Open Mic

September 2011

Ding! Ding! Ding! We Have a Winner! We Have a Winner! Who's the Company or Person Exhibiting the Most Insane, Self-Destructive Behavior in the Past 12 Months? No, It's Not Charlie Sheen or Lindsay Lohan or Anthony Weiner. It's Reed Hastings and Netflix

Chuck Ross Posted September 20, 2011 at 6:33 AM

Paging Dr. Drew. Paging Dr. Drew. Please, someone -- anyone -- do an intervention before our once beloved Netflix is gone forever.

First, let us pray. Gather around all your co-workers or your family. Dear God, please stop whatever has caused Reed Hastings, the co-founder and CEO of Netflix -- and a man we don’t personally know -- to go crazy, nutso, bonkers, daft, mad, bananas, loopy, berserk. Barring that, how about locking him in a room somewhere where he can’t communicate with us, for we fear that he must not know what he says.

As of this moment, there are close to 23,000 comments in response to Hastings' latest ill-advised blog entry that was only posted two days ago. Most of the comments that I’ve read are negative. It’s astounding how quickly he’s pissed off all of us.

Here’s a recent post from a Larry J. Verna, and trust me, it’s typical of the comments:
“Mr. Reed Hastings, you are a moron. Your ability to destroy all that was great about Netflix in a matter of months is staggering…Unlimited streaming and one disc out at a time should still be made available from one site and at a reasonable price. Anything less than that and you will not have me back. Period.”

Hastings, once on a pedestal, has become such a loser in the public’s eye that Comedy Central refuses to roast him. A bunch of us here at TVWeek gathered to blow Hastings a group raspberry, to give him a Bronx cheer, but we stopped, realizing that we’d be insulting raspberries and degrading those in the Bronx.

Mary Ann Hillier posted this: “Netflix has gone completely mental. I've loved the service for years but make it more cumbersome by splitting the service without any benefit? (Video game rental? Please.) And charge more? The love is gone and so am I.”

Let’s quickly review what Netflix has done for us lately. First, out of the blue Netflix announced that if you received DVDs by mail and used its streaming service, your bill would be raised an astonishing 60%.

In three months it lost at least 600,000 subscribers and its stock is dropping faster than “Ishtar” did after its opening weekend.

Then, two days ago, on Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011, in a blog post that will be a Harvard Business School model for folly for years to come, Netfilx CEO Hastings began “I messed up,” and then proceeded to mess up even more.

You’re drawn into Hastings' entry because you think he’s gonna do a mea culpa and say my gosh, what was I thinking, and then rescind the price increase.

No such luck. The only thing he says he messed up was in not explaining the price increase better to us. No, Mr. Hastings, we really got that. We’re actually pretty good when it comes to understanding the fleecing of our pocketbooks.

He goes on in the post to say that Netflix is splitting up into two services. The streaming one will be called Netflix. The one where you get DVDs by mail will be renamed Qwikster.

The worst part is that the two services, though still owned by Netflix, will be run completely separately and not integrated at all.

So what was once a great service, where you could manage all your video wants and needs -- both streaming and on DVDs that you’d get by mail -- will be obliterated.

Oh wait, I get it. Make it much more difficult for me to manage something in my life and I can’t wait to do it.

On Netfilx’s site, a David H. Jansen commented on Hastings’ blog entry: “Why disintermediate yourself from yourself? Why separate queues for disk and streaming? This removes a great convenience and adds a time consuming confusion factor. I am already warn out imagining switching back and forth to see what is in the disk queue and then logging on to another site to see what is in the streaming queue, and then analyzing what I might be able to stream vs get by disk.”

Here’s the comment by a Michael Smith: “Jesus Christ, who are you getting your marketing plan from? It's like you don't want to have customers!”

Kyle Harris commented, “This is the stupidest thing I had ever heard of. Splitting the company into 2 separate entities makes no sense what so ever. The way it was before you announced the price increase was fine.”

Lauren Bitar, who identifies herself from the University of Florida, commented, “My grad school CRM [Customer Relationship Management] class spent 20 minutes of lecture talking about what a bad move you made….[A]re you so stupid to not see the attachment we might have to Netflix? It just changed from a company who wanted me to have whatever movie I wanted pretty much whenever I wanted to a company who is trying to segment its business to make as much money off of us as possible. Gross. You're going to lose more than 1M customers, and even more money from those of us who don't want to renew our DVD subscription.“

I’ll end this rant with a comment on the Netflix site from Karl Geiger, who identifies himself from USC. He’s actually come up with the only explanation I have seen that will keep any of us sane people from insisting that Hastings go straight to the loony farm: “I get it, Mr. Hastings. You shorted your stock.”#

Writers Share Insights, Laughs About Working in TV ... and the Allure of a Certain Miss Emmy

Hillary Atkin Posted September 16, 2011 at 8:39 AM

In film, writers often don’t get much glory, as we’ve all heard many times in the silly but somewhat truthful joke about the naive starlet who slept with the screenwriter in order to get cast in the film, to no avail.

