Herbie J Pilato sees ‘Mary Poppins Returns’

Ladies and gentlemen, TVWriter™ is proud to present a classic TV critic in top form. Here’s how it’s done:

“Mary” Pops in “Returns”
by Herbie J Pilato

A remarkable plethora of talent is resplendent throughout, behind the camera and on screen for Mary Poppins Returns, the new Disney sequel to the studio’s 1964 motion picture classic.

The ghost of Walt Disney and Julie Andrew’s original interpretation of the mystical nanny is prevalent in all the right places and frames of this thoroughly modern magical mystical tour de force. Sharing the screenwriting credit with David Macgee and John DeLuca, Marshall is clearly a fan of the original Poppins, as he makes certain Returns adheres to the visual and storied mythology of the revered first take (helmed by Robert Stevenson).

Right smack in the middle of it all, new Poppins lead Emily Blunt had big knickers to fill in stepping into Andrews’ puss and boots, but the award-winning actress adds a fresh face to the character; Blunt (a name that works for the character!) brings her own special brand of demure to what could easily have turned into a theatrical mess in the hands of a less fêted performer.

Andrews rejected the idea of making even a cameo into the mix of this dear Poppins fresh dough, ray of sunshine and glee, because, allegedly, she did not want to steal the spotlight from Blunt. But it’s also been said that her agent demanded more “moola” for her to apply any new rouge for Returns.

Fortunately, other veteran performers like always-perfect Angela Lansbury (as the Balloon Lady, the character allegedly written for Andrews), Dick Van Dyke (who starred in the original Mary, and makes a remarkable screen return of his own at 93!), Colin Firth, David Warner, and Meryl Streep (to a lesser extent), each deliver the goods.

And while Ben Whishaw and Emily Mortimer as the adult Banks siblings are nothing less than Shakespearean supreme, Returns’ fresh batch of child actors, Joel Dawson, Nathanael Saleh, Pixie Davies, light up the screen with vibrancy and an enormous bag of Bojangles skill that boggles for their age. And while, too, shades of the superior quality of stupendous original Poppinssongs by the Sherman brothers Richard and Robert can be heard in Returns, the still-very-much-alive musical maestro Richard Sherman served as a consultant on the new film’s catchy tunes and score composed by Marc Shaiman and Scott Whitman (who wrote the lyrics with Shaiman)….

Read it all at Medium

Diana Vacc sees “A Star is Born”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Speaking of A Star is Born, here is TVWriter™ Critic-At-Large Diana Vaccarelli with a bit of a  different view from that we published last week. Take it away, Diana!


by Diana Vaccarelli

—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—SPOILER ALERT—

October 7, 2018, Warner Bros. in association with Live Nation Productions and MGM released the fourth remake of A Star is Born.  This film follows the story of famous musician Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) and struggling artist Ally (Lady Gaga) as they fall in love, while dealing with Jackson’s alcoholism and inner demons.

THE GOOD:

  • The directorial debut of Bradley Cooper soared with perfection when it comes to the writing, acting, and the music.  You can feel his passion for this project watching the film.
  • Not only did Bradley Cooper direct and co-write the script, he also starred as the tortured Jackson Maine.  He excels in this role and reminds people that musicians and actors are human beings too and have their struggles in life.
  • I have never seen Lady Gaga act in a role before and let me tell you I was floored.  The role of Ally couldn’t have been portrayed by any other person.
  • The chemistry between Cooper and Gaga reminds me of the chemistry that Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio had in Titanic.  Watching Cooper and Gaga as Maine and Ally you feel the love these two have for one another.

THE BAD:

  • Few films that are released today that touch the soul.  This film is one of them.  It has been a long time since I have genuinely cried watching a film.  All in all nothing negative to say at all.

THE REST:

With the majority of films coming out these days being superhero or at least tentpole-based, it’s refreshing to see a film that deals with issues the people deal with on a real level.

In other words, go see the newest version of A Star is Born. Because, guess what? You’ll see yourself.


Diana Vaccarelli is TVWriter™’s Critic-at-Large and a TVWriter™ University grad. Find out more about her HERE

Gerry Conway Reads George Miller’s ‘Justice League’ Script

by Gerry Conway

Years late, I just read the screenplay for the abandoned George Miller “Justice League: Mortal” film (available online if you Google for it).

