Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Greatest SHOWMAN,...PT BARNUM......199 years later...( Michael Jackson said so.......)

(David Gesualdi in his Bethel, Conn., studio, creating clay designs for a life-size statue of P. T. Barnum, who was born in Bethel 199 years ago.)

Amazing Barnum Revival Will Astound the World!

Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times

Published: August 16, 2009

We interrupt our nostalgic return to Bethel, N.Y., for the greatest concert in history to travel to Bethel, Conn., birthplace of the man who dreamed up the
Greatest Show on Earth.

And with a no-doubt titanic P. T. Barnum revival around the corner, it’s not a bad time to reconsider the man who during his life was perhaps the most famous American on earth,
has been hailed as “the architect of the modern culture industry,” coined the term
“show business” and never said, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” but didn’t have to.

It was a long time ago.
And if you don’t count shows like “Jackass,” the collected works of Sacha Baron Cohen and half of what’s on the Internet,
we’re a long way from General Tom Thumb and hoaxes like Barnum’s attempt to con people into believing that a blind, 80-ish slave named Joice Heth, whom he bought and emancipated, was really 160 years old and that she had been a nurse to George Washington.

Still, if he were around to view the summer’s endless cavalcade of amusements, you could bet that Phineas Taylor Barnum would feel right at home.

Variety is reporting that Hugh Jackman will play Barnum in
“The Greatest Showman on Earth,” an original musical film that focuses on one of his greatest triumphs, his promotion of the singer Jenny Lind, ( below )the Swedish Nightingale.
This perhaps gives it a leg up on another Barnum biopic reported just last month.

It seems like pretty great timing for the folks from the Bethel Historical Society, who have hired a local sculptor, David Gesualdi, to create a life-size bronze statue of Barnum in honor of the 200th anniversary next year of his birth in Bethel on July 5, 2010.

Mr. Gesualdi, whose sculpture design shows Barnum, hat held high, stepping jauntily into the fray, sees him as a distinctly contemporary character, the inventor of hype and buzz, his three-ring circus his era’s version of multitasking.

“He kind of walked a fine line between being honest and dishonest in his approach to putting on a show, but at the end of the day, he left everyone with a smile on their face,” the sculptor said.
“He was kind of the father of modern marketing.”

Barnum didn’t come up with his three-ring circus until he was already an international celebrity in his 60s, and the “sucker” quote was essentially said about him, not by him.

But, in truth, his real achievement was much more profound than what he’s best known for.
Born when the nation was just 34 years old and organized amusements were just about nonexistent, Barnum more or less invented the world of endless entertainments, hype and promotion that we know today.

He made money on museums, theater and lectures, promoted acts like Jenny Lind and also served as mayor of Bridgeport and in the state legislature, after crusading as a fervent abolitionist.
He wrote an autobiography that sold over a million copies, becoming perhaps the first American entrepreneur to extend his brand across numerous platforms.

He realized that Americans, like almost everyone else,were more interested in being entertained than in being certain that every bit of what he presented was entirely accurate.
And in the process, he proved that marketing and promotion — he got 30,000 people to greet the arrival of Lind, whom almost no one in America had ever heard sing — were as important as the product being sold.

Barnum created the first reserved seats and the first matinees, transformed entertainment from rowdy male-oriented spectacles to ones that also attracted women and children, created the first public aquarium, the first celebrity marketing campaigns, the first venues with national audiences.

At the Barnum Museum in Bridgeport, which plans to market a Barnumesque Connecticut twofer of Barnum’s 200th birthday year and Mark Twain’s 175th next year, the executive director and curator, Kathleen Maher, said the best comparison was to Walt Disney.

“Like Disney, he was interested in every kind of entertainment,” she said.
“In his day, he’d bring people from countries around the world to New York in their traditional clothing, like a human exhibition.
Today we call that Epcot.”

So from Michael Jackson’s career to the endless marketing of Woodstock to the weird, truth-challenged theatrics of summer politics
(“Step right up and see the amazing panel of death! Watch, if you dare, as it unplugs Grandma!”),
there’s a reason why the term “Barnumesque” survives more than a century after his death.

