Max About: Diversity Expressed through Degrassi: TNG

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By Max Tarlton

Growing up as a member of the millennia generation, I was constantly surrounded by television shows that supposedly depicted what problems and controversies happen in the daily lives of preteens and teenagers. Shows like Lizzie McGuire, That’s So Raven, 90210, and Gossip Girl have had an impact on the lives of thousands, not only here in America, but on a global standpoint as well. But to me, as an only child who was nearly addicted to television, Degrassi – The Next Generation was the show that really captivated me as an audience member. While, at the same time, it embraced diversity within it’s cast. Degrassi – The Next Generation, is a Canadian television show that’s set in the fictional Degrassi community which was originally created in the late 1970s. The Next Generation series, was the fourth series to be based in the fictional city which followed teenagers that attend the local community school district. With a very diverse cast of characters, it was inevitable that a character from the show would be relatable to that of any viewer. Which in part, was a major reason why I started watching the shows nearly religiously – I could relate to their issues. 

The original cast of Degrassi – The Next Generation was a very diverse group of kids, racially. Originally following the Caucasian family that came from the preceding Degrassi series, Emma and her diverse group of friends prepare to tackle the challenges of young adulthood. The African-American, Hispanic, and Asian communities were equally represented in the show as well, eventually making everyone an important aspect of the show. Of course, many other ethnic or minority groups were not portrayed in the original first few seasons, but were introduced into later episodes. Like the Indian-American family for example, they became a major focal point in the show’s story line after the series’ seventh season. Degrassi has been considered a racially fair show according to its viewers. Mainly, because it represents nearly every major ethnicity that’s alive in America (and Canada) today. Though the show was filmed in Canada, it had a major audience in the United States that it represented as well.

Degrassi portrayed stereotypes in a relatively fair manner when it came to teen issues, making it a major relatable aspect of the show. The blonde girl who goes from “nerdy” to “hotty,” The all-American popular boy who deals with teen parenthood and later gets killed, The African-American basketball star who gets shot and paralyzed,  and the African-American valedictorian who gets involved with an interracial relationship and a teen pregnancy. Other characters like the Latino homosexual boy who struggles with his sexuality, and the Latino cheerleader who gets involved with the “wrong” crowd were also portrayed with equal life altering situations throughout the show. All of which, shined a light onto many problems that were beginning to be seen in teenagers around the world. Though vague stereotypes, the teen pregnancy and violence aspects of the show were represented in every culture depicted on Degrassi. Thus, making it fair and including less judgmental situations in the show, truly implying that this situations could truly happen to anyone. 

As someone who struggled with my sexuality in middle school, high school, and even during college, the shows representation of the gay community and the struggles of homosexuality really hit home for me. Though I really didn’t realize it until I was a bit older, I realized that I always related to the people that were a bit different in the show. It was also very interesting that a straight character, Paige, began a same sex relationship with another girl in the show, while at the same time the gay male character, Marco was figuring out his sexuality, dating Paige’s brother in the show. Not only were homosexual relationships represented in the show, but interracial couples were a big part of the show as well. Liberty and JT’s relationship was one of the most fan-craved relationships on the show, not only because of the interracial relationship, but the teen pregnancy they both experienced as well. In the second season, Emma dated African-American  character Chris which emphasized another interracial couple and the normality that they have become in society.

Expressing originality and representing a diverse cast of characters in Degrassi, is a reason the show has become one of the most successful teen television shows in history. Because of the situations the kids experience in the show cover almost every issue possible, as an audience member it makes the show very relatable to almost any background. Though stereotypes were represented in the program, each character was fairly represented to prove that situations like these could happen to anyone: coma’s, deaths, pregnancies, drugs, and rape just to name a few. Still today, Degrassi still reaches out to audiences around the world, reflecting issues that teens deal with on a daily basis. I personally, watched the show because I felt that in those times in my life, I was experiencing the same things the kids in the show were experiencing. It seemed to be quite therapeutic for me. I’m not quite sure how well Degrassi will do now that it’s on its twelfth season, but I do know that it has had an impact on lives for generations around the world, including mine.

