Exploring the Blogosphere: Post Strike Implications

Now that the writer's strike has finally come to a close, the topic of where television goes next is on many peoples mind. Clearly, the strike led to many unhappy viewers, so many have speculated as to the long term impact, as well as what changes studio executives might make to prevent the issue from reoccurring later on. The issue was wide spread and effected thousands both in the industry and around it, so I decided to take a look at a few different entertainment blogs discussing the strike's aftermath. The first post that intrigued me was "Getting Ready for 'The Endless Season,'" written by The New York Times' media and advertising blog TV Decoder contributors Brian Stelter and Stuart Elliott. This post specifically highlighted NBC and the changes being made to the process in which the network decides on what shows to produce and when to produce them. The second post I decided to comment on was "Hollywood Punches Back in As Strike Ends," from the entertainment blog Eyez on Hollywood. This post provided a more personal look into the strike, utilizing quotes from writers themselves on their return to the office. Both entries provide unique insights to television's future in the wake of the writer's strike.

"Getting Ready for 'The Endless Season,'"
Brian and Stuart,
I appreciated reading this interesting blog entry about just one of the potential industry implications of the end of the writer's strike. As a general TV fan, any thought that this long drought of new shows could eventually lead to a more continuous stream of new content is definitely encouraging. What is most interesting to me is the overall excitement put forth by the marketing people regarding this new arrangement. While its understandable that a fan would be excited by the proposition of more shows, its intriguing to see so many business people so on board with the schedule overhaul. It seems like there are numerous reasons why this change is beneficial for most involved, so I can only question why this didn't occur earlier. It seems that a constant flow a new programming would keep audiences happy, the studio rich and producers with new content. I fear that the only answer to this is the unfortunate fact that the industry is ultimately run by money. Its understandable that a set schedule focusing on the fall season may be over time more profitable for executives, but it would be nice to see many higher ups realizing that the recent strike may have been caused by this unfortunate greed epidemic throughout entertainment today. Perhaps the money lost during the strike will help to show that the fan has just as much impact as the advertisers. Its encouraging to see NBC make this move, which is hopefully just the first of many changes that will prevent a strike from returning.

"Hollywood Punches Back in As Strike Ends"
This is a very fresh and fascinating look at the end of the writer strike. Searching through other industry blogs, few had the personal look into the writer's reactions to finally returning to work after so long. Clearly from many of the comments, the transition back to full time work won't be easy, but its encouraging to hear the many efforts to force shows back into production. The excitement of the writers is palpable and what I was perhaps most excited about was one of the last comments from writer Phil Johnston where he said, "The dirty little secret is, I suspect, people have been working much of this time." While its no huge surprise that the strike did not simply lead to all writer's going on vacation, the idea that many were still working brings up many questions concerning the potential future of television. If so many talented writers have been writing for months without deadlines or industry executives over their shoulder, one might assume that quality of the content might be greatly improved upon return. In a time where too many shows look, sound and act like the next, it is refreshing to imagine a television landscape littered with new and previously unharvested ideas. While there is no way to tell which way television will grow in the aftermath of this momentous event, your insight into the personal reactions of those most directly involved intrigued me regarding the promise of the future.


Why So Serious: Questioning Marketing in the Face of Real Tragedy

It is no stretch to say that the movie business today is controlled by the almighty dollar. In an industry where films can be sold and produced before a script is even written, the question has become "is it profitable?" rather than "is it good?" The way a film is marketed and sold to audiences is now just as important as the film's plot and performances. Although this has become the status quo, what happens when a studio's ability to market a film is hampered by unthinkable tragedy? This is exactly the dilemma that one major studios faces with their upcoming summer blockbuster.

Actor Heath Ledger passed away on January 22nd, 2008. At first thought to be a suicide, it was later ruled an accidental overdose as reported by Guardian Unlimited Film. The Dark Knight, the final film Ledger completed before his untimely death, is a sequel to 2005's re-imagining of the classic Batman tale, Batman Begins. The Dark Knight is slated for a July 2008 release and was shaping up to be one of the most anticipated film of the summer. But what impact does the tragic event have on selling this big-budget Hollywood action film? In the wake of Ledger's death, issues have arisen on the proper way to continue marketing the film, and this reveals and exposes many aspects of the cash-first, taste-later industry that has continued to grow over the past few years.