In his day and beyond, Barnum was more admired than reviled, and even the critics often saw him as a rough-hewn transitional figure, reflecting the raffish sensibilities of his fledgling country.
So, The Times of London, which often depicted him as an uncouth defiler of the cultural landscape, on his death in 1891 saw him as almost a classical figure and “a typical representative of the age of transparent puffing through which modern democracies are passing.”

It’s proving to be a long, long passage.

HuffPo, Facebook Launch 'Social News'

The Huffington Post announced on Monday the launch of something called “HuffPost Social News,” a collaboration between the sprawling blog, news and aggregation site and Facebook.

The project uses the Facebook Connect feature to connect to Huffington Post readers already on Facebook, allowing to share the stories they are commenting on with their Facebook friends.

Arianna Huffington called it “HuffPost’s version of a digital water cooler.”

“Social media has fundamentally changed our relationship to news,” she said.
“It’s no longer something we passively take in.
We now engage with news, share news, react to news.”

The goal, said Eric Hippeau, HuffPo’s new CEO (and partner at Softbank Capital, one of the site’s chief investors)
is “to make HuffPost Social News the go-to place for Facebook users to share news–both the stories they love and the stories they hate -- with friends.”

Of course the other goal, he said, is to “appeal to marketers interested in reaching passionate, savvy readers who care about the news and who want to share their interests with friends.”

Monetizing social media has been largely elusive to most media companies, even those, like HuffPo, passionate and savvy about e-media.

And while something like this might appeal to marketers elsewhere, there are really few sites that have the scale and engagement –
albeit largely spurred on by Fox News-hating liberals – that the Huffington Post can leverage.

The site had more than 1.7 million comments in July, Arianna said, with some stories attracting “more than 10,000 comments.”
Put another way, that’s more comments than other sites get in page views.

It’s also another move by Facebook to get engagement and activity flowing in the opposite direction.
Last week, the site spent $50 million to acquire FriendFeed.

In a post announcing the project to users, Arianna got reflective:

“I’ve always been obsessed with news.
As the daughter of a newspaperman, I grew up with the smell of newsprint and the buzz of breaking news.
I’ve also always enjoyed bringing people together from different parts of my life and facilitating interesting conversations.
In the past, these have taken place around dinner tables, on group hikes or at book parties.
Now, via cyberspace, those conversations have gone global.
And they are happening in real time.”

She added: “The launch of HuffPost Social News today brings together my two loves:
nonstop news and the passionate discussion of the news with my friends.”

Funding Puts Studio Back in the Production Game
First release under Disney's distribution deal will be in 2010.

By Michael Speier
Ending a year of drama, departures and dealmaking, DreamWorks' marriage with India's Reliance Group has officially kicked off, with the two companies announcing on Monday the completion of the studio's funding.

An initial sum of $325 million, put together by J.P. Morgan, will be matched by Reliance. Including a loan from Disney as part of its newly-formed distribution deal with DreamWorks, the total value of the financing will be $825 million.

The money puts DreamWorks back in the production game. After taking its leave from Paramount months ago, the studio had, as of recently, yet to begin production on any films.

That changed in early August when DreamWorks announced that Steven Spielberg had signed on to direct "Harvey," a Fox co-production which will be the first film under the Disney deal.

“Our partnership with Stacey (Snider) and Steven is the cornerstone of our Hollywood strategy as we grow our film interests across the globe," Reliance CEO Anil Ambani said.
"Given our faith in the business plan that they presented to us and despite the current economic climate, we were always confident that this day would come."

“This will allow us to move ahead quickly into production with our first group of films, said Snider and Spielberg in a joint statement.

Indeed, the funding means DreamWorks could theoretically have three movies in full production by early 2010.
In October, filming will begin on "Dinner With Schmucks," a Jay Roach-directed comedy starring Steve Carell and produced with Paramount and Spyglass.

The studio had always said it intends to eventually release about five to six movies annually.

