illegal download thing immediately after it was shown in North America. It turns out that I wasn't alone - in 2009 Heroes was named the most pirated TV show of the year.

While NBC and Tim Kring were in control of the writing and production of Heroes, Tim Kring in particular was also very receptive to fan feedback. The first season of Heroes was named by the American Film Institute as one of the top ten best television programs of the year but the second season was less popular and the show's ratings dropped by 15%, which resulted in Tim Kring issuing an apology to fans. Throughout the series NBC, the writers, directors and production team all participated in science-fiction conventions, blog discussions and online interviews where they answered fan questions and regularly released spoilers about upcoming episodes and storylines.

Apart from creating the TV show, NBC did a pretty good job of creating a Heroes web presence by creating and promoting a range of other types of Heroes media, including graphic novels, which were written by the show's writers and drawn by a company called Aspen Comics, and webisodes, which were available on the NBC website but also appeared on Youtube and other video sites. These media complemented the TV show with additional characters and storylines but didn't substantially impact on it, so if an individual only watched the TV show they would still be able to follow it.

NBC's official Heroes website includes links to games, video, Twitter and Facebook and several other options. An extensive HeroesWiki was also available, which had over 5500 pages and allowed fans to discuss the show, compile information and put together theories. Initially this was a fan-created site but in 2008 it was officially partnered with NBC in exchange for NBC having the rights to display station advertising on the site. There were many other fan-created websites and Wikis as well, but the NBC one was the most comprehensive. NBC's marketing department also made an attempt at creating a viral campaign with the Zeroes parody videos, in which they completely removed all traces of "NBC" and station advertising as an experiment to see how far they could go. Although the Zeroes videos racked up more than 1.5 million views, I personally thought they fell a bit flat which I suspect may have been avoided if they'd gotten Tim Kring involved instead of purposefully keeping him out of it.

Unfortunately Heroes was officially cancelled in May 2010 due to continually falling ratings, which I think occurred as the result of a number of different issues. Firstly, while Heroes web presence was far more comprehensive than many TV series have today, a large percentage of it was created and controlled by NBC and I can't help wondering if that helped the show or eventually contributed to its demise. My feeling is that if NBC and their marketing department had loosened their grip a bit and allowed/encouraged more fan involvement early on, and listened/responded to the feedback of fans regarding the second season, then they may have kept the initial fan-base and even built on it. Unfortunately, even if Tim Kring had had intentions of responding to negative fan feedback and changing the writing after his apology to fans, the 2007-2008 Writer's Guild of America strike effectively cut the second season in half and only 11 episodes were eventually made instead of the planned 24, which disrupted the flow of the storyline. There were high expectations for the third season, where Tim & co. did attempt to speed things up as promised and while some of the special effects were great, unfortunately some of the storylines were overly complex and often created more questions than answers, which ended with NBC firing some of the main writers. Now that I look back it seems to me that Heroes was doomed at the beginning of Season 2, so I suppose I should be grateful that we got 4 seasons of it. :-)

Until next time,


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