Too Much TV: Your TV Talking Points For Thursday, June 24th, 2021

Here's everything you need to know about the world of television for Thursday, June 24th, 2021. I'm writing this from the Twin Cities suburbs, where AllYourScreens HQ is powered by Panera coffee.

THE MESS THAT IS PARAMOUNT+
I wrote some in yesterday's newsletter about the executive restructuring at Viacom/CBS as they make an effort to shift the company more in the direction of streaming. But all the executive reshuffles in the world won't help if the company can't solve some of its biggest issues and at the top of that list are the problems plaguing Paramount+.

You will be hard-pressed to find anyone inside or outside the company that thinks the current Paramount+ app works effectively in its present form. Content discovery is a joke, the catalog has random exclusions that don't seem to make sense. And it took Viacom/CBS three months to add the ability of subscribers to create a wish list. That last feature is one that should be one of the half dozen core features of any mass-market streaming service. The fact that Paramount+ launched without it is just astounding.

I write a great deal about the UX issues of the various streamers, so it's not uncommon for some designer or executive at one of the streamers to reach out to me. Particularly if they are unhappy with decisions being made at their streamer. Earlier this week I heard from someone behind the scenes at Paramount+ and they put me in touch with a couple of other people familiar with the decision-making process at Paramount+. While all of the discussion was either off-the-record or on background, what they laid out was a process that was filled with too many voices and too little vision. 

I had the opportunity to look at a number of screenshots for a proposed revamping of the Paramount+ UX, which at least in the images I saw appears to be light years ahead of what is available now. That plan was apparently rejected and another take on the UX now seems to be on hold due to the executive revamping. I spoke with some extremely frustrated people, who talked to me with quite a bit of passion about their belief that executives at the top of the decision-making process for Paramount+ put too much value in the content and Viacom/CBS IP and not enough emphasis on the need to provide an app that is more than just functional. A lot of scorn was also directed at the original CBS All-Access UX framework, which was described to me as being "solid, but not easy to scale." 

I'll have more to say about this in the coming days and weeks. But let me add one personal story of my own about Paramount+. I signed up for the special deal before the launch, which cost me $30 for a year's subscription. Unfortunately, I screwed up during the sign-up and made a typo when I input the account email. It's a stupid mistake, but one that should have been relatively easy for customer service to resolve. And yet after three months I finally had to give up and pay Google $5 to open an Gmail account with the mistaken address for a month because Paramount+ customer service could not figure it out. Emails to customer service went unanswered for weeks and when they did respond, it's clear the person did not read my complaint, since they just kept suggesting that I could log in and change the email address. But I couldn't log-in, because the system wants to send a confirmation email to the bad email address. Phone calls to the Paramount+ customer service didn't fare any better. Each called require sitting on hold for long stretches before some agent would simply read suggestions off of a script or tell me to just go in and change the email address myself.

I only mention my issues because this specific nightmare feels like an indication of the overall problems at Paramount+. There's a lack of expertise that infects the service from the top on down. And all of the reboots of classic IP in the world won't make those problems go away. And until they do, Paramount+ will continue to feel a bit like a streaming service dumpster fire.

COMCAST EXPLORING ACQUSITION OF VIACOM/CBS OR ROKU
The Wall Street Journal had a piece yesterday that focused on Comcast 
and its ambitions to be "a streaming giant." The piece is getting a lot of attention because it offers up some unsourced speculation about the possibility of Comcast acquiring one of its media rivals:

Comcast’s CEO is also wrestling with whether to build or buy to become a streaming powerhouse, people close to him said. Several big players, including ViacomCBS Inc., Walt Disney Co. and Amazon.com Inc., have struck mergers meant to supercharge their streaming efforts.

Mr. Roberts, 61 years old and known as an aggressive deal maker in his two decades atop Comcast, has told people close to him that he doesn’t feel a need to seek a merger. But he is scoping out options, and ideas on the table include a potential tie-up with ViacomCBS Inc. or an acquisition of Roku Inc., one of the people said.

Both of those ideas seem more idle speculation than representative of actual ambitions. And even if they are a possibility, it's hard to see how either acquisition would help Comcast. Viacom/CBS arguably is the one major media company out there whose execution of a streaming plan is off to a shakier start than the one being haphazardly executed by Comcast. And while I'm sure Comcast would much rather have a Roku device to cram onto its Xfinity customers instead of its Flex device, it's difficult to see how that acquisition would have value beyond that. And it certainly is hard to imagine that Roku executives would see it as a positive.

But the part of the piece that is much more interesting (and is getting a lot less attention) is the discussion of the tensions between wanting to build out Peacock and the traditional parts of the NBCUniversal business:

NBCUniversal plans to start shifting some cable and broadcast shows to Peacock and become a launchpad for new content: The entire new season of the Bravo show “Below Deck Mediterranean” was made available on Peacock a week ahead of the cable network premiere in late June. However, pay TV distributors might not pay as much to carry TV channels if their good content shifts to Peacock, and talent would have to go along with the plans.

The Peacock push has caused some internal tensions. NBCUniversal had considered moving major NBC network shows like medical drama “New Amsterdam” and even hit talent show “The Voice” to Peacock, a senior executive said. However, network executives balked at those moves.

In the case of police comedy “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” producers and the cast, including star Andy Samberg, also resisted the shift to Peacock, saying it wouldn’t be fair to the show’s fans to put the last season of the show behind a paywall, people familiar with the situation said. Another factor was that the cast and writers would need compensation of around $16 million to make the move, one of the people said.

