Category Archives: News/Analysis

The Breakout Hit ‘Outlander’ is Finally Attracting Women to Starz

Starz Outlander

Game of Thrones isn’t the only highly anticipated returning premium cable program based on a hugely popular book series with a rabid fan base. On April 4, Starz rolls out the second half of Outlander’s debut season. As I wrote at Adweek, the show — based on Diana Gabaldon’s historical/fantasy/romance novels — has finally brought a large female audience to the premium cable network, whose programs have tended to skew male.

And as Starz CEO Chris Albrecht notes, that highly engaged new audience has mobilized into a social marketing army for the network:

“If you go for a certain demo, then you have an audience that not only is going to come to watch the show, but they’re going to be the best marketing and promotional arm you could have,” said Albrecht, who had similar results last summer with Power, which is targeted to African-American viewers. “Because with social media, they’re talking about the show all the time to their friends, trying to get their friends to watch. So Outlander proved one more time that a core group of fans that are pleased are going to be a really powerful tool for the successful evolution of the show.”

The show’s popularity has also helped Starz grow to 23.3 million subscribers, and leapfrog Showtime to become the No. 2 premium network behind HBO.

The Breakout Hit Outlander Is Finally Attracting Women to Starz

Here’s the Recipe Netflix Uses to Make Binge-Worthy TV


Another Friday, another new series launch for Netflix. And given that everything Netflix touches these days seems to turn to gold, developing a new series for the streaming service might appear to be a relatively easy task. But in truth, making an original series specifically for Netflix requires, as Liam Neeson might say, a very particular set of skills.

That was what Todd A. Kessler, Daniel Zelman and Glenn Kessler — who previously created Damages — discovered when they made Netflix’s latest binge-worthy series, the drama Bloodline. As I wrote at Quartz,

While some network series like Damages and Breaking Bad have proven well-suited for Netflix binge-viewing, they were conceived to be viewed on a traditional TV schedule: one episode per week. There is an art to creating a series for Netflix’s binge-loving subscribers, who frequently watch several episodes of a show in one sitting. Todd Kessler, with help from Daniel Zelman and Glenn Kessler, shared with Quartz how they tailored Bloodline specifically for Netflix’s audiences.

This was a fascinating look into the process of creating a show for a modern-day audience. Among the key points they highlighted: There’s no need to repeat key information in every episode.

“One huge thing for serialized storytelling is knowing that someone on Netflix will, as far as I understand, start at the beginning,” says Glenn Kessler. “They’re not going to tune into Week 7 because there is no “Week 7,” and as a storyteller, you know that they’ve seen everything that you wanted them to see at that point in the story.”

As a result, Netflix viewers are more engaged in every story beat. “Certainly on Netflix, people are exclusively sitting down to watch and be entertained,” says Glenn Kessler, as opposed to what happens “historically: people put their televisions on and do other things while they’re watching something.” That means the writers don’t have to worry about regurgitating basic information week after week for viewers joining in late, or who may have missed certain episodes. Instead, they can focus on fleshing out the story and the characters.

Before you start binge-watching Bloodline, make sure you read the story!

Here’s the recipe Netflix uses to make binge-worthy TV

8 Ways Fox Could Keep Empire’s Momentum Going After the Season Finale

Fox Empire momentum

The only thing that could stop Empire’s continued meteoric rise, it turns out, was the hip-hop soap opera’s 12-episode Season 1 duration. As the drama ends its first season tonight — likely with one final week of record ratings — Fox needs to figure out how to keep Empire’s viewers engaged, and hopefully still tuned in, between Thursday and whenever the show returns for Season 2. As I wrote at Adweek,

In the interim, there are several opportunities for the network to capitalize on Empire’s massive audience and goose the network’s ratings, without tarnishing the still-expanding brand before it has a chance to realize its full potential.

I came up with eight feasible suggestions, including one of my favorite ideas:

Launch an Empire-centric hip-hop competition

In addition to maintaining Empire’s momentum, Fox would also love to find a new fall music competition to replace The X Factor, which bowed out in fall 2013. That’s one reason that Walden and co-chairman Gary Newman have been meeting with Simon Cowell about creating a new competition show.

Now, its best opportunity for not only a new competition show, but also one that doesn’t just feel like a Voice/American Idol clone, has just fallen into the network’s lap. Taking another page from Glee, Fox should mount a truncated version of Oxygen’s The Glee Project in the fall, in which aspiring hip-hop artists show off their vocal skills and compete for a featured role in Empire Season 2.

The network could run it in early fall, well before Empire’s second season, sprinkle in Empire cast guest appearances every week and tease new footage from the upcoming season. One essential element: the involvement of Timbaland, the show’s executive music producer.

This … is American Hip-Hop Idol!

