Category Archives: Quartz

Sorry, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ but the Steamiest Sex is on TV, Not in Movies


After months and years of foreplay, the movie version of Fifty Shades of Grey has finally arrived. The film is expected to gross as much as $100 million worldwide this weekend as fans of E.L. James’s BDSM-themed trilogy flock to the first sexually-explicit mainstream film in years, but as I wrote at Quartz,

While that might sound like cause for celebration, it’s also old hat to viewers of shows like Starz’s Outlander, which have beat Christian and Anastasia to the punch (or is that paddle?) when it come to embracing and depicting sex in all manner of fascinating, and electrifying, ways. Sorry, Fifty Shades of Grey, but the steamiest sex in mainsteam entertainment fare can now found on television, not in theaters.

An increasing number of cable and internet series, like Outlander, Masters of Sex and Girls, routinely delve into the frank explorations of sexuality that have vanished from mainstream films.

In contrast, R-rated movies have become almost puritanical when it comes to depicting sex. Gone are the years when multiplexes routinely offered scorching films like Body Heat, Basic Instinct or the aforementioned 9 ½ Weeks. As Hollywood turned away from that adult audience and almost exclusively towards franchise films aimed at teenagers—coupled with the ubiquity of porn, which is now only as far away as one’s smartphone—those movies simply stopped being made.

So as you take in Fifty Shades this weekend, don’t forget, you’re missing the real action, back at home on TV.

Sorry, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ but the steamiest sex is on TV, not in movies

Jon Stewart May be One of a Kind, but ‘The Daily Show’ is More Than Just One Person

daily show team

It’s hard to fathom that a broadcast network suspending its evening news anchor for six month without pay would fail to qualify as the day’s biggest media story, but that’s what happened yesterday: NBC’s surprising Brian Williams news was overshadowed by the even more shocking declaration that Jon Stewart will step down from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart when his contract expires later this year.

The loss will be profound, and last night many stunned fans were questioning whether The Daily Show could continue on without him. But as I wrote at Quartz,

It can, it will—Comedy Central has confirmed that it will bring in a new host—and most importantly, it must. The Daily Show has grown into something much bigger than any one person, even Stewart, and after 16 years with him at the helm, it’s more than capable of thriving without him.

After all, there was a Daily Show before Jon Stewart (the original host was Craig Kilborn). And while Stewart has innovated late-night during the past 16 years even more than David Letterman ever did, the show no longer needs him to thrive, as John Oliver proved two summers ago:

When he decided to take the summer of 2013 off to direct Rosewater, Daily Show fans were wary of how his fill-in, Oliver, would fare. Well, those fears subsided by the first episode. Oliver didn’t just keep Stewart’s seat warm: he lit it on fire, with dozens of memorable moments. Suddenly, the prospect of a Stewart-less Daily Show didn’t seem so scary.

There’s much more in my Quartz piece, including a look back at how Stewart built the Daily Show, after much early trial and error, into the incisive show we all know and love, and my picks for who should be tapped to fill his Daily Show chair.

Jon Stewart may be one of a kind, but ‘The Daily Show’ is more than just one person

Amy Pascal is Proof that Sony’s Scandal Wouldn’t be Over Until Someone Took a Fall

Sony Pictures Entertainment Co-Chairman Amy Pascal poses during the premiere of "The Interview" in Los Angeles

After six weeks of relative quiet, the other shoe finally fell in Sony’s hacking scandal today, as the company announced that its embattled co-chairman, Amy Pascal, would be stepping down. She released the standard statement for a departing chief, with lines like “I am so proud of what we have all done together and I look forward to a whole lot more.” But as I wrote at Quartz,

That was pretty standard corporate speak for a departing chief, but no amount of spin can disguise the reality of what happened: Pascal is stepping down not because of some longing to become a producer, but because of the fallout from the hacking scandal, most notably the career-scorching leaked emails that were at the center of the maelstrom that enveloped the company for much of December. The only surprise about Pascal’s departure was that it didn’t happen sooner.

It’s also the latest reminder that whenever there is a huge scandal at a company, especially a global media corporation like Sony, someone always has to take the fall. The only question is who is made the scapegoat.