Max About: Who’s a modern day Glick?

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By Max Tarlton

Budd Schulberg’s novel What Makes Sammy Run tells the story of young boy, Sammy,  who is constantly “running” to better his career by manipulating and backstabbing others to get to the top of the entertainment industry. Seen as very eager in the beginning of the book, the views os Sammy Glick become radically different by the end. When, after everyone has been used and flushed, he was pretty much left to his own devices. As I analyzed the story of What Makes Sammy Run, I saw multiple people in todays media that are relatable to the young, poor boy trying to be successful. Only knowing very little about celebrities’ personal history, a couple of television personalities stuck out to me the most. Not because of their manipulative abilities or because everyone has left them, but because of the running force they had to climb to the top of success.

Immediately, Oprah Winfrey came to mind. Also a rags to riches story like Glick’s, she started out as a poor girl in the south, who after an abusive home life, escaped to make a drastic change in her future. Though Oprah wasn’t a backstabber or a manipulator, Winfrey still had to build certain relationships with people to create the type of success she aspired to have. She, like Glick, had to work her way up.

“You know I told you the other day I had something I wasn’t ready to to break yet? Well, it still hasn’t quite jelled, but there’s a good chance I won’t be writing much longer. I’ll be on the hiring end…” (188)

I found said quote to be relatable to that of Winfrey and a moment in her professional career. Showing how Winfrey moved up the entertainment industry ladder. Starting out as a morning show reporter moving to a talk show host, to writer, producer, and director. She put her name on so many things, while at the same time, having a huge influence as to who was going to be apart of her productions.

“He wasn’t working to make money… He enjoyed living well, like anybody else. But that wasn’t the main part. He was a picture maker. He had pride in his work, like an artist or a shoemaker. The reason he worked was to make good pictures.” (260)

This quote also rang true to how Oprah is a huge success story in the television industry. She’s passionate about everything she has done and has made many productions in the industry to share what she is passionate about. Oprah created many works she felt were very important to get exposure, like The Color Purple for example, which she has expressed her devoted passion for.

In another aspect, Sammy Glick’s rise to “the top” similarly resembles the rise of Kris Jenner in the way she’s using people to become more successful. Raised by her single mother, she moved her way up the ladder by marrying high-class men, hanging around prevalent people in the industry, and then moving on to the next best opportunity. After she had children of her own, she basically sabataged her daughter  Kim Kardashian, by releasing her sex tape with recording artist Ray J. Well, she used he daughter and struck gold.

“I was just thinking about me. I just kept thinking nothing but me. I just kept saying Sammyglicksammyglick over and over inside my head and it kept growing louder SAMMYGLICKSAMMYGLICKSAMMYGLICK. I guess that don’t quite make sense, does it?” (33)
The quote, reminded me of Kris Jenner. As the media portrays, she’s always worried about the next project or business plan she’s going to do to make more money- from the work of her daughters of course. Though Jenner acts like a “team player” and helping her children succeed, It comes across as a manipulative move to ride the coat tails of her children to make fame and fortune of her own. Similarly, Glick used other people’s works to better his career and essentially make more money and a bigger image of himself in the industry. Kris relates to Sammy in the way the she is constantly manipulating the people around her to increase her personal fortune.
Though many people say the novel resembles that of Sam Goldwyn, I lack the knowledge of his history to be able to compare the two men together. Though, Kris Jenner and Oprah Winfrey have a bit more respectable rises to success than Sammy Glick, I still notice similarities of them trying to make it to the top of the entertainment industry. In fact, many people in the entertainment industry are relatable to different aspects of the book, whether it be for money, fame, or both.

