(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Elvis

“Television is now so desperately hungry for material that they’re scraping the top of the barrel”*…

The television industry, in its new streaming-led form, is in turmoil. The companies that control it are slashing their available libraries and “reorganizing” their operations, leading to layoffs throughout the industry, and writers are on strike. To some extent, these are consequences of the years of deficit-funded efforts to grab subscribers coming home to roost. But as Max Read argues, there is a deeper problem: the people making our entertainment don’t like it…

[David] Zaslav is this cycle’s big Hollywood villain, most famous for burying completed but unreleased movies for tax write-offs and removing shows from their streaming platforms to save money. When “Max,” the new streaming service that combined all of WBD’s streaming apps into a single offering, was released in May, its interface credited directors and producers together under the hilariously dismissive heading “Creators,” which was both a blatant violation of bargaining agreements around credits and an on-the-nose suggestion that the WBD people simply couldn’t be bothered to care what a “director” is or what one does.

But he is hardly the only person in Hollywood who seems to have more contempt than love for what the industry does. This excellent Vulture piece about the state of streaming by Lane Brown and Joseph Adalian has been rattling around in my head all week, specifically this quote:

One high-level agent says that studios regard the WGA’s demands — for higher minimum pay and staffing requirements, among other things — as simply incompatible with the way TV is now made: “The Writers Guild, delusionally, is harkening back to a day when there were 25 episodes of Nash Bridges a year and repeats and residuals. Back-end payments existed because Europeans were willing to watch our garbage, and Americans were willing to watch repeats of that garbage on cable at 11 at night. The real issue is that the medium changed. Instead of getting a job as a staff writer on CSI: Miami for 46 weeks a year, now it’s a 25-week job working on Wednesday, which is a better show. That’s just progress.”

This begins as a relatively lucid description of why back-end payments existed and then becomes a bizarre fantasy in which, for some strange reason, writers are now obligated to trade stable and remunerative employment for a vague sense of creative fulfillment and prestige, and this trade is called “progress.”…

I don’t meant to make one agent’s offhand quotes to Vulture emblematic of an entire industry, and I know there are many people in Hollywood who would disagree. But the contempt on display for (1) the product being produced, (2) the people who make that product, and (3) the people who consume that product is, I think, widely shared–look at Zaslav, HBO, and TCM. That contempt is nothing new in the entertainment industry, of course. But as it grows and develops it has increasingly made the people in charge unable to distinguish between good product and bad product.

The agent here is committing the same mistake as a lot of bad critics and even more bad development executives, which is to think of “prestige” as a desirable marker of quality, instead of as a kind of genre, or, more cynically, a set of narrative and aesthetic tropes (antiheroes, serialized narratives, film-like cinematography) designed to appeal to a particular marketing demographic–one that happens to be a target demographic for subscription streaming services. As the Vulture piece goes on to point out, just because something is eight episodes long and “actually about trauma” doesn’t automatically make it good, let alone popular…

The agent describes the old residuals system like this: “Back-end payments existed because Europeans were willing to watch our garbage, and Americans were willing to watch repeats of that garbage on cable at 11 at night.” The idea is that people are no longer willing to watch “garbage,” presumably because so many more options are available to them. But this is only a satisfying answer if you assume that “garbage” is automatically bad. What if the problem is that we’re not really making much good garbage anymore?…

You don’t even have to watch the garbage to appreciate its role in the creative ecosystem. The Shield creator Shawn Ryan, who’s quoted in the story above, was a Nash Bridges writer; so too was Watchmen and The Leftovers creator Damon Lindelof. I’m not the first person to make this point, but the entire first generation of “prestige TV” in the 2000s–which is to say, 90 percent of the actually good prestige TV–was written by people who’d spent a lot of time learning to write quickly to a tight structure for a big audience, a set of skills no longer as widespread among writers, to dire consequences for audiences, who have essentially traded consistent, engaging entertainment for the convenience of on-demand streaming.

Networks used to create several Honda Civic shows a year (and, yes, a lot of lemons); these days, if I can stretch this metaphor past the breaking point, streaming platforms seem to mostly create Tesla Model 3s, which is to say expensive, technologically interesting products that gesture at luxury and quality but tend to fall apart quickly and rely almost entirely on hype and conspicuous consumption (not to mention labor exploitation!) to make themselves profitable–and then only after years of burning cash in pursuit of a business model…

Is the problem really that streamers (or writers) are too focused on “prestige” at the expense of “populist” “garbage”? Netflix, the biggest streamer of all, produces mind-boggling amounts of middlebrow and trash TV; every time I open the app there’s a new reality competition between friendship bracelet makers or whatever.

There are many, many cultural and technological reasons for the various (and often overstated) malaises of the streaming era, and there’s no one weird trick for the industry to fix itself. But it’s hard not to notice that, from a labor perspective, the big difference between the era of West Wing and Ally McBeal and now is not so much that writers and directors and actors are too pretentious for lady-lawyer shows but that back then seasons lasted for 20+ episodes, paid more people, promised more consistency (to audiences and to workers above and below the line), and underwent more development. Streamers seem happy to make middlebrow TV; but they also seem unable or unwilling to consistently make good middlebrow TV–by paying enough people, building enough institutional knowledge, committing enough resources, and marketing the product.

