Too Much TV: Your TV Talking Points For Friday, June 4th, 2021

Here's everything you need to know about the world of television for Friday, June 4th, 2021. I'm writing this from the Twin Cities suburbs, where AllYourScreens HQ is powered by cheese, crackers and a lot of caffeine.

PROGRAMMING NOTE
My apologies for missing two days worth of the newsletter. Some family stuff came up unexpectedly that kept me mostly offline. But I'm back and I now have a backlog of things to say.

TWO COX TV STATIONS APPARENT VICTIMS OF CYBERATTACK
NBC News is reporting that at two TV stations owned by Cox Media Group have come under what is being described as a "cyber attack":

ABC affiliate WFTV in Orlando, Florida, and NBC affiliate WPXI in Pittsburgh, which are both owned by the Cox Media Group, were told Thursday by managers to shut down company computers and phones.

"We are only able to communicate with each other over personal phones and text messages," said a WFTV employee who wasn't authorized to speak for the company and requested not to be named.

So far both stations were able to still put together local broadcasts, but have been limited in what they can do. Cox didn't reply to requests for comment. But the event appeared to be the latest U.S. incident of ransomware, where hackers will infect a network and hold its files hostage while demanding payment, said Allan Liska, an analyst at the cybersecurity company Recorded Future.

DISNEY'S DISAPPOINTMENTS
I've mentioned Julia Alexander's wonderful "Musings On The Mouse" newsletter and the newest one takes a look at the impact two very high-profile disappointments had on Disney:

The Rescuers Down Under didn’t work as a theatrical release, but it may have had more luck going straight to VHS, a strategy that executives employed just a few years later. I think of it as the perfect example of knowing the value of a single product within a shifting marketplace. The Rescuers Down Under wasn’t exciting enough to get people in theaters, not well known enough to generate lines at cinemas, but during the holiday season when families want something to watch at home, a new Disney VHS becomes the perfect option.

She also weighs in on Netflix's Jupiter's Legacy and while I don't agree with this framing, I also have to admit that it's become the conventional wisdom about the series and why it didn't work:

As I tweeted yesterday after it was revealed that Netflix spent $200 million on Jupiter’s Legacy only to cancel it after one season, spending that kind of money on a “show that might work because it kind-of-sort-of looks like a show that should work is wild. Lord of the Rings it is not."

“Not to bring up John Carter again, but it's like dropping $300M on a film that might work because it kind-of-sort-of looks like one that should work.”

Julia's piece is long and really does a nice job of framing Disney's struggles over the decades to build so-called "franchises." As for my take on Jupiter's Legacy, just keep reading...

THE COMPLICATED LEGACY OF 'JUPITER'S LEGACY'
I was offline when word came that Netflix had decided to publicly rule out a second season of its high-profile series Jupiter's Legacy. The cancellation was notable for a couple of reasons, including the fact that it came less than a month after the series premiered. The show was also the first project to come out of a partnership between Netflix and Mark Millar/Frank Quitely, who created the graphic novels on which the series was based. There was also a lot of discussion among media industry watchers about the reported costs of the series (reportedly nearly $200 million) and Netflix's statement that it intended to move forward with the characters and the related Millar/Quitely universe in some still undefined way.

There has been a lot of snark about the series' cost and a lot of speculation that this was essentially proof of Netflix's hubris about its ability to create a franchise. After speaking with a number of people connected with the series and its development over the past couple of days, I'd argue that it's really an example of just how hard it is correct mistakes on the fly, no matter how much talent is thrown at the problem.

It's fair to say that a TV series based on Jupiter's Legacy was always going to be a challenge to get right. Graphic novels are notoriously difficult to capture in other mediums and I'm sure you can name a dozen similar efforts that have failed over the past decade. Netflix executives overseeing the project seemed to be aware of the dangers going into it. Veteran writer/producer Steven S. DeKnight was hired to develop the series and serve as showrunner. His experience with successful shows such as SmallvilleSpartacus and Netflix's Daredevil made him a good creative fit for the project. And thanks to his work on Daredevil, he was already familiar to the streamer's executives. The initial approved budget for the show was described to me as being on the "very high end" for a Netflix series and the decision to cast more expensive "name" actors such as Josh Duhamel and Leslie Bibb was described to me as an effort to give creative weight to the project.