Max About: Analyzing ESPN’s Demographics

By: Max Tarlton

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As a television audience member for countless reality television shows, comedies, and teen dramas, the chances of coming across diversity on TV programming has been constantly growing. Different culture and ethnicities have started to become more prevalent in today’s media. The TV programs which I usually watch consists of reality television shows, entertainment news, and the occasional teen drama series here and there. I definitely stick to shows that are in my demographic. A network outside of my demographic, ESPN, was the network I chose to explore. Based on the history of ESPN, the hour-long show SportsCenter, and the demographics of the network, we will explore how ESPN expresses their diversity.

ESPN began in September of 1979 and has grown to be one of the major cable television network which focuses on sports-related news and programing. Throughout the past few decades, ESPN has been rapidly starting to included diverse men and women into it’s programming. Much like the united states, the network has an array of diverse sports news casters. The notable news anchors on ESPN have represented America fairly on SportsCenter were Robin Roberts, Suzy Kolber and Stuart Scott. All of whom started with the show in the early 90s. Interestingly, the demographic for the network has remained the same throughout the years- mainly men. After looking into ESPN and SportsCenter, I have found they represent diversity extremely well.

SportsCenter, which premiered the same year as the launch of the network, was the hour-long show I watched that was outside of my “normal” demographics. Through out the show, with hosts Lindsay Czarniak and John Anderson, and a couple other correspondents, the representation of diversity was very inclusive. Throughout the show they discussed the winning of  Danica Patrick who was the first female to win the Daytona 500, Rafael Nadal and his win after surgery, and commemorating the top 5 moments of Michael Jordan. All of whom are very diverse from one another. The impact of having a female news anchor really captivates the strong male audience ESPN targets.

The show, and the network, have a pretty solid demographic. According to ESPN, The average viewer is a 29 years old male with a very high interest in sports. Also, 87% of the viewers are college graduates and nearly 81% attend sporting events at least once annually. With a 94% to 6% ratio of men versus women, it’s clear to say that men dominate in viewership. This was definitely very interesting to see, considering how diverse the news anchors, and star athletes are. However, in retrospect, men are the major mass consumer of sporting events and sports entertainment.

Through watching the hour-long episode of Sports Center and doing research about ESPN, I’ve come to the conclusion, ESPN has a pretty fair balance of diversity. Though many of the commercials seem to be directly targeting adult male audiences, with shaving products, miscellaneous household products, and fast food commercials, it features many different looking people on the screen. ESPN represents the athletes and the fans by representing the audience of America as a whole. I feel that ESPN has represented diversity within the company for years while keeping up with the every changing looks of our society.

Max About: The Lasky-Demille Barn

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Photo taken and edited from the Hollywood Heritage Museum website.

By: Max Tarlton

Throughout my time in Los Angeles thus far, the most fascinating thing to me, believe it or not, was a barn. Coming from Nebraska, trust me, I have seen plenty of barns. But, this was a bit different – this barn has become an iconic place in the history of Hollywood, California. It’s The Lasky-Demille barn, and has become arguably one of the coolest barns I had ever been to. Besides the original “Ben Hur” gladiator boots on display, the miscellaneous historic film making memorabilia, and a personal interaction with the paranormal, there were some parts of the barn that really hit close to home.

The Lasky-Demille barn was built in about 1895 in Hollywood, California. Located on the southeast corner of Selma and Vine Streets, it was originally used to house horses, store feed, and other farming supplies until it was sold in 1904. About 10 years after it was sold, the barn became the Burns and Revier Studio and Laboratory in March of 1913. In December of the same year, Cecil B. DeMille and Jesse Lasky began leasing the studio for $250 a month. They established the Jesse L. Lasky Feature Play Company, and in 1914, produced the first feature film to be produced in the Hollywood area, entitled The Squaw Man.

After being moved around the area numerous times, the barn has found its current home at 2100 North Highland Avenue, in Hollywood. The restored barn features photos from historic Hollywood, original Hollywood films being streamed, photos of actors and actresses, and archived memorabilia from the early days of Hollywood. It was very interesting to step into the lives of the actors and filmmakers during the birth of Hollywood. Not only was this interesting because of the technology that was used about 100 years ago, but because of how massive the entertainment industry has grown over the last century.

