As Cord Cutting Grows The Disney Channel Has Lost 72% of Its Average Audience
by Luke Bouma
This week, The Information wrote an expansive story about Disney and Netflix as Disney gets ready to launch Disney+.
What was maybe the most shocking news was that since 2014 the Disney Channel has lost 72% of its average audience. This is a huge decline for any company especially one that relies heavily on ad revenues like Disney.
It’s not just Disney who is in trouble. BTIG, a research group focused on topics like TV, has reported that network ratings are down on average 18% in 2019 compared to 2018. The biggest drop is ABC, which is seeing its viewing down 22% in the ever-important 18-49 demographic….
The way we see here at TVWriter™, anybody who tries is a winner, which means that having the courage to put yourself in a position where y’all can be cancelled makes you, yep, you guessed, WINNERS.
from THE FIRE AND WATER PODCAST NETWORK
The Fire and Water Podcast Network opens up its Archives and lets you listen to the shows that didn’t make it. We have stringent standards, you know, and not everything makes it out of committee. Sometimes, we pitch something that gets voted down. Sometimes a pilot is green-lit but not picked up. We might even be a few episodes in before we give up on the idea. Take a peek behind the curtain of the Network and hopefully get some insight into what makes us tick!
Live Action Dumbo Can Only Be Tim Burton’s Revenge
by Gerry Conway
After a miserable time at the movies last night, I’ve come to the conclusion that Tim Burton’s grim and joyless “Dumbo” is an auteur triumph.
SPOILERS AHEAD. (Though for this movie, “spoiler” is descriptive as well as a warning label.)
I don’t recommend “Dumbo,” but I admire it. Burton has accomplished something almost startling with this film: he’s made a movie that is about as unsubtle a “f**k you” to both his corporate sponsors and the audience as one could get without actually superimposing “F*CK YOU!” on every frame. Contempt for Disney and for the audience that gobble up the company’s live action remakes of classic animated films oozes from every shot, every scene, and in particular, from the entire second half of the movie. If some films are a love letter, this is hate mail. Tim Burton clearly hates how Disney is exploiting the animated films he cherished as a child, and “Dumbo” is his bitter revenge.
Why am I sure “Dumbo” is the angry vision of a furious auteur and not a well-meaning misfire? Because I respect Tim Burton as a filmmaker too much to believe this movie isn’t exactly what he wanted it to be.
Burton has been making films for thirty-five years, and though the films he’s made lately haven’t been quite as quirky and strange as his earlier movies, they still display the control of a man who knows what he wants to achieve, and how to achieve it. You might not like where he goes, but he knows how to get you there. So, “Dumbo,” with all of the issues I’ll mention below, is exactly the movie Burton wanted it to be.
The question is, why? Why would Burton want to make a movie so driven by rage against audience and corporate sponsors both?
And why “Dumbo”?
If you’ve seen Burton’s interview with Ray Harryhausen, available on some of the Blu-ray reissues of Harryhausen’s films, you’re reminded of how much of Burton’s vision of filmmaking is informed by his still-childlike appreciation for simple wonder. As he sits with Harryhausen and plays with the saucer models from “Earth vs the Flying Saucers,” Burton looks and sounds like a five year old kid gawping in awe at a shopping mall Santa Claus. He still loves the things he loved as a child, and he becomes a child again in their presence. His joy is sincere.
The man who felt joy and wonder in the presence of Ray Harryhausen could never have produced the grim, joyless, misery-soaked downer that is “Dumbo” unless he was trying to say something about the destruction of his own childhood sense of joy and wonder.
I think “Dumbo,” in its not-so-thinly veiled critique of the cruelty of corporate exploitation of children and nostalgia, is Burton’s attempt to tear down the structure he helped to build.
It was Burton’s own remake of “Alice in Wonderland” that set the current live-action remake frenzy in motion, remember. Whatever you may think of that movie (I like it for its weird and subversive charm), there’s no question it was enormously successful and clearly inspired the corporate minds at Disney to authorize a wholesale ransacking of Disney animated classics as fodder for subsequent live-action redos.
As a loving fan of those original classics, I think Burton must have been horrified by what he’d unleashed. He couldn’t have felt otherwise. Again, look at his interview with Harryhausen. The kid in him cherishes joy and wonder. Whatever virtues the Disney live-action remakes have, with the exception, I’d say, of Burton’s own “Alice,” joy and wonder aren’t an apparent high priority for the filmmakers involved. If anything, most of the remakes are drained of wonder by the translation from the imagined to the tangible.
Which brings us to “Dumbo.”
