A daily newsletter guide to what is happening on your screens - TV, streaming, movies, games, VR, AR
Dan Barrett is an industry commentator & TV critic. He does radio - 4BC & ABC GC and co-hosts the Screen Watching podcast. He's a former Mediaweek deputy editor and content creator for SBS.
Jimmy Fallon apologises for blackface
ALSO: It’s Always Sunny - now the longest running TV comedy of all time. AND: RIP Richard Herd
There are two huge linked stories that are dominating this week. Here in Australia we have the launch of a brand new streaming service called Binge. It launched on Monday. A whole lot of its content comes by way of WarnerMedia, the company that owns HBO.
In the next 24 hours in the US, WarnerMedia will be launching HBO Max. The streaming service will take everything that is currently available from HBO, but supercharge the service with a massive amount of content from across WarnerMedia’s channels (TCM, Cartoon Network, TNT, TBS, Cinemax, CNN, and more) and also some additional third party content like South Park, the Studio Ghibli library, and the Criterion Collection.
Binge is good. It’s something the Australian streaming market has needed (high profile, big brand movies and TV on a streaming service). But, let’s be honest - it pales compared to what HBO Max will be delivering in the US.
I mention all of this only as a preamble to the fact that there’s going to be a lot of Binge & HBO Max content in this newsletter.
The gang gets a 15th season.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is a show that defies all odds. A thoroughly unpleasant comedy (in the best way), it has a huge cult following. With the 15th season, it becomes the longest-running live action scripted comedy.
Co-creator and co-star Rob McElhenney is on record saying that “we’re going to keep doing it forever if people keep watching”.
As long as Ben & Jerry keep making the Tonight Dough icecream, I can look the other way on any cultural indiscretion.
Australian TV shows are being deployed across the Pacific in an attempt to deliver soft diplomacy throughout the region. It’s an effort to counter China with messages of the culture of Australia. Shows will include: Neighbours, MasterChef, The Voice, 60 Minutes, House Rules, Border Security: Australia's Frontline and Totally Wild.
Local networks have selected shows that they think will best appeal to locals. But there have been critics.
Jemima Garrett, co-convenor of the Supporters of Australian Broadcasting in Asia and the Pacific:
“Watching rich, white people renovate their homes will not ‘deepen the connection’ with the Pacific or overcome perceptions that Australia can be paternalistic. Nor will providing Border Security in a region in which visa access is a sore point.”
Dan McGarry, the former media director at the Vanuatu Daily Post:
“Pacific islanders want news, they want weather updates, especially during cyclone season. But language and cultural differences make shows like Neighbours irrelevant to most islanders. Entertainment wasn’t what we asked for (except for The Voice – everyone loves that).”
One of my favourite character actors was Richard Herd. He has died at age 87 due to cancer complications. He’s best remembered as George’s direct boss at the Yankees in four seasons of Seinfeld, but you’ve also seen him as the head burglar in All the President’s Men and as the nuclear power plant boss in The China Syndrome.
Herd had an extensive career on television in shows including: The Rockford Files, Eight Is Enough, Starsky & Hutch, MASH, Dallas, Hart to Hart, Star Trek: TNG, T.J. Hooker, Ike: The War Years, seaQuest 2032, Simon & SimonandShameless.
But my favourite role of his was as the double agent alien in the TV mini-series V.
The first trailer for new Hulu series Love Victor has been released. The show debuts in June.
It’s the movie you likely came to love watching on your TV - probably by way of a worn-out VHS. Labyrinth. The original film starred David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly - it’s a beloved cult classic and like all beloved cult classics… there’s a sequel in the works.
Scott Derrickson, director of Marvel’s Doctor Strange film, is on board to direct this with writer Maggie Levin writing. It’s still early in the production process, so that’s all we really know so far. Derrickson has a good visual eye and the action moved along nicely in Doctor Strange, so this all seems positive so far.
Insightful (and handsome) newsletter writer Dan Barrett writes for The Guardian about the launch of Binge - what is it, what is Foxtel’s history with streaming products, and what does it mean for Foxtel’s future.
The launch of Binge represents both the future of the quality of libraries that we will come to expect from streaming services as well as a harsh reality: that this could be the last gasp of a local company competing against international giants.
Paul Donoughue at the ABC has filed an article about how Foxtel wants to eliminate the scroll and make it easier to find things to watch. The article talks about (quite rightly) that curation is superior to the algorithm-driven approach of Netflix. I liked this quote from Binge director of products Brian Lenz:
"[But] just because you watched a Korean TV show doesn't mean you want to watch all Korean TV shows."
Here the article quotes insightful (and handsome) newsletter writer Dan Barrett:
"Something that had slowed us down in the past was that selecting an unknown movie or show involved so much discovery," he said.
"But what we're about to find out with Binge is that maybe our viewing interests have shifted — maybe it is that sense of discovery that has made streaming video so compelling.
"It's possible that a large library of familiar titles might leave some viewers feeling like they've seen everything before."
The New York Times has an in-depth feature about HBO Max - what it is an the business reasons surrounding it. It’s a good read. The best part of it is right at the end of the story when it gives an insight into the internal conversations happening as management consider its competition with Netflix.
Mr. Stankey, who stands six-feet-two and speaks in a deep bass that can ripple across a room, said, “No! They are the enemy. We’re going to crush them,” according to the people.
For the past year in the lead-up to the launch of HBO Max we’ve heard about how Friends is one of the main drawcards for the platform. After all, it was supposedly the number one show being streamed on Netflix for some time, prompting Netflix to spend $100 million to keep the show for one more year. To listen to commentary about HBO Max, it made it seem like that show was the end-all, be-all of the service.
But… is it?
Polling conducted by The Hollywood Reporter and Morning Consult has found that 34% of respondents were drawn to the service for HBO content. But what is the specific IP on HBO Max that would convince people to sign up?
26% of respondents were interested in content from the DC Extended Universe, while Game of Thrones came in second with 23%.
Have we all been underestimating just how many people loved the Zack Snyder DC films? This is why WarnerMedia are spending well over $30 million on the Snyder Cut of Justice League.
Speaking of… there’s a great podcast interview on the new Recode Media podcast with host Peter Kafka interviewing HBO Max chief Robert Greenblatt about the launch of HBO Max. During it Kafka asks him about the Snyder Cut where Greenblatt explained that the price will be well over the $30 million cited.
"It's been months of discussions with Zack and the producers to figure out how to do it," Greenblatt said. "Because it isn't as easy as just going into the vault and there's a Snyder Cut sitting there to put out…it does not exist. Zack is actually building it, and it's complex. Including – and I don't want to get into too much detail that we haven't already talked about yet – but new effects shots. It's a radical rethinking of that movie, and it's complicated and wildly expensive, of course a number I won't quote…I'll just say I wish it was just $30 million…It's an enormous undertaking and very complex."
Also, it’s not as easy a task as just re-using existing footage to turn it into a new thing. Contracts were signed with talent and unions.
"We had to go to the unions and get certain things clear with them about what we were doing," he continued. "Is the Snyder Cut a new movie, or is it a recut? There's lots of complexity that the fan [community] doesn't know about."