April 19, 2007

Sanjaya, The Possibilities Are Endless

Even before Sanjaya got the boot, I was thinking of his future possibilities. My first thought had been reviving Dan Rowan & Dick Martin's Laugh-In for the 21st century. The update would be:
Donny Osmond & Sanjaya's Laughin'
Topical humor, skits and songs with a regular cast including Jessica Simpson, Kimberly Stewart, Stephen Dorff and George Hamilton. Andy Dick as the new Artie Johnson.

We're overdue for the variety show format's return. Networks have picked apart each component of it to make new formats, so now it's time to bring them all back together. Plus, it would provide gainful employment for all those cyber-celebrities who don't have a valid reason for their notoriety.

But only last night, with tears of sadness rolling down my cheeks as he said goodbye, did the truly brilliant idea hit me:

Sanjaya and his sister Shyamali are the 21st century Donny & Marie!

For the pilot episode of San & Shy's variety hour, just dust off any Donny & Marie Show script and perform verbatim, with all songs, banter and costumes left intact.

Come today's post-loss press conference, Sanjaya seconds my thought with allusions to "a wide-ranging career that will probably include performances with his sister, Shyamali."

To network television producers, this idea is my gift to you (and if it actually happens, I'll be looking for a "creator" credit, naturally). To kids' book publishers, time to hop on the following:

Post Script: Only this morning did I learn that Donny Osmond & Sanjaya did a bit on Leno last night, mere hours after posting my Sanjaya variety show pitches. I am the Showbiz Nostradomus!

April 15, 2007

Premiere Magazine: A Toast at the Wake

I’ve finished reading the final issue of Premiere magazine. Upon hearing it was laid to rest, my first reaction was, “Hey, I paid for a 2 year subscription!” My second – and lingering - reaction is sadness. The death of another magazine is disturbing on so many levels.

On a personal level, my mother’s movie magazines are some of my first memories (especially being spanked for scribbling in her stack of Photoplay). Upon learning how to read, magazines became babysitters. What has always been a sentimental, tactile and informational attachment could become an historical artifact rendering me a bewildered fossil.

On a fan level, after the sad and pointless content change of the once-genius Movieline magazine (it was to movies what Creem was to music), Premiere was the only American populace movie magazine left. Rather than concentrate solely on trivial aspects of celebrity, it was only about movies and the people who made them. I deeply appreciated this last serious holdout landing in the mailbox each month.

On an objective level, I’m one of those people whose “consumer behavior” has been radically altered by the internet’s easy and instant access to information. Yet, that subscription assured me at least one good meal a month amidst all the on-line celebrity junk food. So, I didn’t directly contribute to the magazine’s demise, but I do contribute to the culture that killed it.

Unlike Movieline, there’s a nobility in their decision to not cave in and follow the easy money that lowered standards can net. Their decision to be a web-only presence means they are still alive, and if Libby Gelman-Waxner can be persuaded to finally join them on-line (so far that column is absent), then I will make sure to regularly visit. But the stinging truth is that the internet has forever changed how we gather information and how long we wait to get it, and if Premiere wishes to be viable competition on those terms, then the cave in of previous standards is a prerequisite.

Paper vs. Plasma: What We Lose In Translation

This article from Daily Variety is an accurate telling of why Premiere had to die. One paragraph in particular brought understanding into sharp focus:

“In a universe where misinformation travels swiftly over the Web, Universal Pictures publicity executive Michael Moses would like to see studios enter the blogosphere and provide information directly to consumers.”

While the Internet basically killed my lifelong music magazine habit, the trade-off is bands being able to talk directly to listeners with much less music business hype and manipulation. Plus, the point is supposed to be the music itself, so jumping straight to hearing it means no more money wasted on records that didn’t live up to a dynamic review. So, if this sea change applies to selling music then, yes, it applies to selling movies, too.

With technological advancements, there is no going backwards (except during power outages), and I can no longer live satisfactorily without them (as proven during power outages). But the potential demise of the magazine saddens me because:

No More Layouts
Have you ever browsed an article you wouldn’t normally read because it looked so fabulous? Exceptional graphic design can lend substance to insubstantial content, and elevate the worthwhile to awesome. An art director gives atmosphere and impact to a magazine; as of yet, websites just can’t replicate or advance the art of graphic layout and design. Compare a feature layout in Entertainment Weekly to its web counterpart (above) to see the vast difference. I fear for the grand tradition of the visionary art director.

Diminished Photography
Have you ever spontaneously ripped a photo from a magazine because it was so arresting? Right-clicking, saving and sending a 72 dpi photo to your crappy printer just doesn’t cut it. Not that photographers need worry about job security in the face of magazine obsolescence, but it will become more difficult to see their work any larger than half your monitor size (on those websites that care enough to provide a larger pop-up version). Compare 9 x 12 inches to 100 x 200 pixels and understand the negative impact the web has on the art of photography.

The All-Important Cover
No matter the industry, “landing the cover” is the ultimate achievement. It is magazine covers that make the news, catch our eye in the grocery line and signal when someone has arrived. The coveted cover can be a classic Hollywood horror story, a graceful show of power, or a deal breaker when it’s denied. Websites just can’t do covers, and they need to develop some new form of prestige to take its place.

Bathrooms & Waiting Rooms
What will we read in those places? Do people actually use laptops while sitting on the pot? And if magazines disappeared, what would be left on our coffee tables for guests to browse through?

Frickin’ Ads Everywhere!
Most magazines adhere to a format of ads in the front and the back, with only a few placed between features. This keeps advertisements from gunking up the layouts and content in the heart of the publication. On-line, there is never an escape from ads, and this means there is never a truly attractive or contemplative webpage layout.

No Chance To Linger
The Internet delivers tons of information real fast, so I’ve developed the skill of speed skimming to take in as much as possible before my eyes spazz out. A magazine can be like the cool down after cardio kickboxing. A magazine is like savoring a good meal, while the Internet is like gobbling fries in the car. I need the balance of both options.

Two-Timing the Print & Cyber Entities

Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and Entertainment Weekly are magazines with a concurrent and strong web presence. I subscribe to VF and EW, and have barely thumbed through an issue of RS in the 21st century.

Even though they continually promote it in the magazine, I’ve visited the Entertainment Weekly website maybe once. The kind of celebrity gossip they provide is done better elsewhere on-line. Their more in-depth print articles are either not on-line or very hard to find, and then they don’t look as nice, so why bother?

Pouring over an issue of Vanity Fair is a luxurious contact sport. Their website is rather nice (below), and they go out of their way to respect the photography they are known for. But I only go there in hopes of finding an on-line version of an article to e-mail to someone.

Somehow, I receive Rolling Stone’s weekly e-newsletter (above). I do look at it because it’s loaded with lots of quick information, yet I only click one or two headlines before getting sidetracked. I’m incapable of applying past behaviors with the print version to the web version.

There’s the gist of the situation: The sporadic nature of the Internet is at odds with the continuous nature of magazines. A 13-year old may have a hard time hanging with the commitment a magazine requires, while a 70-year old might not want to keep up with the motion of the web. I’ve got a hand in both camps, and so know them as two distinct entities that socially mingle about as well as a 13- and 70-year old. I appreciate having both options, and often get drunk on the plentitude. The demise of Premiere magazine feels like a court-ordered 12-Step program. The hint of a diminished presence for all magazines feels like the threat of Prohibition.