But in television, writers are all that -- and even more so if they are up for a golden statuette named Emmy.

And so it was that a group of writers, most of them also showrunners of some of the top comedy and drama series on the tube -- along with an acclaimed made-for-television movie -- took the stage Tuesday at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills to discuss their lauded scripts before a packed house.

Steve Levitan and Jeffrey Richman (“Modern Family”), Veena Sud (“The Killing”), Jason Katims (“Friday Night Lights”), Greg Daniels (“The Office”) and Peter Gould (“Too Big to Fail”), along with moderator Mike Scully (“The Simpsons,” “Parks & Recreation”) made the WGA West’s annual “Sublime Primetime” a bit of a laughfest from the get-go.

Scully asked Gould whether he got pressure from HBO to add a vampire or have Turtle from “Entourage” stop by in the course of the drama about the financial meltdown of 2007-08, centering on William Hurt as Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and his tense machinations and negotiations with other government leaders and the often arrogant heads of the investment banks to prevent the entire U.S. economy, along with global economies, from running aground. (James Woods as Dick Fuld, ex-CEO of the failed Lehman Brothers, was especially delicious in the role.)

Daniels discussed the challenges of writing Steve Carell’s exit from “The Office” and the impact of his departure on the staff. “I was stressed out about Steve leaving, and wondered how he would say goodbye,” Daniels remarked, noting that they got an extra six minutes for the finale.

“That seems like cheating for the Emmys,” Levitan interjected, and then went on with Richman to break down the story of their nominated script for “Modern Family.” One thread features kids walking in on their parents having sex -- a subject of endless horror, and humorous possibilities, which Levitan shared he has experienced on both sides of the door. Another plotline focused on guests spilling something on an expensive rug and trying to cover it up by moving furniture around, which Richman admitted he did in real life. So now we know not to invite him over.

Sud, whose background includes writing and executive producing the CBS procedural “Cold Case,” talked about her instincts for “The Killing” coming from a dark place, honoring that, and knowing her show was cable-only. She also got some good-natured guff about being the only woman in a group of white guys.

Looking over the entire list of Primetime Emmy Award nominees, she doesn’t have much female company, except for Heidi Thomas for “Upstairs Downstairs” as an individual nominee, Maria Jacquemetton for co-writing the “Blowing Smoke” episode of “Mad Men” and a few women in nominated staffs of shows including “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and “Saturday Night Live.”

Sure enough, that follows a trend documented by an annual study of women in television and film conducted by San Diego State University. It found that women made up just 15% of writers on prime-time network television in the 2010-11 season, down nearly half from the 29% in the previous year.

Even the most talented, award-winning comedy writers in the business would have a hard time making that funny.

Creative Arts Emmys a Chance for Unsung Heroes to Roar -- Even Without Tiger Blood

Hillary Atkin Posted September 13, 2011 at 11:18 AM

Even as Charlie Sheen was getting ready to be the brunt of barbs at Sony Pictures Studios during the taping of his Comedy Central roast, his nemesis, Chuck Lorre, and former “Two and a Half Men" co-star Jon Cryer were starting off the ceremonies at the 2011 Creative Arts Emmy Awards at the Nokia Theater.

While one ceremony was honoring excellence in television industry jobs -- mainly below the line -- the other was bent on mercilessly skewering the man who was once the highest-paid sitcom star on television before he went off the rails. A taste of the proceedings: "How much blow can Charlie Sheen do? Enough to kill two and a half men," said Jon Lovitz. To which Sheen later replied, while touching his chest, “Here beats an eternal flame. I just need to keep it away from a crack pipe.”

In contrast to his previous vengeful name-calling during a meltdown that created a media frenzy, Sheen never mentioned Lorre by name. But he drew a huge response when he told the studio audience, "I did what everyone in America wants to do. I told my boss to fuck off."

Back at the Nokia, Lorre and Cryer lamely joked around about any casting issues on their show -- saying they couldn't recall any -- before launching into the first of a staggering 75 awards that were handed out during the three-hour ceremony.

Both shows will be taped and edited, the Creative Arts Emmys for air on Saturday, Sept. 17, on ReelzChannel (which rescued “The Kennedys” and has already brought home some statuettes for its troubles) and the Sheen roast on Comedy Central Sept. 19, purposefully airing the same night as the season premiere of “Men,” which is sure to garner, um, epic ratings with Ashton Kutcher’s initial outing taking over the lead role from Sheen.

The Creative Arts Emmys gave a huge boost to several shows going into the Primetime Emmy Awards this coming Sunday, especially HBO's lauded freshman series "Boardwalk Empire,” which won seven golden trophies, nearly half of the pay cabler’s leading 15 statuettes for the evening. PBS was second in total trophies with 10, with awards for "Downton Abbey," "Freedom Riders" and "American Masters" among them.

