Too Much TV: Your TV Talking Points For Monday, May 3rd, 2021

Post by: Rick Ellis 03 May, 2021

Here's everything you need to know about the world of television for Monday, May 3rd, 2021. I'm writing this from the Twin Cities suburbs, where AllYourScreens HQ is powered by breakfast blend coffee and jalapeno cheese ravioli.

Roku made it first Newfronts presentation on Monday and there weren't many details about how the company planned to integrate the content it obtained from Quibi into its Roku Channel.

The presentation touted a few datapoints, including that 57% of its users had no pay-TV subscription, but the majority did subscribe to SVOD's such as Netflix or Amazon. The median age for Roku customers is 39, compared with 60-plus for the broadcast networks.

The 30-minute virtual presentation included a highlight reel of programming from Quibi as well as content from Roku's recent deal with This Old House. The Quibi content will be rolled out in late summer, but it's still not clear how advertising will be integrated into short-form programming that typically runs between 6 and 10 minutes. 

The 2021 Newfronts began today and Crackle Plus - which runs the AVOD streaming services Crackle and PopcornFlix - announced a number of new projects as well as the launch of a new Chicken Soup For The Soul AVOD.

The Chicken Soup For The Soul AVOD is an interesting move, because much of the content is coming from the recent acquisition of Sonar Entertainment. Sonar was the most recent incarnation of a company that was once called RHI Entertainment and was run by the famed producer Robert Halmi Sr. At different points in its history it was also called Qintex Entertainment, Hallmark Entertainment and Robert Halmi Inc. Chicken Soup for the Soul Entertainment acquired Sonar earlier this year and when the deal was closed reports surfaced that the plan was to launch multiple AVOD's using the Sonar Entertainment catalog. That catalog includes several thousand titles ranging from dozens of miniseries and made-for-TV movies from the 1980s and 1990s to the assets of the Hal Roach studio to new productions such as Mr. Mercedes and The Shannara Chronicles.

Deadline's Dade Hayes has a Q&A with WarnerMedia Direct-To-Consumer Chief Andy Forssell in which he answers a number of questions about how he thinks HBO Max has executed so far. He also has some interesting things to say about HBO Max's AVOD plan:

The biggest thing is there are completely new teams to kind of do this type of advertising at a high level where all the content that comes into the platform now has to have ad breaks. We didn’t need ad breaks before. [Ed. note: HBO programming will not carry advertising.] That’s a simple thing to say, but actually takes a lot of sophistication to do efficiently. You can throw humans at it and spend a lot of money but we’re trying to use technology smartly, so we’ve had to build all that capability.

And then you know, there’s a bunch of operational and technical things you have to build and policy on top of it to say, ‘How many times should we show a given user a single ad?’ That seems like a basic question but it actually sets up a really good debate internally and our answer is going to be much fewer times than many other people have decided. That means you have to turn away revenue and say, ‘We’re going to have a really premium user experience here, which means you’re not going to see ads multiple times. You might see it twice in a week.’ So, we’ve had to develop all that. It’s not rocket science but it’s got to be really thought through, especially in terms of how we look and feel different than other providers.

He also talks a bit about the HBO Max UX, which as you may know, is a pet topic of mine:

We launched the product last year without significant personalization. It was the platform that had HBO Go and HBO Now, with a bunch of improvements. [Ed. note: HBO Go, an authenticated app for HBO subscribers, was phased out and HBO Now, a stand-alone streaming version of HBO that launched in 2015, was rebranded as HBO.] We have improvements sketched out literally for the next two years. It’s at least a build every month. Last September, October, November, that really started to pick up, and I won’t call out specific things because a lot of them are small. But they add up to significantly more personalization and better use of data across the board.

We’re exposing 85% to 90% of our entire catalog in any given week. We weren’t doing that last summer, so we’ve gotten a lot better at using purposely limited screen space. We don’t do an infinite scroll like some other services do. You’re getting 17, 18 or 19 rows — which sounds like a lot, but you hit a bottom, right? And that’s very useful. How do we use those as best we can to catch someone’s eye and get them to say, ‘Oh, I’m interested in that, let me play the trailer.’ I think we’ve gotten much better at that matchmaking.