There are plenty more where that came from, so make sure you read the whole story!

8 Ways Fox Could Keep Empire’s Momentum Going After the Season Finale

PlayStation Wants to be the New Netflix, but That Will Never Happen

PlayStation Powers

When I wrote about my 2015 resolutions for networks and streaming outlets back in December, I noted that “simply no room for anything less than the very best. Upstart content providers: is your new series as phenomenal as Orange is the New Black or Transparent? If the answer is no, don’t bother.”

PlayStation didn’t listen. On March 10, it launched its first original series, Powers, for its PlayStation Network. As I wrote at Quartz,

With its original series streaming plans, PlayStation Network had hoped to become the next Netflix, but given the lukewarm reception for Powers, it would have better off as the next Xbox: a brand that smartly bowed out of creating original content rather than get lost in the digital TV clutter.

Unlike the warm embrace given to Netflix’s first high-profile series, House of Cards, Powers’ reception has been decidedly mixed and far from rapturous.

One recurring criticism is that Powers looks “cheap,” which must be particularly tough for PlayStation to hear, given that the company has insisted that the show’s budget is on par with Netflix series like Orange is the New Black and House of Cards.

Sony wants Powers to sell PlayStation Plus memberships, but that’s not going to happen if consumers have no interest in watching given the show’s lukewarm reception. Netflix, meanwhile, can now safely cross another potential streaming competitor off the list.

PlayStation wants to be the new Netflix, but that will never happen

What are ‘The Jinx’s’ Filmmakers Trying to Hide?

The Jinx

I was supposed to spend Monday morning interviewing The Jinx filmmakers Andrew Jarecki and Marc Smerling for a Daily Beast Q&A about Sunday’s unbelievable finale, and those stunning final moments, in which Robert Durst is recording saying, “There it is. You’re caught. …What the hell did I do? Killed them all, of course.” The ending left me floored — I’d never seen anything like that on television before — and I was still shaking an hour later.

The next morning, I received word that my interview had been delayed an hour. That rescheduled time came and went, and I heard nothing. “We’re running being schedule,” says a rep. Meanwhile, some of their earliest interviews from the morning had begun trickling out, revealing that the filmmakers were being curiously evasive about basic questions regarding The Jinx’s timeline: when the final episode’s “second interview” was filmed, when they discovered the bathroom audio and when they shared their discoveries with law enforcement.

Soon after, I was notified that my interview — along with all the other interviews scheduled for Monday — had been canceled. Instead, the filmmakers released the following statement: “Given that we are likely to be called as witnesses in any case law enforcement may decide to bring against Robert Durst, it is not appropriate for us to comment further on these pending matters.”

As I wrote at The Daily Beast, I’m not buying it:

That excuse holds about as much water as many of Durst’s overt dodges within the show.  Jarecki has been giving interviews about The Jinx and Durst for several months now, and had already completed a few interviews early Monday—including one with CBS This Morning in which Jarecki said he had shared their findings with authorities long ago and expected Durst would be “arrested as soon as possible” and that “we were sort of amazed ourselves that he hadn’t been arrested for so long. But the authorities were never communicating with us other than in their normal cordial way. They were going through their investigation.”

So if they’d expected Durst to be arrested—which would likely lead to them being called as witnesses—why choose this morning to cease talking? Instead, the sudden media silence seems to be at least in part to deflect further questioning about the timeline, which increasingly seems to have been fudged by the series.

I pointed out later in the story,

If anyone should understand the importance of a clear timeline, it’s Jarecki and Smerling. After all, they spent much of Jinx’s six episodes poking holes in the various timelines Durst had offered around the murders. They proved he had ample time to get from Northern California in December 2000 to Los Angeles and back again, just in time to catch a flight out of San Francisco. And they also unearthed several inconsistencies about his whereabouts the night that his wife disappeared in 1982. In the finale, Jarecki’s crew caught Durst lying about his location to evade that finale interview. (Durst had said he was in Madrid or Barcelona, but he later told an associate he was in Los Angeles the whole time.)

But now that the tables have turned, The Jinx’s creators have proven to be just as elusive as their interview subject.

Monday should have been a triumphant day for the filmmakers, especially in light of Robert Durst’s arrest on Saturday, as a result of evidence they’d shared with L.A. law enforcement. But instead of taking their victory lap, the duo has blunted the impact of their amazing achievement with their evasiveness — and subsequent media blackout.

To be clear, I still love The Jinx and think the show is one of the best TV achievements of 2015. I just wish the filmmakers weren’t suddenly acting like they have something to hide.

What are The Jinx’s Filmmakers Trying to Hide? 