And once Pascal’s hacked emails were made public in December, it was obvious who that person was going to be. The hackers might have lost the battle when The Interview was released against their wishes, but today they won the war.

Amy Pascal is proof that Sony’s scandal wouldn’t be over until someone took a fall

The Same Company Put Out the Best and Worst Super Bowl Ads This Year

super bowl best worst

The Patriots beat the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX, but as I wrote at Quartz, in the battle that matters most for many of the game’s 100 million-plus viewers — the content for the best Super Bowl ad — the winner and loser turned out to be the very same company: Nationwide.

First, they unveiled “Invisible Mindy Kaling,” which was easily the night’s best, and funniest ad:

But shortly after that, they put out “The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up,” which ends with a Debbie Downer-worthy stunner of a twist:

 As I wrote,

What. The. Hell? Cue virtual record scratches around the country, as jaws dropped and the merriment was instantly sucked out of Super Bowl parties from coast to coast. Meanwhile, some of us were suddenly forced to have very awkward conversations with our kids about what had just occurred onscreen. “Daddy, did that boy drown in the bathtub… or was he crushed under that TV?” was certainly not a question I was expecting to field from my stunned kids during the Super Bowl.

And that was just one of many morose ads that turned this into the feel-bad Super Bowl of my lifetime. Ugh!

The same company put out the best and worst Super Bowl ads this year

Turn That Dial: The Magic of Super Bowl Ads is Gone Forever

Super Bowl ads thrill

It’s always sad when a beloved tradition comes to an end, but that’s where we seem to be with Super Bowl ads. As I wrote at Quartz, marketing has ruined the magic of watching Super Bowl commercials during the game. While the big game is still two days away,

It seems like we’ve already seen all of the ads, because so many of the companies that shelled out up to $4.5 million for a 30-second Super Bowl spot have been flooding the internet with those commercials in the days (and sometimes weeks) leading up to the big game. While the rampant marketing might be helping those brands maximize their investment and take full advantage of the intense pre-game media spotlight, it’s also ruined the Super Bowl ads themselves, or at least the annual tradition of discovering them during the game.

Not long ago, we wouldn’t dare leave the room when the Super Bowl cut to commercial, but now we have very little incentive to watch the ads live:

When we watch Super Bowl ads, we’re hoping to replicate that sense of wonder and awe that comes from discovering a brilliant spot for the first time (like the 1996 Independence Day spot from where we looked on, dumbfounded, as the White House was blown to smithereens). But those unspoiled surprises aren’t increasingly rare; there’s too much money on the line for most companies to resist holding their ads back when everyone else is showing theirs off.

For the first time on Super Bowl Sunday, I no longer need to stay riveted to my TV when the commercials come on. The ads might still be terrific, but the thrill of watching them is gone.

Turn that dial: the magic of Super Bowl ads is gone forever

Amazon Debuts 13 TV Pilots Today—Here are the Four You Should Watch

amazon pilots

It’s been a huge week for Amazon Studios, between Transparent’s Golden Globes wins and the big coup signing Woody Allen to write and direct and new TV series. Now they are hoping to continue that momentum with its fourth round of pilots — 13 in all! — debuting today. At Quartz, I helped narrow the field to the four pilots you should watch, along with the one to avoid at all costs. Among my picks, The Man in the High Castle:

Like Amazon and Netflix’s best offerings, this one seems wholly unique, a show you won’t find anywhere else on television. Based on Philip K. Dick’s 1962 alternate history novel, this compelling drama imagines an alternate history in which the Allied Powers lost World War II. Twenty years later, the world has been divided among Japan and Germany, while a small resistance group continues to keep hope alive. Written by Frank Spotnitz (The X-Files) and executive produced by Ridley Scott, this is packing with stunning imagery, including American flags with a swastika in place of stars, and one scene involving what initially looks like snowflakes that haunted me for days.

While none of these pilots is at the level of Transparent yet (to be fair, few pilots emerge as fully realized as that one was), overall this is a much more ambitious and realized slate than the previous rounds, which should bode well for Amazon going forward.

But make sure to read my story before diving into the latest batch of pilots. After doing so many stories for Quartz, it was great to finally figure out a way to write a TV review for them!

