Welcome to Matter Anti-Matter, a site about nerd stuff. By day, I'm Head of Community at Kickstarter.
You can also find me here .
The conversation surrounding how to liberate HBO from its cable partners and create the entertainment utopia viewers have long desired has been fascinating.
The resulting analyses of the numbers has pretty much shown that the amount people are willing to pay is not nearly enough to counter what cable giants bring to networks like HBO. We’d each have to pay a gazillion dollars (more or less) in order to offset the cost of making tv shows, marketing them, selling advertising, paying the actors, the gaffers, sound editing, the deli plates, the office space the sales people are housed in, costumes, post-production. Yikes!
HBO itself would probably love to find a way to not have to bunk with the cable companies, but that is the system and it can’t be changed overnight and yada yada yada.
Yes, economically and politically a la carte entertainment is not only unviable, it’s absurd! Imagine the enormity of rebuilding how entertainment gets made from the ground up.
You’d have to write a script, and instead of some production company or studio or super rich investor person stepping in to fund the pilot, you would be on your own.
You’d have to gather friends and colleagues and film the damn thing yourself. You’d do all the marketing yourself, and you’d be in charge of figuring out how to deliver the thing to people.
You’d also have to hope enough people watch your show to make it possible to keep on making it. And you’d hope that you can somehow pay rent and pay your friends and eat in the meantime.
People argue all the time that quality entertainment can’t be made for less than some number ending with no less than 5 zeros. Well people, you are wrong. Just look at The Silent City. Filmed on a shoestring budget, using natural locations instead of building massive sets — the result is pretty incredible, and it’s making me wonder more and more if the barriers to creating quality entertainment aren’t really so much about money, as cable companies, networks, and the media would argue, but who controls the money and who decides how things get made.
I don’t doubt for a second that shows like Game of Thrones cost a bajillion zillion dollars (more or less) to make, but I also wonder if in some not-so-distant future, people will film their own Game of Thrones in the woods behind the house and cast unknown talented people and distribute episodes online and all of those people clamoring for a la carte entertainment will insert a coin in the slot and unlock the next episode and maybe insert a few more coins so that the full season will get made.
In this scenario the infrastructure of television and all the people it takes to actually make the show still exists. But how something gets made is different. It’s lean. It’s more efficient. And whether or not it’s allowed to exist isn’t determined by audience share and a pre-determined number of viewers based on time slot and competition with other shows on other channels. The viewer is given agency, and so are you.
You can fund your show directly from your audience. You may not become a rich fat cat making web shows, but you will control your story and your art and your audience and fans will eagerly support you for it. That thing that happens where it seems the smartest television shows are always the first to get cut because the teeming masses want more explosions and boobs? That’s dumb, and you can change that. You shouldn’t be at the mercy of The Business.
And don’t worry, I’m well aware that The TV Industry will tell me I don’t understand the business, and I’m making crazy claims based in a fantasy. To those people I have this to say: That is the point.
The Take My Money, HBO movement may be a failure from the standpoint that HBO will most certainly not take your money in exchange for cutting its ties to the cable company. But it’s a raging success because guess what? People believe in the idea, and ideas are much more powerful than institutions.
Oh and also, in another 10 years I have a feeling kids will have no idea what “TV” is. So best to start saying Web-a-vision or Internetsplosion or Joyous-Viewing-Device now, you know, before anyone else knew it was cool.
But you want to know what’s not cool? That I don’t have time today to write about any of them!
So instead, here’s a shortlist of what I would want to blather on about if I could engineer a clone of myself and force it to finish revising an unnamed academic project that holds the key to no longer having to wear a backpack in my adult life:
1. The Cloak of Invisibility:
German scientists have successfully cloaked a three-dimensional object using “transformation optics” and “laser writing” on a “woodpile photonic crystal with tailored polymer filling fraction to hide a bump in a gold reflector.” Oh, you’re not a super-genius scientist so you don’t know what any of that means? Let me translate: Science Make Thing Invisible. Invisible Good. Science Good.
2. The Syfy Upfronts:
Syfy orders a new lineup of reality tv shows that are chimeras of other cable networks +Syfy. For example:
-“Mr. Impossible,” a reality show about a “rogue inventor”= Syfy +Discovery Channel= Sycovery.