It’s based roughly on the Brother Eye/OMAC Justice League storyline, and while it’s infinitely better than the Justice League film that saw light last year, it has the same problems that film did– attempting to introduce a massive number of characters, backstories, and motivations in roughly two hours.

What’s ironic is you can understand why the studio balked at making “Justice League: Mortal”– the story is both too ambitious and too thin, trying to do too much and not enough– and yet, when they had a chance to address those problems in “Justice League,” they ended up doubling down on everything that was wrong and removing everything that was right. (There’s much that’s right in the “Mortal” script.)

You have to wonder what the execs at Warners were doing/thinking in the years between “Mortal” and “Justice League.” One thing reading this script proves is that starting a “cinematic universe” with a group film first would have been a huge conceptual mistake.

“Man of Steel,” “Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice,” and “Justice League” didn’t fix that mistake, though. They simply spread the mistake over three films instead of one.


Gerry Conway is one of the Kings of TV and film and comic book writing and also one of our Beloved Leader Larry Brody’s longest-lasting and closest friends. Everybody who comes to TVWriter™ should be reading his insightful blog, where this article first appeared. Learn more about Gerry HERE.

Gerry Conway Sees ‘A Wrinkle in Time’

by Gerry Conway

“A Wrinkle In Time” is a disappointing movie.

I went in with high hopes and left deeply annoyed and saddened.

Tonally, it’s a mess. Every single actor seems to be performing in a different movie.

Poor Storm Reid, who seems to have considerable potential, has been misguided into giving a one-note, sullen performance, charmless and flat.

But she isn’t alone– every actor’s performance works against the film. Perfect illustration? Zach Galifianakis as “The Happy Medium.” As his name implies, the character of “Happy Medium” is clearly meant to represent the happiness that comes with a balanced temperament – but Galifianakas plays “The Happy Medium” with restrained snark: mildly impatient, vaguely misanthropic, a fussy introvert whose exterior dismissiveness supposedly conceals a warm heart.

His costume is somber browns; his “cave of balance” looks like a threatening maze of treacherous balance beams out of a dark “American Gladiator.” How does this represent “The Happy Medium?” It’s completely wrong-headed, massively tone-deaf to the underlying material.

There’s only one person to blame for this misfire: the director, Ava DuVernay.

Early word on the film indicated there were tonal issues, and at the time I discounted them – I think it’s quite possible to tread a line between serious and sweet, realistic and fantastic, but it requires a deft touch and a deep sympathy with the ultimate story you’re trying to tell.

In order to tell a serious story set in a fantasy world, you need to love fantasy first, love it so much its common tropes are second nature to your storytelling. Ava DuVernay displays no such sympathy or love for fantasy. Her heart is clearly on the side of “serious” and “realistic” storytelling.

I’m not sure why Disney imagined the woman who directed the brilliant “Selma” and episodes of “Scandal” would be the perfect choice to direct a film that should have embraced the light (but still serious) tone of a “Mary Poppins,” but it was a bad move.

I was rooting for DuVernay because I’m someone who believes we need more diversity among the people empowered to tell stories in film. I still think so. But that doesn’t mean every person is equipped temperamentally to tell every kind of story.

From the evidence of “A Wrinkle In Time,” no matter how fine a director she may be of other kinds of films, DuVernay is a terrible director of fantasy.


Gerry Conway is one of the Kings of TV and film and comic book writing and also one of our Beloved Leader Larry Brody’s longest-lasting and closest friends. Everybody who comes to TVWriter™ should be reading his insightful blog, where this article first appeared. Learn more about Gerry HERE.

Gerry Conway Asks, “Is Comic Book Publishing Doomed?”

by Gerry Conway


EDITOR’S NOTE: We all know how well comic book heroes, villains, and stories are doing on TV and in films these days – they own those media. However, many of us may not know what’s happening with the motherlode, comic books themselves. Gerry Conway’s here to tell us the ironic truth.


Is comic book publishing a doomed enterprise?

Since the days I first entered the business in the late 1960s, one of the perennial fears of creators and industry executives has been the imminent collapse of the retail comic book market.

It’s not an unreasonable fear: in fact, in readership numbers, the market has already collapsed. When I started writing comics fifty years ago, the published sales figures for the solo Superman comic was about 600,000 copies a month. Five years later, sales figures had dropped to about 300,000 a month. By the late 1980s, less than 100,000 a month. [1](http://www.comichron.com/titlespotlights/superman.html) Recent sales of Superman have been in the mid-five figure range. [2](http://www.comicsbeat.com/dc-comics-month-to-month-sales-chart-january-2017-comic-readers-vs-gratuitous-rebirth-one-shots/)

From 600,000 to 60,000– if that isn’t a collapse of readership, I don’t know how else to describe it.