In the center of the ancient barn, maybe a bit off to the left, was a double-sided 4-foot wall-like structure with pictures of actors and actresses who came to California at the turn on the 20th century. Most of whom went on to become successful actors in the early years of Hollywood. It featured actors who fled to Hollywood from all over the world. China, Russia, Japan, New York, Chicago, and there was even an actor, Harold Lloyd, who came from Nebraska. Growing up in Nebraska, I immediately looked to see what city it was – but, I had absolutely never heard of the place in my entire life. I thought

“Wait. What? Burchard, Nebraska? I’ve… never even heard of that place. I don’t even know where it is? I’ll ask Sammy since she’s from Nebraska too.”

After I asked, she had no idea about the place either. So, I looked it up. Apparently, Burchard, Nebraska is made up of less than 8,000 square feet of about 10 intersecting streets with a train station at the southern-most point. About 25 miles southeast of Beatrice, Nebraska and about 10 miles north of the Kansas border, it was bizarre to know I had been that close to the birthplace of an original Hollywood actor. It boggled my mind, nearly 100 years ago, a person from a small town in the middle of Nebraska could pack up and head west to Hollywood and make it in the entertainment industry.

I looked at the Harold Lloyd and read the things he had done in his career. Ranking along side Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton in popularity as one of the most influential comedians of the silent film era. With over 200 comedy films made, many of them featured thrill sequences and extended chase scenes which he became known for. He was  best known for his “Glass” character who was very success-driven and in tune with the modernism of the 1920’s, and of course, being an actor at the Lasky-Demille barn. 

The old, historic barn really put things into perspective for me. Growing up in Nebraska diving into entertainment industry in L.A, it’s easy to think you’re a little fish from a pond trying to swim with all the big fish in the ocean. Hollywood still today is a place that people see as a place where they can fulfill their dreams, where they can create a new beginning and a better future for themselves, like Lloyd and I. I also just found it fascinating that someone from the first motion picture filmed in Hollywood happened to come from a small town in Nebraska. It puts a whole new meaning to the term “small world.” I can relate to Lloyd’s desire to want to leave the plateau life of Nebraska and pursue his dream and it motivates me to create a Hollywood success story of my own.

J.J. Abrams’ Creative Involvement with his Television Hits and Flops

By Alex Stedman

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Producer, director, screenwriter and composer J.J. Abrams has worked his way up to serious Hollywood powerhouse status, but not everything he touches turns to gold.

Abrams has had his share of flops, such as the commercially disappointing FOX series “Alcatraz.” Whether or not a show of his is a success could have a lot to do with the roles he plays as an executive producer. Shows where he takes a hands-on approach typically do well, such as the ABC hit “Lost.” Shows where he’s only attached as executive producer, however, usually fall flat.

Duties of an executive producer include developing the concept, participating in story meetings, recruiting the cast and crew, working as a liaison with network and financial backers and approving final cuts, among others. Many also serve as writer/directors, as Abrams did on “Lost.” However, a producer could simply invest in the program, put their name on it and have little creative involvement—which is what Abrams did with “Alcatraz.”

“Lost” was a hit. The pilot brought in 18.6 million viewers and the series lasted six seasons. Abrams co-created it and directed and co-wrote both parts of the award-winning pilot. According to Marita Grabiak, who directed the eighth episode of the first season, Abrams was “dominant over everything” in “Lost,” and his hands-on approach added a lot to the show.      “He was very involved in every aspect of the outline, the first draft, the second draft—just constant phone calls,” she said. “He would just kind of make my bones shake being in the room because you know you’re in the room with somebody of such a genius level.”

However, one of the shows he put his name on, “Alcatraz,” was no such hit. The season premiere brought in 10 million viewers, but plummeted down to 4.7 million by the season finale and was cancelled after the first season. Abrams had very little creative input on “Alcatraz.”