Although he wasn't there in person, it was a big night for Justin Timberlake, who received two Emmy Awards, one as guest actor for his hosting gig on "Saturday Night Live," as well as for co-writing the lyrics to the song he performed in his opening monologue.

The 75 categories honor everything from art direction, sound editing and sound mixing to makeup, hair styling, cinematography, special effects, nonfiction programming and variety and music specials, which “The Kennedy Center Honors" took home once again.

As for the miniseries “The Kennedys,” which Reelz picked up after the History Channel dumped it, it made an impressive showing by winning three technical Emmys. And caught in the net of Discovery's "Deadliest Catch": a whopping four Emmys.

Up against tough competition in the animation category, "Futurama" took home the trophy, another milestone in the show's resurgence.

It was perhaps somewhat bittersweet for John Walsh to receive the Governor's Award for his work on "America's Most Wanted," a program that was recently dropped by Fox, where it began in the late 1980s after Walsh's son Adam was murdered. But the show will find new life on Lifetime.

There were some nostalgic presenting pairs during the ceremony, including Mitzi Gaynor and Bob Mackie presenting, of course, the costume designing awards and Priscilla Presley with Steve Binder, who worked on Elvis's 1968 comeback special, a precursor to MTV’s “Unplugged.”

Jeff Probst was unstoppable. The host of "Survivor" won his fourth Emmy, meaning he has nailed the statuette every time he's been nominated.

In a parallel universe, you might suspect Probst would have something to teach Sheen about surviving, but judging by his “Roast” appearance, in which he appeared healthy and in fine form, he seems to be doing just fine on that score. Must be the tiger blood.

Don't Know Much About Biology. Though, Like You, I Read About a Study Yesterday Saying 'SpongeBob SquarePants' Scrambles Toddlers' Brains. Really?

Chuck Ross Posted September 13, 2011 at 7:36 AM

So.

It’s a Tuesday morning (last spring) and son No. 1, our 16-year-old, has overslept, which means he most likely will miss the bus, which is a big problem because he’s got a chem test period one and I’ve got an early-morning meeting and mom needs to be at a school breakfast for daughter No. 2, the 8-year-old.

She’s been talking real fresh to us lately, and has already lost her privileges to hang out with her best friend Zoe after school today, a fact which she just remembers and screams if she can’t see Zoe after school then she’s not going to school.

Her sister, daughter No. 1, our 13-year-old, screams back, “Fine. Then get out of the bathroom because I’m late and gonna miss carpool.” All of this screaming wakes up our fourth child, son No. 2 -- the 3½-year-old -- who starts crying for “Mommy.” I grab him as I tear down the stairs to get some clothes in the laundry room and dump him into his favorite spot on the couch in the living room and turn on the TV to his favorite show in the morning, “SpongeBob.”

As I do so, I hear the show before the picture comes on, and it’s our favorite little yellow guy going “Honk honk! Beep beep! I'm ready to drive. Are you ready for my driving test today, Mrs. Puff?”
And then I hear, “OK, Mrs. Puff, if SpongeBob fails this test, you will be replaced.”

I immediately recognize it as one of our favorite episodes, as does our 3½-year-old, Jeremy. He shouts out “Barnacles!”

Our 16-year-old, who's sprinting out to catch his bus, glances at the screen and screeches, “Tartar Sauce! Tartar Sauce!”

As usual, it’s a crazy, zany, fun episode, both at home and on "SpongeBob."

At that moment we hear the honking of my daughter’s carpool. She’s not ready -- what else is new -- and the 8-year-old runs outside to tell them that her sister will be down soon. “I’m not going to school today," she announces to her sister's carpool, which upsets the mom driving the carpool because she thinks that means the 8-year-old is probably sick and if she’s sick then her sister’s probably in the beginning stages of getting sick and will give whatever it is to her daughter.

When the 8-year-old ran outside she left the front door open so Cookie, our little Chihuahua, sprinted outside. As my 3½-year-old and I watched SpongeBob hopelessly NOT learning how to drive a boat, crash into a lot of pedestrians and then, blindfolded, get run over by another boat, I tore myself away to go chase down the dog.

With the dog now in my arms, as I get back to the house I see a young man -- the studious grad student type -- also walking up to our front door. My wife yells out that he’s the science guy to test our 3½-year-old for some project.

I take him in to meet Jeremy. He glances at the TV. “Oh, I love this one.” SpongeBob is blindfolded again and his instructor is yelling “Mayday! Mayday! You're off course,” as the boat drives into two buildings and goes even more crazy and comes back out of a fire hydrant.