-“Force of Nature,” a reality show about a Feng Shui master helping sad people by using, you guessed it, Feng Shui= Syfy + HGTV= ShyGyTV
-“Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen,” a reality show about “molecular gastronimist Marcel Vigneron= Syfy + Food Channel= SyFood
-“The Dome Experiment,” a reality show about 12 people living in a sealed off bio-dome is actually a reboot of Pauly Shore’s career. Syfy + Pauly Shore= Paulyfy
3. A new superhero show called “Three Inches”:
“Three Inches,” also greenlit by Syfy, “centers on an underachiever who gains the power to move any object using his mind, but only for a distance of three inches. He recruits a team of fellow heroes, each with their own less-than-spectacular abilities.” The Good: The pilot was written by Harley Peyton of Twin Peaks fame. The Bad: If the show doesn’t live up to expectations, the title of every tv critic’s review will be “Three Inches Might Not Be Enough” or “Three Inches Proves Inadequate” or “Three Inches Having a Hard Time.” And so forth.
4. The Large Hadron Collider breaks its own record for most awesomely huge number of particle collisions:
For Black History Month, Wired’s GeekDad issues its list of Top Ten African-American science fiction movie and tv characters of all time. As list-compiler Lonnie Morgan admits, the list is bound to be incomplete. So, if GeekDad’s list were a Top 20 (as perhaps it should have been), I would add:
1. Zoe (Gina Torres in Firefly and Serenity). I love Zoe. She is hot, hilarious, and bad-ass. Her relationship with Wash is possibly one of the best portrayals of marriage on television, ever.
2. Tuvok (Tim Russ in ST:Voyager). Janeway is nothing without Tuvok. Enough said.
3. Teyla Emmagan (Rachel Lutrell in Stargate Atlantis). I often marvel at how easily Teyla could have been an irritating character, since many of the Athosians tended to be..frustrating. But Lutrell brought the character a real strength and grace that made her a brilliant foil to John Sheppard’s hot-headedness. And damn, could she fight!
4. Boyd Langton (Harry Lenix in Joss Whedon’s short-lived Dollhouse). I love a good good guy turned bad guy. In typical Whedon fashion, Boyd is the moral anchor you’ve come to rely on, only to reveal himself in the end to be the big bad.
5. Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg in ST:TNG). Oh, what would science fiction be without Guinan? Picard would be staring into his cold cup of Earl Grey, wishing Counselor Troi had something more useful to say.
6. Tara Thornton (Rutina Wesley in True Blood). Wesley’s portrayal of this tormented yet fiercely loyal character often outshines Sookie Stackhouse.
7. Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis in True Blood). Lafayette, and Ellis’s interpretation of him, is brilliant. Period.
8. Astrid (Jasika Nicole in Fringe). Fringe has fast become my favorite show currently on television, and the development of Astrid’s character is one of the reasons I hope the show sticks around. Though she rarely leaves the lab, Astrid’s bond with Walter Bishop is alternately endearing and hilarious. Let’s see if the writers will give Astrid a few away missions in coming episodes.
9. Chiwetel Ejiofor (The Operative in Serenity). I do love a good bad guy, and Ekiofor’s portrayal of the unwavering fundmentalist Operative in Serenity made him an excellent and lethal foe.
10. Anastasia “Dee” Dualla (Candyse McClure in Battlestar Galactica). Dee’s suicide was crushing, due in large part to the character’s enduring strength and inner calm that audience’s tended to hold on to as a place of stability.
Now, most (all?) of my picks are slanted toward television. Unlike GeekDad’s list, there’s a fair balance between men and women. Of course, my additions are also bound to be incomplete. Who would you add?
Sanctuary’s Robin Dunne does Bollywood.
It’s a rare thing these days for a sci-fi show to bust out in song and dance. Kudos to the Sanctuary gang for pulling off this dance number with panache. Dunne, in spite of his propensity for open-mouth acting, hit the nail on the head!
In response to a few antagonistic tweets implying that the Syfy Channel intentionally withholds its shows from viewers outside of the US, Syfy’s resident tweetmaster Craig Engler had quite a bit to say. Unfortunately, twitter does have some limitations, one of which is long form responses. So, for your reading pleasure, I’ve compiled @Syfy’s response here in paragraph form:
Syfy is not the rights holder to the shows we air, we’re basically the “U.S. rights renter”. The underlying rights holder controls the rest.