To be fair to Big Blue, and show this isn’t exclusively a DC problem, Spider-Man’s main solo title displays a similar collapse in readership, though its collapse is more recent. [3](http://www.comichron.com/titlespotlights/amazingspiderman.html)

But wait, you’ll say. You’re comparing apples and oranges. Back in 1968, comics were 12 cents each; today they cost an average of $3.44. [4](https://www.statisticbrain.com/comic-book-statistics/)

True enough. In 1968 the median household income was $7,700 annually. [5](https://www2.census.gov/prod2/popscan/p60-065.pdf) In 2016 the median household income was $59,000 (a squishy number with lots of caveats apparently). [6](https://www.thebalance.com/what-is-average-income-in-usa-family-household-history-3306189) Let’s examine all those figures, recognizing that the economic world of 1968 is vastly different from the our world today. (For example, that $7,700 household income was for a one-earner family; today most families are two-earners.)

Let’s take inflation. It’s an eye-opener. $7,700 in 1968 is worth $54,162.42 today [5](http://www.in2013dollars.com/1968-dollars-in-2017?amount=7700), so today’s family is actually ahead by $5,000 a year. (On the other hand that additional $5,000 is worth $725 in 1968 dollars.)

So apparently incomes have more or less kept up with inflation, and in most cases, specifically in the cost of high technology, the price of many items has decreased in real terms since 1968. And many if not most of the things we’ve come to depend on today didn’t even exist in 1968. For example, an RCA color television/phonograph console in 1969 cost $975 for a gigantic 23″ picture [6](http://www.tvhistory.tv/tv-prices.htm)– in 2017 dollars, $6,858.00. Today, you can find an RCA-brand 4K 65″ smart TV for about $590 at Walmart. [7](https://www.walmart.com/ip/RCA-ROKU-4K-65-SMART-UHD-LED-TV/330129369) In 1968 dollars that’s about $100– and nobody in 1968 could even have understood the descriptive terms 4K, 65″, or “smart TV.”

But what about household staples? Haven’t prices skyrocketed for, say, milk?

In 1968 the price of a gallon of milk was $1.07. [8](http://www.the60sofficialsite.com/1968_Economy_and_Prices.html) Today the price is about $3.16. [9](https://www.statista.com/statistics/236854/retail-price-of-milk-in-the-united-states/) That’s less than half the rate of inflation. (Inflation would have put the price of a gallon of milk in 1968 dollars at over $7.)

Cars? Cars in the 1960s ran in price from the low $2000s to the high $5000s, probably averaging around $3500. [10](http://www.thepeoplehistory.com/60scars.html) (My dad bought a Chevy Nova in 1969 for about $2000, if I remember right.) The average price for a new car today is about $33,000 [11](https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/cars/2015/05/04/new-car-transaction-price-3-kbb-kelley-blue-book/26690191/)– or about $10,000 more than inflation alone would predict. What do you get for that additional $10,000? Where to start? Computerized controls, air conditioning standard, safety and convenience and energy conserving features drivers in 1968 would have considered science fiction. So maybe the increase in average price is worth it, especially since many people don’t buy cars anymore– they lease them, something that wasn’t an option in 1968.

So, with all these inflation stats considered, how does the comic book business of today compare to the comic book business of 1968?

In purely inflationary terms, everything else being equal, a comic that cost 12 cents in 1968 should cost 84 cents today. But everything else isn’t equal, of course.

The production quality of today’s comics is vastly superior to those of 1968. The four-color newsprint presses of 1968 produced comics that look barely readable compared to the glossy monthlies we see now. So maybe a doubling of price might be justified sheerly for the increase in production quality. Yet isn’t some of that cost of production offset by the change in the system of distribution? In 1968, almost half of a production run was lost to newstand “returns”– to sell 600,000 copies of Superman, National Periodical Publications printed over 1,000,000. Today’s comics are sold on a no-return basis. No excess copies are printed. (This sometimes results in second print runs on popular new titles, something that would have been inconceivable in the 1960s.) Despite the increased price of quality printing, I have to think technological advances in printing and distribution have kept pace with at least some of the companies’ production costs. Creators certainly aren’t making much more money now than they did in 1968. (Top page rates have barely increased over inflation, and average page rates are probably less than you’d expect in inflationary terms.)