Amazon debuts 13 TV pilots today—here are the four you should watch

For One Night at Least, Amazon Reigns Supreme Over Netflix

transparent golden globe

Something happened at Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards that had never occurred on a televised awards show before: one of the winners started off her acceptance speech by thanking Amazon and Jeff Bezos.

That person was Jill Soloway, who picked up Amazon’s first-ever TV award for one of 2014’s best shows, Transparent. (Jeffrey Tambor added to the tally later in the evening, with his own trophy.) As I wrote at Quartz,

The victory was especially sweet for Amazon because it triumphed over co-nominee Orange is the New Black, from its streaming competitor, Netflix. While House of Cards’ Kevin Spacey later won a Globe for best actor in a drama, giving Netflix one trophy out of seven nominations, Netflix still hasn’t broken through with a best comedy or drama series win at the Golden Globes or Emmys.

Now Amazon has beaten them to the punch. It’s not quite David beating Goliath, but for one night at least, Amazon—which still lags far behind Netflix in total streaming video usage—is the top streaming network in Hollywood.

I also talk about why the Globes victory couldn’t have come at a better time for Amazon.

For one night at least, Amazon reigns supreme over Netflix

Why Crackle, Sony’s Big Digital Video Play, was Sidelined for ‘The Interview’

interview crackle

For my first story of 2015, I looked at one of the biggest head-scratchers in The Interview’s strange saga: why Sony dropped the ball on the chance to boost the profile of its own streaming site, Crackle. As I wrote at Quartz,

Yet despite a New York Post report on December 21st that Sony was going to stream The Interview on Crackle, a studio source tells Quartz that Crackle was not considered as part of The Interview’s digital strategy, given that the free site has no mechanism in place for charging consumers the $5.99 rental and $14.99 purchase fee for the film that the other VOD outlets have been offering.

Still, this is a major missed opportunity for Crackle, which has been trying to lure new viewers with several new original films and series (though only one, Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, seems to have any real traction).

This would seem to be the last Interview story I’ll do for awhile, but never say never…

Why Crackle, Sony’s big digital video play, was sidelined for ‘The Interview’

‘The Interview’ was a huge online success — but more for Google than for Sony

sony interview google

Sony has released the VOD numbers for The Interview — and they are impressive. The movie earned more than $15 million during its first four days on the internet, and was rented or purchased more than 2 million times. Yet despite this seemingly terrific news, the long-term Interview forecast is still bleak for Sony, as I explained at Quartz:

By making those day-and-date internet video deals, Sony has also lost out on the additional VOD revenue that would have come 90 days or so after the film’s theatrical release—which means that its chances of making back The Interview’s estimated $75 million budget are exceedingly slim. The film’s online success might be a qualified moral victory for Sony, but it definitely won’t be a financial one—and that’s even before calculating the significant financial fallout from the hacking scandal, which could be as much as $100 million.

I also detail the other big Interview winners and losers from the past week, including Google, Apple and Netflix.

‘The Interview’ was a huge online success — but more for Google than for Sony

‘The Interview’ Will Finally Give Internet Video the Big Moment It’s Been Waiting For

the interview VOD

I squeezed in one last story before Christmas, thanks to Sony, which announced that The Interview would begin streaming today to a variety of platforms, including Google Play and YouTube. I put together this Quartz story about how this unbelievable saga has suddenly given VOD the groundbreaking moment it’s waited years for. As I wrote:

For years, premium video on-demand (VOD) has been a white whale for studios, which have been unable to convince theater chain owners to grant any leeway in their traditional 90-day exclusive window after a film’s theatrical release. Those exhibitors have good reason to be worried: This year’s North American movie ticket sales fell 4%, to $10.5 billion, and one of the most reliable moviegoing demographics, kids and young adults ages 12 to 24, went to the movies 15% less often.

There is a massive audience for this film, and this premium VOD release is perfectly timed for that. After years of stagnation, we’re finally going to find out if premium VOD is worth fighting exhibitors for.

And with that, I hope you all have a happy holiday season!

‘The Interview’ will finally give internet video the big moment it’s been waiting for