Here’s a quick 101 on TV economics that might help:
First, TV shows are VERY expensive. We all know that. Even an inexpensive show costs…hundreds of thousands. Some cost SEVERAL million dollars PER EPISODE. To offsets those costs, the rights holder sell them to different networks in different territories. For instance, CRAIG CO. makes CRAIG’s SHOW. It costs $2 million per episode. CRAIG CO. might sell the US rights to CRAIG’s SHOW to Syfy for $500k. Now they need another $1.5 million. So they sell it to Sci Fi UK for $150k, etc. Sci Fi UK pay for the UK rights so they don’t want Syfy in the US to stream CRAIG’S SHOW in their territory. They want to show it.
Now, extend that out to all the other territories out there, and you understand why the rights issues are so prominent. It’s a business model that’s a legacy from a time when international distribution wasn’t even possible. Now that it is, a new business model needs to be developed to accommodate the ease of distribution online, which will probably take a while. The problem is, there is no way for CRAIG CO to both distribute CRAIG’s SHOW internationally via the Web & recoup its costs…not yet anyway.
iTunes sales and online ads add only a (small) fraction of $$$ to the pot, not enough to make Web distribution viable in and of itself.
More people are watching more TV than ever before. HOORAY! Just like any industry undergoing changes, we’ll sort it out eventually. I missed a tweet that said, the Internet can actually HELP (i.e. be additive) to regular TV viewing, piracy aside. So that’s a GOOD thing. Which is why I like to push for putting as much of our content online as possible, within reason. I.e. #Caprica is on syfy.com right now :)
Larry Charles, director of “Borat” and “Bruno,” will be filming a prototype (whatever happened to the pilot?) of a new semi-scripted sci-fi based comedy for NBC. According to Variety,
The Untitled project centers on a group of sci-fi fanboys in a small town who shoot their own version of a canceled TV show. Charles is onboard to write, exec produce and direct the project.
Is NBC hoping to capitalize on its Syfy brand’s recent successes? Given that CBS’s geek-centered Big Bang Theory has done so well, NBC may be hoping it can bring some life back to its primetime lineup.
Fox has decided to greenlight a new tv series that combines the western with science fiction. The producers should probably be warned that their show may forever be known as “Not Firefly.”
On the recommendation of a friend, I think I’ll be giving Dollhouse another try. Network shows tend to fall off my radar when I get too busy with work—the first season of Dollhouse fell victim to this phenomena, as did Fringe. The list of new guest stars for Season 2 of Dollhouse includes some of my favorites from BSG, as well as Alexis Denisof (aka Wesley Wyndam-Pryce!), making for some very compelling reasons to catch up before the premiere. Will Dollhouse become a casting chimera of past Whedon shows and BSG?
@CapricaSeven aka Jane Espenson just tweeted “Mr. Marsters starts work for us tomorrow. Whoo!”, a tidbit that comes as a pleasant surprise. Apparently Spike, I mean Marsters, will play a terrorist named Barnabus Greeley for three episodes. Curious? I am. For instance, will he be sporting a sassy english accent—you know, the one that sounds like it’s still there even when he’s talkin’ american? And will he pull a Buffy-esque move as a guest character who ends up staying through not only the entire run of the series, but ascends into the spin-off series as well (and will the spin-off series have it’s own spin-off?)? The man has some serious staying power. Watch out Caprica!
I was reading this article today, one of many touting SGU as “edgier and younger in tone” when compared to predecessors SG-1 and Atlantis. While I’m thrilled that the Stargate universe will live on in, well, Stargate Universe, I must say that all the hubbub surrounding SGU as edgy and dark and more mainstream is starting to wear down my brain. Cooper apparently expressed a desire that SGU not become “too self-referential” in order to ensnare that coveted mainstream audience. I want one of these reports to also tell me that interrelationships between characters will not only be sinister, ethically questionable, and shaky-camera-action-real, but also wickedly funny and smart. As a converted Stargate fan, it’s this kind of special mix that I’ve come to expect from Wright, Cooper and Co. And come now, that aforementioned self-referentiality is what makes longtime followers of any series feel like the writers are really writing for them as an audience.
Speaking of self-referentiality, remember the hilarious 200th episode of SG-1? Couldn’t help but think of this hilarious scene when imagining an edgier Stargate series.