Billy Gardell: No Hard Feelings if Melissa McCarthy Leaves ‘Mike & Molly’ After Next Season

Mike and Molly

Mike and Molly will be returning for a sixth season, but beyond that, the show’s future is likely in the hands of its star, Melissa McCarthy, who will need to decide if she wants to sign a new contract for the CBS sitcom or become a full-time movie star.

News leaked out Wednesday, via this since-deleted Instagram post from Mike & Molly producer Julie Bean, that CBS had picked up the comedy for a sixth season (CBS, which tends to announce all of its renewals at once, hasn’t confirmed the news. UPDATE: CBS officially renewed Mike & Molly, Mom and 2 Broke Girls early Thursday afternoon).

Mike and Molly Instagram

While McCarthy certainly seems excited by the Season 6 pickup in that photo, it remains unclear if the actress will want to keep her day job when her contract is up next spring. Right now, McCarthy and her co-star Billy Gardell are “signed through next season,” Gardell told me earlier this year. “Then I’m sure they’ll talk about that.”

Since the series launched in 2010, the actress has become one of Hollywood’s biggest movie stars thanks to films like Bridesmaids and The Heat. Will McCarthy, who is squeezing in another two movies during her Mike & Molly summer hiatus — including the much-anticipated Ghostbusters reboot — want to stay tethered to a CBS sitcom when she could be making even more films (and a lot more money) each year? If the answer is no and McCarthy opts to depart, Gardell says there will be no hard feelings.

“Listen, when you’re that big of a movie star … she’s put her time in here,” Gardell says. “If we go seven, eight years, that would be wonderful. But we also all respect and love each other and understand business is business. She’s a huge movie star, so if she chooses to do movies in another year, we wish her nothing but the best.”

Gardell, who says he is “absolutely” thrilled for McCarthy’s movie success, tells me that he’s not trying to convince her to stay (at least, not yet). “Listen, nobody controls anybody’s destiny,” he says of his costar. “She has been incredibly gracious, hasn’t changed at all and has brought the same love and professionalism every week.”

The actor credits McCarthy’s meteoric rise for convincing executive producer Chuck Lorre and the Mike & Molly producers to make a major change last season, and shaking up the format —  where McCarthy’s Molly was a teacher who was getting ready to have a baby with Gardell’s Mike — to better play up her physical comedy strengths. “That was a scary change to make mid-direction,” he says. “But Chuck very smartly foresaw we were painting ourselves into a corner by heading for the pregnancy, because you’ve got the best physical comedian in 20 years. Let’s not put her in the hospital; let’s let her do her thing. And I think it’s been done smoothly and right now we’re doing great.”

Mike & Molly is not a huge hit for CBS, but as I wrote in my Adweek cover story on the state of TV comedy, it has become a prized utility player for the network, coming off the bench each midseason to plugs leaks in the schedule from the fall. “You get to this place where you know your fans will wait for you, and you know they’re going to come back strong,” Gardell told me in that story. “And the network knows that, so they know they have a little room to try new stuff.”

But if McCarthy opts to leave TV behind, CBS will only have that safety net for one more season.

Making ‘Ghostbusters’ into a Franchise Reveals a Sony Still Haunted by Bad Ideas

ghostbustersSony ain’t afraid of no ghost — but the studio is terrified of not having a franchise to call its own. That’s why the studio announced plans yesterday to turn Ghostbusters into a full-fledged franchise, with new films, TV shows, merchandizing and much more. But as I wrote at Quartz,

In doing so, Sony is proving that it hasn’t learned any lessons from its last attempt to create its own version of the Marvel/DC/Star Wars Cinematic Universe, as it once again tries to resurrect a shaky franchise. The studio is repeating the same mistakes it made with Spider-Man, when they announced with much fanfare in Dec. 2013 the creation of a “franchise brain trust,” which would enable Sony to alternate Spider-Man sequels with various film spinoffs (including Venom, villain-centric Sinister Six and incredulously, even a possible Spidey-free movie about Peter Parker’s Aunt May). But when The Amazing Spider-Man 2 imploded last summer, it torpedoed all such plans, forcing Sony to re-partner with Marvel, scrap those “franchise brain trust” films, and restart its Spider-Man film franchise again in 2017, for the third time in 15 years.

And Monday’s Ghostbusters news sounds alarmingly similar to those once-grand, now-scuttled Spider-Man plans. The studio is in transition and needs a viable franchise, stat, but this development will likely do the Ghostbusters films more harm than good:

What made the upcoming female version so exciting, which is written and directed by Paul Feig (BridesmaidsThe Heat), was its fresh take on the story—who doesn’t want to see these four funny women kicking paranomal butt? But the announcement of another guy-centric Ghostbusters film has already sapped much of that thrill. As noted in Vanity Fair, “The girls aren’t being kicked out of the firehouse. But it sure feels a little crowded for them, even before they’ve moved in.”