In order to better analyze the current situation, one must first explore the campaign as it has evolved so far. One of the newest trends in Hollywood is viral marketing. These campaigns utilize alternate mediums, specifically the internet, to provide additional components to the viewer's film experience. Most recently this proved successful with Cloverfield, the latest J.J. Abrams film, that utilized months of viral marketing such as hints and clues hidden on the internet and became number one at the box office in its opening weekend. The campaign for The Dark Knight began over a year before the film's release last May. Utilizing fake internet sites such a IBelieveinHarveyDent.com, a faux political campaign for one character, and Thegothamtimes.com, a fictional newspaper, buzz across the internet started very early for the film. While these sites stirred up interest, it became clear the campaign would be focused on what fan's really wanted to see, Ledger's portrayal of the legendary character The Joker, once portrayed by Jack Nicholson in the 1989 version of the film. Questions regarding the casting of Ledger arose, most of which came from comic book fanboys who refused to see Brokeback Mountain, but excitement grew as the campaign developed. The sites previously mentioned now featured defaced versions, suggesting that the Joker had destroyed them, as Thehahahatimes.com demonstrates. The popularity of the character as well as the buzz over Ledger's performance, explored here in The O.C. Register, made it evident early on that it would be the focus of the campaign, but this was ultimately brought to a halt with his death last month. The issue that arose was based not so much on Ledger's involvement, but rather the content of the marketing.

It only made sense that director Christopher Nolan's dark retelling of the Batman saga would feature a dark characterization of the Joker. The image at the top of the post is one of the first poster's released for the film. Featuring an ominous, and strangely recognizable, character behind a pane of glass, the words "why so serious?" are messily scribbled in red. The image is haunting and alarming at first, and becomes even more disturbing after Ledger's overdose. It was reported in many outlets, including the entertainment website Monsters and Critics, that the role was very taxing, both emotionally and physically, for Ledger. Clearly the role is twisted and dark, but did it force Ledger into a downward spiral that ultimately caused his death? Unfortunately, the audience and his fans will never know, and I think it is ultimately inappropriate for anyone to speculate.

The question arises just how Warner Brothers is to proceed from this unfortunate point. They have created a brilliant campaign, however, it happens to be feature an psychotic villain, portrayed by a beloved actor who just died due to usage of controlled substances. In a January 24th Wall Street Journal article, "a spokeswoman for Warner Bros., a unit of Time Warner Inc., said the marketing campaign was continuing but declined to comment further." The issue of business versus personal becomes an interesting one, and reveals what I think to be an intriguing social construct. Of course Warner Brothers wants their film to be successful, sell movie tickets, toys, lunchboxes and all kinds of other merchandising, but at what point does this become exploitation of a man's untimely death. While some "trade papers speculate[s] that the marketing campaign will be changed abruptly," I believe that changing the campaign at this point would be damaging both to the film as well as Ledger's legacy. While many will hypothesize as to how much the role led to Ledger's personal issues, the truth is no one will ever know for sure. The filming and initial marketing was completed before his death, and this is clearly the original intentions of the producers and director. To change their vision, as well as Ledger's vision in the role, is like going back and attempting to erase pen with a pencil eraser. What is done is done, and while unfortunate, is something no one could have anticipated. While continuing the market the film is this manner could be seen as cashing in on tragedy, I agree rather with a Warner representative quoted in a Slate Magazine article by Kim Masters: "'You don't want people to think you're exploiting his death," the source explains. "But his character is part of the movie, and he was on board with wanting to do this with his character."'

Ledger's tragic and untimely death marked a real loss for the entire movie industry. The promising young actor was still on the rise, creating new and interesting characters for his audience. His involvement in The Dark Knight is rumored to some of his best, and though the issue is delicate, his overdose should not lead to a complete marketing overhaul. Although I personally believe the best way to honor the actor would be to keep the images and campaign as they were originally intended, do not be surprised to see a few more Batman-focused posters to appear, such as the one at the right.
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