So why do comics cost, on average, almost five times what inflation alone might predict? Why haven’t comics benefited from the deflationary pressures that reduced the price of milk and TVs, not to mention all the technological wonders that didn’t exist in 1968 but which have plummeted in price in real terms since their introduction? (Personal computers, video games, VCRs-into-DVDs-into-streaming media, cell phones, e-readers, etc., etc.)

It’s pretty simple to understand, sadly. The reader base for comic books has almost completely disappeared, which requires each reader to pay more for any individual issue in order to support the company that produces the book. My guess is there are about 400,000 regular comic book readers in America. I base this guess on the following statistics:

The total yearly sales in the direct market are about $418,000,000. The average price of a comic is $3.44. [12](https://www.statisticbrain.com/comic-book-statistics/) Divide those numbers and you get the following: 122,511,628 comics sold a year, or about 10,000,000 comics a month.

According to the best guess of various interested parties [13](https://www.newsarama.com/33006-is-the-average-age-of-comic-book-readers-increasing-retailers-talk-state-of-the-business-2017.html) the average comic book reader is somewhere between 25-35 years old. According to labor statistics, the average salary for people between the ages of 24-34 is $39,000. [14](https://smartasset.com/retirement/the-average-salary-by-age)

A little math shows that this block of readers doesn’t have an inexhaustible amount of disposable income. After taxes, a generous guestimate puts the average comic book readers’ weekly income at about $570. Food, shelter, clothing, and transportation all have to come first before they can devote any spending to their comic book interests. Let’s be optimistic and say they’re dedicated readers who devote 5% of their income to buying comics. That’s $28 a week or about 8 comics a week, 24-26 comics a month.

10,000,000 comics sold a month; 25 sold to each reader; 400,000 readers.

How does 400,000 comic book readers (an optimistic number, I admit) compare to the number of people who’ve seen, say, “Black Panther?”

Recent estimates put “Black Panther”’s domestic box office at about $500,000,000 [15](http://deadline.com/2018/03/black-panther-third-weekend-red-sparrow-death-wish-operation-red-sea-detective-chinatown-2-international-box-office-1202310277/) with an average ticket price of $9 [16](https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/average-price-a-movie-ticket-soars-897-2017-1075458), meaning “Black Panther” has been seen by approximately 55,000,000 people.

Fifty-fifty million comic book movie viewers, versus less than half a million readers.

Even if those numbers are wildly inaccurate at the margins, that’s still a ridiculously significant difference. It points to an inescapable fact: comic book readers are at best a very minor part of “comic book culture.”

This is particularly true when you consider that individual readers each have loyalty to only a handful of characters. If you’re buying 25 titles a month on average, and you’re a Batman fan, probably a fifth of your purchases are Batman-related comics. Which means that Batman’s total readership is less than what might be indicated by the cumulative amount of sales across all titles. If the average Batman title (Batman, All-Star Batman, Detective Comics, Batgirl, Batwoman, Nightwing) sells about 50,000 copies, there’s probably quite a bit of overlap– the same buyer purchasing multiple books. There may, in fact, only be about 50,000 actual Batman readers. Ditto for other characters or character lines (X-Men readers, Avengers readers, Superman readers, etc). It’s entirely possible the figure of 400,000 readers is wildly exaggerated. Dedicated fans may be buying more than 25 comics a month. In which case the actual full-time readership might be vastly smaller– maybe only 100,000 readers.

In any event, what’s clear to me is that the viability of comic book publishing as a way to make money directly is clearly limited by a shrinking, if not fully collapsed, market base.

The question is, where do the publishers go from here? Do they continue to pursue that small base of readers? Is there a way for them to attract the vast number of people obviously attracted to the larger “comic book culture” represented by movies and TV? Or will comics (as I believe likely) become a subsidized form of intellectual property development for the more lucrative and culturally impactful film and television divisions of the corporate entities that own them?

Your guess is as good as mine.


Gerry Conway is one of the Kings of TV and film and comic book writing and also one of our Beloved Leader Larry Brody’s longest-lasting and closest friends. Everybody who comes to TVWriter™ should be reading his insightful blog, where this article first appeared. Learn more about Gerry HERE.