The original “Dumbo” is a slight, one-hour fairy tale, centered entirely on a baby elephant with big ears who can fly, and cast almost completely with talking and singing animals. With the exception of a thoughtless racist element, it is a film of charming childlike innocence with a simple message about the strength of mother and child love and the power we gain when we let go of emotional crutches. (“I need a feather to fly.”)
This is not a movie that demands a live-action remake, or even, in its story elements, supports the possibility of one.
And, in fact, Burton’s “Dumbo” isn’t a live-action remake– it’s an angry, passionate argument *against* such a remake. The baby flying elephant is a MacGuffin in Burton’s “Dumbo”–not the emotional core of the story. There are no talking or singing animals, no other fantasy elements, not even a hint of fairy tale atmosphere. From a character point of view, I’d argue, there is no emotional core: none of the “live” characters in Dumbo have any emotional resonance at all. They are all bleak and joyless and broken, emotionally dead, barely responsive to the world and the story supposedly taking place around them. One of them, a little boy, has no character existence at all– I’m not sure he’s even named, and he could be removed completely from the film without any discernable impact. For a filmmaker with Burton’s skill set such a failure to develop even marginally interesting characters with a vital stake in the story is inexplicable– unless it was intentional.
I think it was intentional.
I think “Dumbo” is an act of auteur subversion, one of the most breathtaking acts of creative defiance since “Citizen Kane,” though certainly far less successful as a piece of entertainment. In fact that may well be the movie’s most defining artistic characteristic– its complete unwillingness to entertain.
It really is a remarkable achievement. To trick Disney into financing and releasing a major motion picture which savages everything about the company’s approach to its classic films, and, in addition, to its entire corporate raison d’etre, is a stunning accomplishment. What a trick. I imagine the script reads very different from what Burton shot– it’s possible to describe something one way, shoot it another, and edit it all together to produce the opposite effect from what the screenplay suggests. Because there’s so much CGI involved, Disney executives probably never realized what Burton was doing until final cut. And that, in itself, is part of Burton’s savage attack on Disney’s corporate methodology. The further film executives get from true hands-on creative involvement in the films they make– through increasing dependency on CGI and post-production manipulation– the less they really know about the movies they’re making. The very power to ham-handedly rework a mediocre director’s work in post allows a master director to hide his intentions until it’s too late to reverse them. By the time Disney executives possibly realized what Burton was up to, if they ever did, they’d sunk too much money and time into his version of the film– and had no choice but to either scrap the movie entirely or release it as it is. Given the exigencies of corporate finance, and the apparent belief on the part of Disney executives that the appetite for live-action versions of beloved animated classics is insatiable, releasing Burton’s hate mail movie was ultimately the only logical thing to do.
In the end, “Dumbo” isn’t a good movie. It probably was not intended to be. It’s Tim Burton’s angry rant against making movies like itself. It’s a slap in the face to the people who financed it and the audience who shows up for it. As a work of protest it’s kind of admirable. As a film-going experience, as I stated above, it’s a miserable two hours.
You’ve been warned. At least now, if you see it, you can “enjoy” the movie for what it is– a scream of contempt, an artist setting fire to the gallery displaying his work. Personally, now that I’ve defined it… I think I like it.
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.
If you’re a Doctor Who fan and you don’t know about Big Finish Productions you are missing out on one of the best things ever. They started with well-loved TV shows and extended their lives with audio fiction.
Big Finish is a British company that has been turning out exceptional quality Doctor Who (and others, more later) audio stories for twenty years. What makes them different is that they use the original actors whenever they can. Their current stable of original doctors includes Tom Baker, Sylvester McCoy, Peter Davison, and Colin Baker. Not only that, they have many of the original companions from the earlier Doctors as well as those above.
In addition they have other shows such as Dark Shadows, Unit, Jaco & Lightfoot (who appeared in The Talons of Weng Chiang, an episode of the Tom Baker/Louise Jameson run), The Prisoner, and Torchwood, among many others.
Their shows are very reasonably priced compared with Audible. Not only that, they have an enormous amount of free content, including full episodes, and two behind-the-scenes podcasts. There is also an exceptional monthly fanzine, called Vortex, professionally laid out and available, for free, as a PDF or Word doc. It contains news, interviews with cast and crew, including the Doctors, behind-the-scenes info, and fan letters. It is up to issue 121 as of March.
The following is an interview I conducted with Nicholas Briggs, co-executive producer of all things Big Finish.
RT: How did Big Finish get started, about 20 years ago if I remember correctly? Was it a shoestring operation originally?
Nick: It was very much a cottage industry, and our CEO Jason Haigh-Ellery expected to release about six CDs a year for no longer than three years. The original producer worked solely from his bedroom, but when demand and popularity increased, he hired an office space, and CD production doubled to 12 double-disc releases a year. Since then, it’s snowballed somewhat.