I think it's fair to say that Peacock has so far turned out to be a middling success and a great deal of its struggles is related to similar problems being faced by Viacom/CBS with Paramount+. The only way to do well with streaming is by going all-in. You don't have to burn your current business model to the ground, but you do need to be willing to pay a sometimes heavy financial price in the short term. Comcast so far is trying to make changes without undergoing any pain. And while I understand that inclination, I believe it's only going to make the inevitable business model disruption even more painful in the end. 

ODDS AND SODS
U.S. ranks last among 46 countries in trust of media.

* Netflix has renewed its comedy The Upshaws for a second season.


FRIDAY'S PREMIERES 

1) Bosch Season Seven Premiere (Amazon)
The seventh and final season of Bosch puts Detective Harry Bosch’s famous motto center stage: “Everyone counts or no one counts.” When a ten-year-old girl dies in an arson fire, Detective Harry Bosch risks everything to bring her killer to justice despite opposition from powerful forces. The highly charged, politically sensitive case forces Bosch to face a grueling dilemma of how far he is willing to go to achieve justice.

2) Central Park (Apple TV+)
In season two, the Tillerman family continues to navigate living in and caring for the world’s most famous park. Molly (Emmy Raver-Lampman) experiences the trials and tribulations of adolescence, Cole (Tituss Burgess) is challenged by a truly embarrassing moment at school, Paige (Kathryn Hahn) continues to chase down the Mayor’s corruption story, and Owen (Leslie Odom Jr.) juggles managing the park, his staff, and his family all with a smile on his face. Meanwhile, Bitsy (Stanley Tucci) inches ever closer to her sinister goal of claiming Central Park as her own; with Helen (Daveed Diggs) by her side, eternally wondering whether she’s made it into Bitsy’s will. Every step of the way, we are guided along by our friendly, fumbling, fiddler narrator, Birdie (Josh Gad).

3) 48th Daytime Emmy Awards (CBS)
Festivities salute excellence in daytime television at the Emmy stage in Los Angeles. Sheryl Underwood hosts.

4) False Positive (Hulu)
After months of trying and failing to get pregnant, Lucy (Ilana Glazer) and Adrian (Justin Theroux) finally find their dream fertility doctor in the illustrious Dr. Hindle (Pierce Brosnan).  But after becoming pregnant with a healthy baby girl, Lucy begins to notice something sinister through Hindle’s gleaming charm, and she sets out to uncover the unsettling truth about him, and her own “birth story.”  As if getting pregnant weren’t complicated enough…

5) Fathom (Apple TV+)
“I’m trying to start a conversation”, proclaims Dr. Michelle Fournet, an American researcher studying the communication of humpback whales. As she enlists a team to aid her study in Alaska, we follow Dr. Ellen Garland, a Scottish researcher in French Polynesia scrutinizing how such patterns evolve, even across oceans and continents. For these women, this is an ambitious opportunity for rich discoveries—but it also provides them the environment that they feel the most at ease in, by connecting with a creature that has mystified humanity for generations. Filmmaker and cinematographer Drew Xanthopoulos returns to Tribeca with the visually stunning Fathom, a thought-provoking documentary that prompts the audience to immerse itself in a sensorial experience of awe and wonder.

6) Mary J. Blige's My Life (Amazon)
Nine-time Grammy-winning recording artist and Academy Award nominated singer and actress Mary J. Blige set the music world on fire with her trailblazing 1994 LP "My Life," a collection of powerful confessionals about her battles with abuse, depression and addiction that forged a profound and enduring connection with millions of fans around the globe. In Oscar-winning filmmaker Vanessa Roth’s documentary, the singer, producer and actress reveals the demons and blessings that inspired the record and propelled her from the soul-crushing world of New York’s housing projects to international stardom. In the process, she celebrates the 25th anniversary of her most influential work by performing the album live for the first time. 

7) Put A Ring On It (OWN)
Three couples at a crossroads in their relationship turn to Dr. Nicole LaBeach for a nine-week experiment: to see if dating other people helps bring clarity to their own situations.

8) Ray (Netflix)
From a satire to a psychological thriller, four short stories from celebrated auteur and writer Satyajit Ray are adapted for the screen in this anthology.

9) September Mornings Series Premiere (Amazon)
The series tells the journey of Cassandra (Liniker) who left her hometown behind when she decided to no longer make any concessions and become who she always wanted to be: a free and independent transgender woman. After years of suffering in silence, things finally begin to get on track in her life. Cassandra has a place of her own for the first time as well as a boyfriend who she loves, Ivaldo (Thomas Aquino), and in addition to a job as a courier in downtown São Paulo, she gets to fulfill her dream of being a cover artist of Vanusa, a famous Brazilian singer from the 70s. Her life takes an unexpected turn, however, when Cassandra’s ex, Leide (Karine Telles), shows up with a kid she claims to be Cassandra’s.

10) Sex/Life Series Premiere (Netflix)
Sex/Life is the story of a love triangle between a woman, her husband, and her past that takes a provocative new look at female identity and desire.

11) The A List Season Premiere (Netflix)
A group of teens find their friendship and courage tested on a mysterious island where the dead never die.

12) The Choe Show Series Premiere (FX)
David Choe paints portraits - literally and figuratively - of Asa Akira, Kat Von D and Rafael Reyes.

13) The Ice Road (Netflix)
After a remote diamond mine collapses in far northern Canada, a ‘big-rig’ ice road driver (Liam Neeson) must lead an impossible rescue mission over a frozen ocean to save the trapped miners. Contending with thawing waters and a massive storm, they discover the real threat is one they never saw coming.

If you have any feedback, send it along to Rick@AllYourScreens.com and follow me on Twitter @aysrick.