I’m still excited for Feig’s Ghostbusters film next summer, but Sony’s plans beyond that make about as much sense as that Aunt May Spider-Man spinoff.

Making ‘Ghostbusters’ into a franchise reveals a Sony still haunted by bad ideas

How Netflix is Saving Network Sitcoms

unbreakable kimmy schmidt

What was NBC to do when the network — which has forgotten how to launch and nurture new comedies — found itself with one of the best midseason series, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt? The only logical thing to ensure the show’s survival: give it to Netflix. As I wrote at Quartz,

As Netflix continues to change the way viewers watch TV, in the process evolving from a niche outlet to one that wants to be all things to all people, the streaming service has also done something unexpected: it’s helping to save the network sitcom.

While many new sitcoms are canceled long before they have time to hone their comedic voice and tailor the show to the strengths of its actors, Netflix’s two-season commitment to Kimmy Schmidt ensures the sitcom will get the breathing room it needs to find its comedic bearings. And while Netflix’s binge-loving audience gravitates toward serialized dramas like Breaking Bad, Kimmy Schmidt proves that this can also be an ideal method to watch comedies as well:

And while Kimmy Schmidt episodes might not end with a traditional cliffhanger designed to carry you over to the next episode, like Netflix’s dramas ordinarily do, the show boasts plenty of comedic momentum. Out of the first six episodes I’ve seen, each ones gets stronger and stronger, as Fey and co-creator Robert Carlock build out their world and slowly layer in more laughs. The fourth episode is by far the funniest, packed with uproarious pop culture riffs and a disturbing yet riveting turn from guest star Martin Short. In a normal broadcast environment, many viewers would have thrown in the towel long before that point.

There’s much more in my Quartz story, including an explanation why NBCUniversal ends up the biggest winner in the show’s migration to Netflix, and an explanation from Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos as to why this is such an “interesting turning point” for the industry. It’s somewhat of a companion piece to last month’s Adweek cover story on the not-so-funny state of network sitcoms.

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt debuts tomorrow on Netflix. Make sure you watch; every episode gets better and better!

Netflix’s newest debut proves it might be the modern sitcom’s last hope

Fox is Rebuilding Its Slate, One Hit at a Time

dana walden

Dana Walden received a baptism by fire when she and Gary Newman took over as co-chairmen and co-CEOs of Fox Television Group last summer. But after enduring a brutal fall, the network is back on trick thanks to Empire, one of the biggest new hits in decades. Walden sat down with me for this Adweek profile about her rollercoaster first year on the job. She talked to me about the good, the bad and — going to back to last fall — the ugly:

Yes. Going in, Gary and I always anticipated that this was going to be a really tough fall. We were encouraged by Gotham, encouraged by Sunday night. I felt like our job as the new leaders was to stay focused on the positive momentum and point to things that establish what we wanted to do in the future. That was a far better approach than being mired in how demoralizing the overnights can be.

And now that Empire’s ratings keep soaring (seven consecutive weeks of ratings increases and counting!), she says the show’s success has restored her faith that mass hits are still possible:

Yes. I’ve had so many conversations with my peers at other networks in broadcast and cable, and over and over again the sentiment is, this is just great for the business. It has sent a wave of enthusiasm and optimism through our business that you can create a scripted show, something that’s not a live event, and you can still eventize it in a way that a lot of people are going to make it appointment watching.

Walden also talked about juggling her network and studio hats, Empire’s second season order, standing by Backstrom, taking a big swing with The Last Man on Earth and how Empire has affected her thinking about what shows to pick up next season.

Fox Is Rebuilding Its Slate, One Hit at a Time

Leonard Nimoy Showed Hollywood He was Much More Than Spock

leonard nimoy

Playing an iconic Hollywood role can be both a blessing and a curse, but Star Trek’s Leonard Nimoy, who died at 83 on Feb. 27, of end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, made the most of the gift that was Mr. Spock. While at first resisting his association with the cult phenomenon, he managed to leverage that fame into other worthy opportunities, as I wrote at Quartz:

My first non-Spock exposure to Nimoy was as the host of the fantastic hit ‘80s Nickelodeon TV show, Standby: Lights, Camera, Action!, which took kids like me behind the scenes of movie productions. I learned so much from that show—I can still recite verbatim the segment where Nimoy explained what movie trailers were, screening the one for Scarface as an example, and why they were called “trailers” even though they came before the film. With that show, Nimoy helped educate and inspire a generation of movie lovers.

Spock’s signature phrase was “live long and prosper.” Nimoy took those words to heart and was able to do just that. He embraced one of the most famous rolesof all-time, and made it a blessing instead of a burden. RIP.

Leonard Nimoy showed Hollywood he was much more than Spock