RT: What market gap did you see that made you want to start Big Finish?
Nick: Doctor Who wasn’t on the television then. It was in the middle of a 16 year hiatus — which had only been broken by an American TV movie [DoctorWho, 1996] that hadn’t led to a new series being produced. There was a strong core of Doctor Who fans, and many of them had grown-up making audio recordings of classic Doctor Who episodes in the days before even domestic video recorders existed. So to some degree or another, a lot of our potential market were as used to listening to DoctorWho as they were watching it. And in many ways, old DoctorWho sounds better than it looks. The work of the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop and the many talented composers who wrote music for Doctor Who ensured that some of the ‘cracks’ created by wobbly sets or less than entirely convincing special effects or monsters were very effectively ‘papered over’ by some brilliant sounds and music. Add to that the fact that all of us there at the beginning were huge Doctor Who fans who had produced audio drama for fun, and you can see how we felt strongly that there was a market for DoctorWho audio drama.
RT: How tough was it to get the rights to DoctorWho and the other series?
Nick: It took Jason two goes. The first time round, in 1996, the American TV movie had just been made, and the BBC expected DoctorWho to take off massively. They’d already taken the original fiction Doctor Who books back in house, revoking the licence they had with Virgin Books, in anticipation of this big return of the series. So they weren’t really interested in forging a new relationship with a small company like Big Finish. They also probably thought that if Doctor Who audios were going to be made, they’d be made by the BBC. Sadly, at that time, the resurgence didn’t come along. So, two years later Jason went along again. Doctor Who had very much gone off the boil at the BBC, and so it was relatively easy to get permission.
RT: There are a lot of DoctorWho fanfiction sites over here now, but one thing they haven’t done is expand on the peripheral or supporting characters the way you have. Why did you decide to do that?
Nick: Firstly because we love all elements of the programme. But also because, with not all the Doctors available to us for one reason or another, a way of exploring all eras of the programme is to focus on supporting characters, and tell the stories from their point of view. That’s how TheCompanionChronicles came about, for example. The first three Doctors had died quite some years before we started, so their eras were particularly being neglected by us. I thought we should find a way of covering the whole of Doctor Who history, so I suggested stories told by the Doctor’s companions, not least because many of the actors who played them still survived. I’m glad to say that it worked out rather well, and along the way we discovered that some of the actors were very good at imitating the voices of their Doctors.
RT: What gave you the idea to start Vortex and distribute it for free? How much help in maintaining and increasing your fan base do you think that has been?
Nick: This was very much an idea which was pioneered by Jason Haigh-Ellery. We resisted it for a long time, because of the workload involved. But ultimately, we found a brilliantly qualified editor in the person of Paul Spragg, who very quickly took over running it. Since Paul’s tragic, sudden death, our good friend and colleague Kenny Smith (who is a journalist in his day job!) has been doing a brilliant job with it. Our aim is always to give our audience as much free, extra content as we can. And we want to tell the stories of how much love, detail and attention goes into our work. That’s exactly what Vortex delivers, and, of course, it features questions from our listeners too. So it’s very much about getting people involved with us and helping them to get to know Big Finish as an important part of their lives.
RT: In addition to the TV show tie ins you also produce original content, eight new series I think. How has that worked out for you?
Nick: We’re really excited about these Big Finish Originals. It’s a tougher sell, of course, because original fiction does not come with the ready made audience that something like Doctor Who brings. But we are lucky enough to have inspired a lot of loyalty amongst our listeners, so that now we have an audience who will come with us into new territory.
RT: Your FAQ states that you occasionally hold script competitions. Approximately how often do those occur and are submissions from our side of the pond eligible?
Nick: Every year, we run the Paul Spragg Memorial Short Trips opportunity. So it’s not a competition. It’s a way for us to invite people to show us their work. Although there is a ‘winner’ whose work is selected to be produced, we do very often go back to some of the other submissions and commission work from them. We are keen to continually look for exciting new talent, and they can be from anywhere in the world.
Thanks to Nick Briggs for taking time out from an insane schedule to talk to me. If you haven’t already gone to Big Finish (www.bigfinish.com) do so immediately. I would recommend starting on their “Ranges” page. It contains everything they have, collected in different categories, including the free stuff and a “Start Here” category. It’s well worth your time whether you are a Doctor Who fan or just a fan of well-produced audio.
Bob Tinsley is an artist, writer, boataholic and a new pro in the field of Audio Drama. In other words, he’s an expert in finding new marketplaces, as he’s showing us here.