“The truth is that I didn’t create this show,” Abrams told Collider.com Jan. 23, 2012 about “Alcatraz.” “What I’ve been trying to do is help. But, the truth is, whether I was doing ‘Star Trek’ or not, this was a show that was always going to be run by Jennifer [Johnson] and Dan [Pyne].”

Comparing “Lost” and “Alcatraz” brings up a crucial pattern in Abrams’ career. Out of the ten major television shows he’s been involved with, he’s only been creatively involved in five. Of those five, four were major successes.

“Felicity,” his first television project, helped him burst onto the scene. He co-created the series and wrote many episodes during the first two seasons. The show lasted four seasons and won several awards.

“Alias” had a series premiere that brought in 15 million viewers and it lasted five seasons. It was entirely Abrams’ idea and he wrote several episodes until season three.

“Fringe” found a cult following and lasted five seasons. Abrams was heavily involved with at least the first season, having co-created it.

The single exception to the rule is “Undercovers.” Abrams was heavily involved with the series and it barely made a dent in ratings. Still, 80 percent of the shows Abrams was creatively involved in were successes.

There are another five shows in Abrams’ career, though. Similar to “Alcatraz,” Abrams had barely any creative involvement in these shows and was simply listed as executive producer.

“What About Brian,” a show he was listed as executive producer on, managed to last two seasons, but faded away due to dismal ratings. Abrams was also executive producer on “Six Degrees,” which only lasted seven episodes.

Abrams’ two most recent television projects with him only as executive producer, “Revolution” and “Person of Interest,” are not terrible flops, but not quite the hits the world has seen him make. “Revolution” had 8.7 million viewers for its mid-season finale, but only after a slipping ratings slope all season. “Person of Interest” premiered at 13.3 viewers and is currently on its second season.

While “Revolution” and “Person of Interest” are decent successes, shows that Abrams is creatively involved in clearly do better. So why continue putting the Abrams stamp on a show and leaving it at that?

“Oftentimes, a network or a studio has a far greater degree of comfort in deciding to green light a show if they know that somebody is on board who has credentials that have been proven again and again,” said David Balkan, professor of the Practice of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. “That’s why J.J. Abrams has a great deal of value when his name is attached to a product.”

Abrams’ work on “Star Wars” may or may not cut down on his involvement in television productions, but the amount of the creative input he offers a show has shown to make or break it.

The Market for Serialized Shows Optimistic Because of Netflix

By: Lizzy Buczak

As consumers, we are constantly bombarded with an abundance of TV programming. Serialized shows continue to compete with the success of procedurals, especially in the syndication process, which is where most of the money is made. J.J Abrams produced shows Lost and Alcatraz; both heavily serialized with a huge focus on mythology. One show did exceptionally well and one tanked, but neither has had an easy time finding a home in syndication.

Serialized shows include characters, story lines and themes that develop over a period of time. They build up towards a gradual climax, usually leaving viewers with a suspenseful finale.  Procedural shows introduce a new and specific circumstance that the characters must solve by the end of the episode. They can be aired and viewed out of order and they are specifically good for leisurely and mindless watching. Procedurals are often big competition for serialized shows, which must be viewed in sequential order to prevent the viewers from getting confused and losing pace with the plot and character development.

The ratings say it all. Although Lost was a heavily serialized show, requiring the viewer to commit on a week-to-week basis, viewers proved they enjoyed the more complicated form of storytelling. The series premiere of Lost drew in about 18.6 million viewers in 2004. On its series finale in 2010, it drew in 13.57 viewers.

Drawing in 10 million for its two-hour premiere, Alcatraz was unable to match the value of Lost’s success and lasted only one season. For the season finale of Alcatraz only 4.7 million viewers tuned in. The two-hour finale also fell 6% from its previous week, which made the show end on a complete low. “Viewers will make the investment if the show is top quality; if not, they won’t and the show will be more likely to get cancelled early on,” said Phillip Swan, president and CEO of TV Predictions, Inc.