Along with several films in development, DreamWorks in January acquired 17 movies that were launched while the company was at Paramount, including "Cowboys & Aliens"and "The 39 Clues."

Spielberg recently completed directing the 3-D “Tintin” for Paramount and Sony, due out in 2011.

The Reliance financing is truly a joint effort, with J.P. Morgan corralling lender participants, including Bank of America, City National Bank, Wells Fargo, Comerica, Union Bank of California, SunTrust, California Bank & Trust, and Israel Discount Bank.

DreamWorks' deal with Disney, which was finalized in Feb., calls for six live-action films per year. In India, Reliance Big Entertainment will retain DreamWorks' distribution rights.

Joining Snider and Spielberg on DreamWorks’ Board of Directors on behalf of the Reliance Group are Amitabh Jhunjhunwala, vice chairman, Reliance Capital, and J.P. Morgan’s Alan J. Levine.

Aside from its entertainment holdings, which comprise Reliance Big Entertainment and Reliance Big Pictures, Reliance has interests in varied sectors ranging from communications (Reliance Communications), financial services (Reliance Capital), power generation, transmission and distribution (Reliance Energy), natural resources (Reliance Natural Resources), infrastructure and health care.

DreamWorks, according to a company spokesman, will be staying on the Universal lot.

Television -- As We Know It -- Is Finished

"It's the beginning of a structural tailspin.
The total collapse of the model."

By Josef Adalian

Tomorrow, Part 2: Writer/critic Bob Garfield's doomsday scenario for the network TV business.

Network TV may be a cyclical business -- but for bruised and battered broadcasters battling the worst economy in a generation, there's little evidence to suggest a bounce back is in the cards anytime soon.

If anything, things could get a lot worse before they get better.

Some observers are even beginning to question whether there will ever be a turnaround, predicting that the business model which has sustained broadcasters for close to 60 years has begun an irreversible decline.

The latest blow:

A disastrous upfront advertising market that saw revenues plunge an estimated 15 percent from last year, dropping from $9.2 billion in 2008 to around $7.8 billion, according to estimates by several publications.

"This is a turning point," argues Bob Garfield, author of the just-released media doomsday tome "The Chaos Scenario" and the long-time critic for Advertising Age.

He believes networks will continue to bleed ad dollars, which will lead them to reduce original scripted programming, thus causing deeper ratings declines.... and even further drops in ad revenue.

"It's the beginning of a structural tailspin... the total collapse of the network television model," Garfield predicts.

In fact, Garfield -- echoing the feelings of multiple industry leaders interviewed for this article, most of whom spoke only on the condition of anonymity --

believes the current network landscape will look dramatically different by the middle of the next decade.

"I don't think we'll have four networks five years from now," he said.

"One of the networks will drop out, maybe two."

If there's any silver lining in all this doom and gloom, it's that broadcasters aren't completely burying their heads in the sand and ignoring the looming crisis.

While their public pronouncements remain largely upbeat, their actions over the past months indicate they realize massive change is a must if they have any hope of proving the Bob Garfields of the world wrong.

The shifts range from draconian belt-tightening to stepped efforts to create -- or at least consider -- new revenue streams for network programming outside of advertising.

On the cost side of the equation, networks are playing hardball with studios when it comes to license fees for veteran shows.

Witness NBC's decision to walk away from "Medium" and "My Name is Earl" last spring rather than meet the fiscal demands of CBS Television Studios and 20th Century Fox TV, respectively.

Or Fox's up-to-the-brink talks with 20th on "Bones," a successful drama which nonetheless almost proved too rich for the network's blood.

In years past, networks tried to get tough on costs but were stymied because there always seemed to be another buyer willing to spend "crazy money" for a series, pilot or piece of talent.

But now, "The 'idiots with money' don't exist," said one senior network executive.

The same sense of realism holds in the actor, writer and producer markets.

Overall deals with writers, for example, have become all but extinct.