Still, the show struggled creatively early on and the causes of the problems depend a great deal on who you speak to about the series. It seems clear that very early on it was apparent the show was missing the mark, but in a process that is sadly familiar to anyone who has worked on a struggling TV series, everyone had a different explanation for the problem. In hindsight, some of the casting - especially one of the leads - was a problem. Not because of their talent, but they just weren't a great fit for the tone the material required. But even if that had been more apparent at the time, recasting a major role several episodes into the production was considered to be a non-starter. "At some point, you either shut down completely and walk away. Or you make other changes and hope for the best," one of the show's executives told me.

In the case of Jupiter's Legacy, the big change was to replace DeKnight and rework the show in hopes of solving the perceived creative problems. That delay - along with COVID-related issues - had a negative impact on the budget. It also ultimately didn't solve the problems with the show.

So Netflix executives were left with several conflicting facts. They still liked the characters, they believed there was a vision out there that could make things work. They also have acquired comic book publisher MillarWorld, in hopes of being able to build out more of those stories. But after seeing the completed first season of Jupiter's Legacy, it was also clear that no one thought the core problems with the show could be fixed for a season two. "At some point soon, we had to make decisions on the cast and at some point, just letting everyone go and moving on made the best sense," one executive told me. "It wasn't anyone's fault, exactly. It was just a bad fit all around."

Work is already beginning on a future project, although from what I've been told, it's a script-contingent deal which would also face a lot of scrutiny with the casting. "We missed the mark," one producer told me. "Now the question is whether the fault was human error or is it because the source material just doesn't lend itself to a television series?" According to recent comments from Millar, the project is focused on the villains of that creative universe. There will be a related comic book series and hopefully this related Netflix series that is tangentially connected to Jupiter's Legacy.

The big takeaway for me after these discussions is that for all of the talk about the differences of the streaming world, the creative problems with Jupiter's Legacy are no different than the ones faced by scores of other shows that have production issues. Television is a collaborative medium and it's much easier to get things wrong than successfully balance the competing interests necessary for a successful series.

This also circles back to the Julia Alexander piece about Disney's failures. There is this tendency to look back at recent history and think of Disney as being close to failure-proof when it comes to building franchises. But it's important to remember that much of the reason why Disney acquired Marvel and the Star Wars universe is that it had struggled to build out big IP success. The temptation is to judge Netflix against this mythical creative juggernaut. Instead, I think it's more accurate to judge Netflix by how it pivots when the inevitable failures happen. No matter the media company, no matter the talent, successful universe-building IP's come once or twice in a generation. The important thing is to figure out the balance between making enough revenue with a bunch of singles and doubles until the time when one of those projects becomes your iconic title.

ROKU'S RECOMMENDATION SHOW
Roku announced earlier this week that is launching a new weekly series called Roku Recommends, which will be hosted by Maria Menounos and Andrew Hawkins, who will "present streaming recommendations for the week, from trending originals and premieres to series debuts and not-to-be-missed classics." I suppose it would be considered snarky to mention that Roku might not need a show like this is the content discovery and search on their Roku Channel app wasn't so terrible.  This idea sounds a bit different than the "Roku Recommends" ad unit I reported on in early April.

But if you've been reading this newsletter for awhile, you might remember that I suggested a similar idea for Hulu a few months ago, but in that case I was proposing more genre-specific mini-shows:

One example of this would be for Christmas movies, which are spread across numerous channels. Viewers who enjoy these movies tend to watch a lot of them. And they would likely engage strongly with a five-minute show that highlighted the new Christmas movies of the week and where to find them. The potential internal challenge of this idea is that sales and marketing would see this as a place to wring money out of networks and studios by offering pay-for-play placement. But this idea only works if it's recommendations are organic and have credibility.

And that internal pressure from sales and marketing is why I am skeptical of the effectiveness of this Roku idea. I'm sure the show will push some viewers, but it sounds at first glance like this is more of a feature to sell to advertisers and content partners. And those partners likely have interests that aren't aligned with viewers.