Procedurals do great in syndication on both prime time and cable networks because they have proven to be more likely to get viewers to tune in, regardless if they’ve skipped an episode or two.  Networks avoid serialized shows because they generally do poorly in syndication, especially when played out of order. Grey’s Anatomy, which is a mildly serialized show, pulled in 1.2 million per episode in syndication on the cable channel Lifetime. Shows like Lost and Heroes, which were heavily serialized only pulled in about $500,000 per episode. Procedural shows like CSI make as much as 2.5 million an episode in syndication. Netflix and other digital platforms bring new hope for studios and serialized shows giving them a new medium for syndication.

Netflix has no restrictions to program viewing, which is great for people who like to binge watch a series.  “ If the show is not discovered instantly it can be discovered a year later. People can watch one right after the other to catch up on a series,” said Shauna Phelan, director of the television department at Varsity Pictures. Watching the show at ones leisure makes viewers more likely to tune into the next season when it airs on TV and creates buzz around the show, giving it a longer shelf life. Swann agreed, “More people will give shows a spin after they originally aired on their networks which will help ramp up ratings for future seasons.”

Netflix, YouTube and Amazon Prime started a new independent model that could become potentially hurtful to networks, yet really beneficial for serialized shows. “Netflix is creating original shows at the same quality and content as networks like ABC, but there is no network attached to it. They are bypassing the TV space and going straight to consumers, which s really an important shift,” said Phelan. Netflix has created the demand that you have the whole show on the spot. “This is what I want to watch when I want to watch it. That’s the mindset Netflix is setting for consumer,” said Phelan. There is no guarantee that people will keep coming back week to week, but if its out there all at once, their more inclined to watch.

Netflix has a strategic advantage for content licensing of serials. While other television network competitors are competing for the same sitcoms and procedural shows, Netflix has struck up deals with hard to syndicate serialized shows. According to Swann, “Netflix and Amazon and other new creators of original shows will become players in syndicating shows but I expect they hold to their exclusivity a bit longer than networks tend to do.” Networks like The CW, who might not otherwise get multi-million dollar syndication deals, can put their shows on Netflix, different networks and box the seasons as DVD’s, creating the ultimate money making package.

Q+A with Bennie Williams, VP Audience Tester

By: Lizzy Buczak

Bennie Williams is a VP Audience Researcher at FOX. Part of Williams job is to test a show with various audiences and find out what pilots will work and which ones wont. I got to chat with Williams briefly about serialized and procedural TV shows, specifically LOST and ALCATRAZ. Serialized shows include characters, story lines and themes that develop over a period of time and build up towards a gradual climax, usually leaving viewers with a suspenseful finale. Procedural shows introduce a new and specific circumstance that the characters must solve by the end of the episode and can be aired and viewed out of order.

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Q: As someone who works at Fox and does a lot of audience testing for shows, why do you think Lost did so well and Alcatraz failed after just one short season??

A: In my opinion I think LOST was a much better show with much better casting.  The idea/premise of LOST (in the beginning stages) was very straight forward whereas ALCATRAZ was a much tougher “buy-in” for viewers.  So from the very early stages I think LOST had built in advantages that ALCATRAZ did not.

Q: What types of shows do networks prefer to get committed too? Serialized shows, that have more of a thematic storyline or procedural shows that could be watched whenever and out of sequence? Why??

A: That’s a tough question because every network is different.  Generally, serialized shows are thought to be much tougher to maintain than procedural’s; however, network look for shows that they believe in more than anything.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about the importance of syndication to a network versus syndication to the production itself?

A: Syndication is only important to the network if they or their studio owns the show.  NBC doesn’t have much at stake if a WB produced show makes it to syndication.

Q: What impact do you think Netflix and other online streaming site have for shows in the future? 

A: That is yet to be determined.  In my opinion it’ll impact network viewing somewhat, especially for serialized shows, but that’s a long time from now.

Q: Did you ever watch Lost?? Do you think that the mythology in the story line was a little too complicated for the average viewer?

I didn’t watch LOST at all.  I disliked the pilot and never really gave the show a chance.  Judging from the ratings it got I think average viewers didn’t find it too complicated at all.