Case in point: the creator of one of TV's most successful franchises -- Anthony Zuiker of "CSI" -- recently saw his lucrative overall deal with CBS Television Studios replaced with a more modest first-look agreement.

Networks are also slashing writing staffs on shows, forcing producers to buy more freelance scripts or have their existing staffs crank out more episodes.

It's a return to how TV operated 20 or 30 years ago, when many top dramas and comedies boasted staffs of four or five scribes, rather than the dozen-plus members that had become commonplace.

Meanwhile, the little excesses once accepted as part of doing business in the land of show are no longer being tolerated.

Even that most basic of Hollywood rights-- extravagant catering-- has been targeted.

Consider what happened when one TV executive walked on to the set of a pilot last spring.

"It was the most amazing spread I had ever seen," she recalls.

"I called over the producer and said, 'You can't have this anymore.' They understood."

It's not just talent that's being asked to rein in costs.

Earlier this month, a network publicity department sent a memo to all of its executives asking them not to eat any of the food served to reporters at the network's portion of the TV Critics Assn. press tour.

Another conglomerate is closing in on its goal of eliminating the hugely expensive practice of burning hundreds of DVD copies of screeners-- not just for critics, but for their own executives.

Instead, this company is using technology to let execs stream both dailies and full episodes on whatever platform works best for them, including their home plasma sets.

"Every penny is being looked at," another top network chief says, noting complaints about the cutbacks are far fewer than you'd expect.

"We're losing salaries and we're losing people.

If you can't get free sodas, I think people will survive," she says.

"Everybody recognizes we have to do this to maintain the health of the business."

That's one reason talent in new shows doesn't tend to gripe when told the pilot they shot in Los Angeles will now be a series produced in Connecticut or Canada or one of the other locales that offer super-attractive tax deals to lure production.

And producers who stay in Los Angeles aren't bitching when they get a memo from the studio asking them to use a green screen instead of scheduling a location shoot.

"When you leave the studio, your cost goes up $35,000 to $75,000 per day," one studio executive says.

"We're encouraging shows to put more investment into art direction...and visual effects."

The new fiscal discipline is particularly apparent on new shows, where studios are taking advantage of the current climate to establish miserly habits early on, since it's much harder to cut spending once a show is established.

Despite all this penny-pinching, network suits are well aware that reducing costs is simply a way of slowing the bleeding.

"Cost-cutting isn't going to cure our ills," one network boss says.

"At a certain point, you can't cut any more.

There has to be a change in the business models."

For a time, network executives thought the answer was getting cable companies to pony up cash for their programming, they way they do for CNN and ESPN.

But increasingly, networks are beginning to ponder the notion of a subscription model for their programming.

CBS research chief David Poltrack earlier this month outlined a scenario under which networks would bring in big bucks by getting consumers to pay to watch their shows online-- not directly, but via charges levied by their broadband supplier.

He even talked up the Christmas 2010 arrival of TV sets that will easily allow consumers to watch broadband video on their 52-inch LCDs.

"If the broadcast networks can establish online video as a preferred form of nonlinear television distribution... then (they) can develop the second revenue streamthat has to date eluded them," Poltrack said.

Networks are also realizing that they simply can't afford to produce anywhere near the once-standard 22 hours of original scripted programming.

Fox has always existed as 15-hour a week network which most weeks programs less than a dozen hours of scripted fare.

Now, NBC has taken the much-criticized step of replacing costly 10 p.m. dramas with "The Jay Leno Show," a nightly comedy hour that will cost about 1/5th the pricetag for five hours of first-run dramas.

While many are predicting long-term failure for the scheme, others think the Peacock is smart for conceding the fact that it no longer had the financial (or creative) firepower to keep churning out one scripted drama flop after another.

Garfield believes NBC's move is just the beginning of an even more significant shift away from scripted hours.

"Get used to no new episodes of 'Lost' and '24,' and seeing Jay Leno eight days a week," he says.

"The number of scripted sitcoms and dramas will continue to diminish.

And the number of episodes of 'Dancing with the Stars' and 'The Biggest Loser' will increase."

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