The college kid asks if it’s OK if he turns off the TV. I say “Sure.” He then goes over to Jeremy and says, “We’re gonna play a few games. First, when I say touch your head, I really want you to touch your toes. And when I say touch your toes, I want you to touch your head.”

The 8-year-old comes in and turns the TV back on, goes to on-demand, and starts watching an old “iCarly.”

The grad student tells Jeremy that they’ll start right after he goes to the bathroom. When he leaves I tell Jeremy, “Listen, whatever he asks you to do, just punch him in the stomach. Not too hard.” Jeremy smiles. I turn off the TV and say to the 8-year-old, “Well, if you’re not going to school, no TV this morning.” She sticks out her tongue at me, says, “Yeah, yeah, I’m going,” and turns the TV back on.

I go upstairs to finish dressing. When I come back I hear the grad kid telling Jeremy, “You like Goldfish crackers, yes?” Jeremy nods. “OK. Watch this.” He puts about a dozen crackers on one plate. On another plate he only puts down two. “OK. Now watch this. Here’s a bell I’m putting between the plates. I’m going to leave the room. If you wait until I get back, you can have all 10. If you need me to come back right away, just ring the bell and I’ll come back. But then you only get the two goldfish.”

When he leaves the room I run over to the plates and, indicating “shh” to Jeremy, eat all of the crackers on both plates. I smile at Jeremy, say “Breakfast,” give him a kiss and leave for my morning meeting. Of course I leave the front door open too long and Cookie gets out again and by the time I get her I'm late to my meeting, which pisses off my boss, but that’s a whole other story.

Just yesterday we got a letter from the grad student saying that Jeremy had done miserably on the tests that spring morning. Evidently they were testing for something called executive function, which is stuff like self-regulation and memory and all the stuff that’s pretty much essential for coping with life. I think Jeremy's actually doing that much better than his brother or his sisters did at his age.

The grad kid’s big conclusion was that the problem -- as usual -- is the boob tube. And holy Krabby Patties, our ol’ buddy SpongeBob is to blame. Thank goodness. For a minute there, I was afraid he was gonna blame me…

A Call to Action: As the New List of Participants on 'Dancing with the Stars' Illustrates, We Are in Grave Danger of Celebrating Celebrities Whose Level of Fame Is Unacceptable

Chuck Ross Posted September 1, 2011 at 6:17 AM

When we posted our story earlier this week about who the new celebrities are for this fall’s edition of ABC's “Dancing with the Stars” (“A Thespian, a Former Lesbian and a Kardashian. Plus a Stylist, a Jurist and a Songstress. And More. Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls: Meet the Celebrities Who Will Be on 'Dancing with the Stars' This Fall”), a comment left by a reader named “WriterGuy” said, in part, “Don't mean to be too snarky, but I actually had to read this twice before I was convinced this wasn't an Onion satire.”

As it happens, we picked up a copy of our favorite mock-newspaper yesterday, The Onion, and there on the front page was a satirical piece under the headline “Nation's Celebrities Not Famous Enough, Publicists Agree.” You can find it online here. Some excerpts:

" 'The current level of celebrity fame is, quite simply, unacceptable,' [a] strongly worded statement [by the publicists] read in part. 'We, as a society, must rectify this problem by paying more attention to the celebrities who occupy the public sphere, right away and without delay. Their faces need to be on more magazines covers, their names need to be spoken aloud more often, and their careers need to be more unmistakably on the rise.' "

" 'There are approximately 6 billion human beings living on this planet, and we believe each and every one of them should know not only who the nation's celebrities are, but what they are working on, what they have just finished, and what their plans after this may or may not turn out to be,' publicist Janet Thompson said. 'Additionally, the topics of what they are wearing, who they are dating, and where they are going on vacation are urgent matters about which awareness must be increased as soon as possible.' "

" 'The sad fact we are facing is that many famous people today exist below the level of household name,' publicist James Friar, also a signatory of the statement, told reporters. 'For example, there are literally billions of people out there who do not even know who Graham Bunn is. I'm sorry to say it, but it's true. And that is something we should all be ashamed of. Even a cursory glance at Graham Bunn's body of work reveals him to be an extraordinary individual.' "

"Publicists everywhere, all of whom are in total agreement about the grave conclusions reached in the collective report, stressed that the nation's actors, musicians, competitive dance show contestants, satellite-radio personalities, game show hosts, politicians, media pundits, club-scene staples, talk-show circuit regulars, authors of bestselling legal thrillers, models, infotainment providers, fashion designers, charity spokespersons, comedians, athletes, pop singers, television evangelists, porn stars with tell-all autobiographies being published soon, professional poker players, independent filmmaking auteurs, high-profile magazine editors, and magicians are all on the cusp of greater stardom and require the immediate fascination of mainstream America."

Hmm. High-profile magazine editors? The cusp of stardom?

Hey, ABC, I do a mean foxtrot …