Too Much TV: Your TV Talking Points For Wednesday, October 20th, 2021
Believe me, I'm as tired of this Chappelle story as you are...
Here's everything you need to know about the world of television for Wednesday, October 20th, 2021. I'm writing this from the Twin Cities, where AllYourScreens HQ has so many items for the newsletter that I could send out two separate ones this morning (don't worry, I won't).
Thanks to a flurry of signups yesterday - a bunch of them from Australia for some reason - Too Much TV has crossed the 18,000 subscriber mark. A sincere thank you to all of you for your support.
TED SARANDOS: 'I SCREWED UP'
I mentioned in Monday's newsletter that I expected that Netfix's co-CEO Ted Sarandos would be doing an interview or two with the Hollywood trades in which he was going to make another attempt to explain his position about the most recent Dave Chappelle comedy special.
One interview was posted Tuesday evening in Variety, with the headline including the phrase "I Screwed Up." There isn't much in the interview that is a surprise and it appears that the conversation between Sarandos and reporter Matt Donnelly was limited to the specifics of the Chappelle fall-out. Sarandos does his best to be forthcoming about his thoughts on the special and he acknowledges that the company should have done a better job engaging with employees who might feel the special was the equivalent of hate speech.
One topic Sarandos did skirt was his conversations with Chappelle about the special, both before and after it was released:
Have you spoken to Dave Chappelle since this went down?
I know he’s been doing some COVID tour dates in Europe, so I’ve only touched based a few times.
Have the contents of those conversations been at all about the special or the employees of Netflix?
No. I would generally say he was appreciative of supporting the show and his ability to do his act.
There was also a short interview with Sarandos in The Hollywood Reporter and while it pretty closely tracks with what he told Variety, he did add his belief that the Chappelle special doesn't require any sort of additional disclaimer:
The employees are not asking that the special itself be taken down, but that other steps, such as adding a disclaimer to the beginning [of the special] is something they’re looking for. Is that something you’d be willing to consider?
The content is age restricted already for language, and Dave himself gives a very explicit warning at the beginning of the show, so I don’t think it would be appropriate in this case.
Reading both interviews, it's clear there were some ground rules about the scope of the questions. Which is fine, although I don't think that does Sarandos any favors. His responses seem very careful and it's unfortunate that he frames part of the problem to THR as confusion caused in the press following the publication of his internal email:
I would say the other one was that — this is the problem when you have a leaked email out of context, is it’s part of a conversation already in progress, and that line of causing harm in the real world was way over simplistic and talking about something very specific that we were talking about earlier that day. Of course, content, storytelling causes change in the world, sometimes hugely positive and sometimes negative. That change that storytelling can generate in the world is what inspires me to come to work every day. That’s exactly what we do. You’ve heard me talk about this in interviews after interviews, and every employee in this company has heard me sing the praises of the work that we do exactly in this space. So it was just very clumsy, internal communications that went public.
So what questions would I ask Sarandos if given the chance? Here are a few, in no particular order:
* It seems clear that there was some recognition internally that the special was going to be controversial and problematic for both some employees and subscribers. Were there any discussions with Chappelle about the content and did Netflix request any changes?
* You're well-known inside the industry for being a fan of stand-up comedy and have had a number of different comics over to your house, including reportedly Dave Chappelle. Do you think that your love of the medium and your friendship with Chappelle might have led you to have a blind spot about his special and the impact it might have after its release?
* Are you aware of past examples where Netflix has demanded changes in original comedy specials because of concerns over content?
* A commonly-held belief among Netflix employees I've spoken with is that Dave Chappelle's contract with Netflix allowed him a extraordinary amount of editorial and production control over this specials, including a requirement that Netflix accept the final edit of his specials as delivered. Is that an accurate representation? And if it's not, what does it say about the Netflix culture that employees would assume that is the case?
Yeah, this is probably a good example of why my interview with Ted Sarandos won't be happening anytime soon.
FACEBOOK IS CHANGING ITS NAME
The Verge's Alex Heath had a jaw-dropping exclusive Tuesday night: at next week's at annual Facebook Connect conference, CEO's Mark Zuckerberg is expected to announce the company is changing it's name:
Facebook isn’t the first well-known tech company to change its company name as its ambitions expand. In 2015, Google reorganized entirely under a holding company called Alphabet, partly to signal that it was no longer just a search engine, but a sprawling conglomerate with companies making driverless cars and health tech. And Snapchat rebranded to Snap Inc. in 2016, the same year it started calling itself a “camera company” and debuted its first pair of Spectacles camera glasses.
Facebook's new name is a closely guarded secret, but here are a few names that were reportedly in the mix at some point in the naming process:
* Borg Inc.
* Hi, Grandma!
* The International House Of Memes
* The Metaverse Of Q
* Happy Cats & Bunnies
* Facey McFacebook
DISCOVERY+ CUTS HIGH-PROFILE PROJECTS IN PROGRAMMING SHIFT
You might find this shocking. But sometime media companies make a decision for one reason, then leak the decision to the press, attributing the change to an entirely different set of factors. Think of it as media reporting three-card monte. The news is going to be discovered at some point, so why not move things around so much that it's difficult for the press to figure out just where the ball ended up?
I feel this way about a story that was posted by Bloomberg today, which argued that Discovery+ was pulling back on some expensive planned documentary projects because the service is shifting its strategy in anticipation of Discovery's upcoming merger with Warner Media:
Discovery+ canceled a documentary about comedian Louis C.K. produced by the New York Times, and has decided not to move forward on projects with Kevin Costner and Lupita Nyong’o, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the decisions haven’t been made public. The shows are in various stages of development, and could still continue if they’re sold to new buyers. The cuts amount to $25 million to $35 million in costs for programs where deals have been signed, according to one of the people.
I don't doubt that cutting costs ahead of the merger might be part of the reasoning behind these moves. However, it's more likely the primary cause is that while Discovery has poured a lot of money into acquired and original documentaries for Discovery+, the projects have appeared to have not gained much traction on the streaming service. And indeed, you would be hard-pressed to see much buzz or press coverage of those documentaries. So blaming it on pre-merger cost-cutting sounds much better than "we've spent a lot of money and not that many people have been watching."
A COUPLE OF UX OBSERVATIONS
I do enjoy diving deep into streaming service UX issues and changes. And here are a couple of things I've noticed:
* Just about every AVOD has a category of content titled "Not On Netflix." I noticed a few days ago that Netflix has finally responded, by labeling one of it's scrolling horizontal content windows "Only On Netflix."
* I'm a big fan of the streaming service Crackle, but their UX continues to be frustrating. It's great that Crackle continues to add obscure television shows. But it has now removed the ability to look at all of the television shows on the service alphabetically and instead forces users to search for shows by genre. Which is annoying, since there are more than a dozen genres listed and shows are included in multiple genres. Making it almost impossible to discover which shows have been recently added to the service.
ODDS AND SODS
* Amazon Prime Video UK has its own Twitch channel, although it hasn't really done much with it yet.
* Inside Comcast's plan to become a streaming media giant (subscription required).
* Variety is teaming up with Twitter to launch a trending TV chart.
SEE YOU THURSDAY!