The first episode is live now and it runs 16 minutes. There is a 60-second interview with Patton Oswalt and a "Top Five" things to stream this week. Which for the record, are these titles:

5) Girls5Eva (Peacock)

4) Alias (Roku Channel)

3) Cruella (Disney+ Premiere)

2) Mare Of Eastown (HBO Max)

1) Marvel's M.O.D.O.K. (Hulu)

And then there is the "Child Proof Lock" feature (sponsored by Walmart!), which is the suggestion of a TV show or movie that can be watched by the entire family. Hawkins' suggestion is Paddington 2, which can be rented at Walmart-owned Vudu (hmmmm). They also do a "Trending On Roku" feature, where the hosts pick a series that is "trending on the Roku app." Amazingly, Menounos picks the Roku Original reboot of Punk'd, which is one of the Quibi shows Roku picked up after that service shut down late last year.

There's nothing WRONG with Roku Recommends. But there aren't any surprises and you can see the sales department fingerprints all over the choices. And it's an interesting decision to only highlight things that have already premiered as opposed to promoting content premiering in the coming week.

ODDS AND SODS

* Netflix taps Peter Friedlander to head U.S. Originals; Brian Wright to Exit.

Business Insider reports that some advertisers say the rates from the ad-supported version of HBO Max are too expensive and  they are skeptical of the value.


TODAY'S PREMIERES 

1) Breaking Boundaries: The Silence Of Our Planet (Netflix)
Breaking Boundaries follows the scientific journey of world-renowned scientist Professor Johan Rockström. It tells the story of the most important scientific discovery of our time - that humanity has pushed Earth beyond the boundaries that have kept our planet stable for 10,000 years, since the dawn of civilization.

2) Cellmate Secrets (Lifetime)
Angie Harmon (Rizzoli and Isles) will narrate the series, which reveals new insights and information as former friends, guards, cellmates and lovers give first-hand accounts of their time with the famed felons and defendants.

3) Dom (Amazon)
Inspired by the true story of a father and son on opposite sides of the war on drugs in Rio de Janeiro, Dom is a one-hour crime drama series that follows Victor, a young diver who, by a twist of fate, becomes a military intelligence agent and embraces the war on drugs as his life mission. Over the years, he comes to face the disillusionment of an endless war, and watches his own son, Pedro, succumb to the enemy he tirelessly fought against: cocaine. Pedro turns into an addict as well as one of the most wanted criminals in Rio de Janeiro: Pedro Dom.

4) Emergency Call Season Premiere (ABC)
Teenage girls narrowly escape a possible kidnapper; a mother and her children get stuck on the roof while attempting to rescue their parrot.

5) Feel Good Season Two Premiere (Netflix)
As Mae tries to reconnect with George — and herself — after her relapse, she begins to realize she'll have to face her past in order to move forward.

6) Gabby Duran & The Unsittables Season Two Premiere (Disney)
Dina forbids Gabby from babysitting aliens.

7) Lisey's Story Series Premiere (Apple TV+)
Based on the best-selling novel by Stephen King, and adapted by the author himself, “Lisey’s Story” is a deeply personal thriller that follows Lisey Landon (Academy Award winner Julianne Moore) two years after the death of her husband, famous novelist Scott Landon (Academy Award nominee Clive Owen). A series of unsettling events causes Lisey to face memories of her marriage to Scott that she has deliberately blocked out of her mind.

8) Sweet & Sour (Netflix)
Faced with real-world opportunities and challenges, a couple endures the highs and lows of trying to make a long-distance relationship work.

9) Sweet Tooth Series Premiere (Netflix)
On a perilous adventure across a post-apocalyptic world, a lovable boy who's half-human and half-deer searches for a new beginning with a gruff protector.

10) The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (HBO Max)

Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga return as real-life investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren in a chilling story of terror, murder and evil based on one of the most sensational cases from their files.

11) The Family Man (Amazon)
Srikent Tiwari has quit TASC and works in the private sector to spend more time with his family. But a powerful new enemy forces him to return.

12) Trippin' With The Kandasamys (Netflix)
To rekindle their marriages, best friends-turned-in-laws Shanthi and Jennifer plan a couples' getaway. But it comes with all kinds of surprises.

13) Xtreme (Netflix)
In this fast-paced and action-packed thriller, a retired hitman — along with his sister and a troubled teen — takes revenge on his lethal stepbrother.

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I'll be back with another one tomorrow. If you have any feedback, send it along to Rick@AllYourScreens.com and follow me on Twitter @aysrick.