Pieces in The New Yorker sometimes get over-hyped because of where they're published. But this Mike Sacks interview with famed comedy writer John Swartzwelder is a must-read for fans of The Simpsons. He is arguably one the reasons the show became a success and despite his standing in comedy circles, he doesn't do interviews. In fact, this interview was only possible because it played out for months in email:

Swartzwelder has been deemed “one of the greatest comedy minds of all time.” He is famously private and never grants interviews. Few photos of him exist, although he did make some animated cameos as background “Simpsons” characters—once as a patient in a psychiatric hospital. His voice can be heard on only one “Simpsons” DVD writers’ commentary, for “The Cartridge Family” (Season 9, Episode 5). Ambushed by phone, while at home cooking a steak, he sounds pleasant and courteous but eager to finish up the encounter, which lasts all of a minute and twenty-four seconds.

I especially liked hearing about his approach to writing, which strikes me as the most dangerous approach, albeit the one with the best chance of success if you pull it off:

How much time and attention did you spend on these scripts? Another “Simpsons” writer once compared your scripts to finely tuned machines—if the wrong person mucked with them, the whole thing could blow up.

All of my time and all of my attention. It’s the only way I know how to write, darn it. But I do have a trick that makes things easier for me. Since writing is very hard and rewriting is comparatively easy and rather fun, I always write my scripts all the way through as fast as I can, the first day, if possible, putting in crap jokes and pattern dialogue—“Homer, I don’t want you to do that.” “Then I won’t do it.” Then the next day, when I get up, the script’s been written. It’s lousy, but it’s a script. The hard part is done. It’s like a crappy little elf has snuck into my office and badly done all my work for me, and then left with a tip of his crappy hat. All I have to do from that point on is fix it. So I’ve taken a very hard job, writing, and turned it into an easy one, rewriting, overnight. I advise all writers to do their scripts and other writing this way. And be sure to send me a small royalty every time you do it.

* It's a big earnings week in the media world. Fox Corp. reports earnings after the bell on Wednesday. On Thursday, ViacomCBS releases earnings before the bell with News Corp, Roku, and AMC Entertainment reporting after the close.

* The CW has renewed Stargirl & Kung Fu for the 2021-2022 season. Kung Fu had its series premiere in April and the second season of Stargirl is set to premiere on August 10th. 

* NBC has given a straight-to-series order to Law & Order: For the Defense, the latest extension of the hit Dick Wolf franchise.

* Deadline is reporting that Apple won the bidding for another Tom Hanks film. The Amblin Entertinment sci-fi movie Finch previously carried the title Bios and was originally intended to be released by Universal. It will now premiere on Apple TV later in 2021.

Here are a couple of stories that recently posted on

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1) Antiques Roadshow: Celebrity Roadshow Series Premiere (PBS)
How do you produce episodes of Antiques Roadshow during a pandemic? You do a few episodes one-on-one with celebrities.

2) Best Baker In America Season Premiere (Food)
This season’s baking challenges focus on creating unique versions of classic American desserts from different states. The ten bakers from different states, gather in the season premiere to begin their first challenge designed to test their limits. They are first challenged to whip up a Kentucky May Day piecaken with bourbon as the feature flavor. For the second challenge, the bakers’ talents are tested in a challenge inspired by Florida’s signature key lime pie. Other episodes during the season challenge the bakers’ abilities to create sweet treats from the mid-Atlantic, Rocky Mountains, Northern Plains, Midwest, the Pacific, and more. Gesine Prado and Jason Smith will deliberate to determine who gets eliminated and who will be crowned the newest winner of Best Baker in America!

3) VE Day: Minute By Minute (Acorn TV)
Marking the 75th anniversary of VE day, this one-hour special guides us through the events of May 8,1945, as they took place across the world. From key moments such as the surrender of all German forces to the untold stories of soldiers tentatively stepping out of Prisoner of War camps into an era of peace, this is the definitive account of a day like no other. Narrated by Tony Robinson and featuring historians Sam Willis and James Holland.

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Last modified on Monday, 03 May 2021 15:22