You hear sometimes a call from writers or directors or other creatives for studios and streamers to take more risks and get more creative. But I don’t really think the problem of bad TV in the streaming era is an issue of “creativity” (versus conservatism) or “risk” (versus safety) so much as it is an issue of professionalism (versus saying “yes” to 1,000 shows at once, under-developing them, and then killing them en masse for no clear reason). Maybe the reason writers and directors and other creatives are treating TV “like art” instead of like “a job” is because none of the people who hire them are treating it like a job either!

If you do not like movies and TV you cannot make good movies and TV: “Why do entertainment executives hate entertainment?” from @readmaxread in his ever-illuminating newsletter, Read Max. Eminently worth reading in full.

* Gore Vidal


As we change the channel, we might recall that it was on this date in 1977 that Elvis performed his last concert at Indianapolis’ Market Square Arena.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

June 26, 2023 at 1:00 am

“There is nothing permanent except change”*…

Menudo has been ranked one of the Biggest Boy Bands of All Time by several publications (Billboard, Us Weekly, Seventeen, and Teen Vogue, among others)– the only Latin band on their lists. The Puerto Rican boy band, founded by producer Edgardo Díaz in 1977, has had 39 members– who’ve been routinely replaced as they “age out,” usually at 16. It has launched the careers of a number of popular international stars, including Ricky Martin (in Menudo 1984–89) and Draco Rosa (1984–87), and sold over 20 million albums worldwide.

The band disbanded in 2009, but re-formed on its old template in 2019. And it’s just announced its latest roster, bringing its count of members up to 44…

Nearly a year after Menudo Productions announced they were on the search for new members to form the next generation of Menudo, the band has officially unveiled the five boys that will comprise the group.

On Monday (March 20), Nicolas Calero (10), Gabriel Rossell (13), Andres Emilio (14), Alejandro Querales (15) and Ezra Gilmore (12) were announced as the new faces of the eternally youthful boy band. And, in celebration of the announcement, the group also released their very first single “Mi Amore,” the first song off their upcoming debut album…

What’s old is new again: “New Menudo Boy Band Members Unveiled,” from @billboard.

* Heraclitus


As we board the Ship of Theseus, we might recall that it was on this date in 1958, at 6.35am, that Elvis Presley reported to the Memphis draft board to be inducted in the U.S. Army. From there Elvis and twelve other recruits were taken by bus to Kennedy Veterans Memorial Hospital where the singer was assigned Army serial number 53310761.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

March 24, 2023 at 1:00 am

“A man is worked upon by what he works on”*…




Further to last week’s “The most perfect political community is one in which the middle class is in control, and outnumbers both of the other classes”*

The numbers tell one story. Unemployment in the US is the lowest it’s been in 50 years. More Americans have jobs than ever before. Wage growth keeps climbing.

People tell a different story. Long job hunts. Trouble finding work with decent pay. A lack of predictable hours.

These accounts are hard to square with the record-long economic expansion and robust labor market described in headline statistics. Put another way, when you compare the lived reality with the data and it’s clear something big is getting lost in translation. But a team of researchers thinks they may have uncovered the Rosetta Stone of the US labor market.

They recently unveiled the US Private Sector Job Quality Index (or JQI for short), a new monthly indicator that aims to track the quality of jobs instead of just the quantity. The JQI measures the ratio of what the researchers call “high-quality” versus “low-quality” jobs, based on whether the work offer more or less than the average income.

A reading of 100 means that there are equal numbers of the two groups, while anything less implies relatively lower-quality jobs. Here’s what it looks like:

Job Quality

So, what is this newfangled thing telling us? Right now the JQI is just shy of 81, which implies that there are 81 high-quality jobs for every 100 low-quality ones. While that’s a slight improvement from early 2012—the JQI’s 30-year nadir—it’s still way down from 2006, the eve of the housing market crash, when the economy regularly supported about 90 good jobs per 100 lousy ones.

Or, in plainer English, the US labor market is nowhere near fully recovered from the Great Recession. In fact, the long-term trend in the balance of jobs paints a more ominous picture…

Quality vs. quantity: more at “The great American labor paradox: Plentiful jobs, most of them bad.”

Resonantly, see also: “Job loss predictions over rising minimum wages haven’t come true.”  The higher minimum wages in question are still below the average that separates high- and low-quality jobs; but they are a step in the direction of narrowing the gap.

* “A man is worked upon by what he works on. He may carve out his circumstances, but his circumstances will carve him out as well.”  – Frederick Douglass


As we “Get a Job,” we might recall that it was on this date in 1956 that serendipity yielded one of the coolest collectibles ever: rockabilly legend Carl “Blue Suede Shoes” Perkins was recording at Sam Phillips’ Sun Records in Memphis; Perkin’s buddy Johnny Cash, a Sun artist and a country star by virtue of his recent hits “I Walk The Line” and “Folsom Prison Blues,” was hanging out in the booth; and soon-to-be-famous Jerry Lee Lewis was playing piano (for a $15 dollar session fee– “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” was set for release a few weeks later).

A couple of years earlier, Phillips had launched Elvis Presley with “It’s Alright Mama”; but in 1955, as Elvis’ career exploded, Phillips had sold his contract to RCA, and Elvis moved on.  But The King was back in Memphis that fateful day; he stopped by Sun to say hello… and an impromptu jam ensued.  Phillips had the presence of mind to order his engineer, Jack Clement, to roll tape– a tape that was promptly shelved, forgotten, and unheard for 20 years.  The recordings of what was arguably the first “supergroup” were found in 1976 and finally released in 1981… since when, they’ve been treasured by fans– a new crop of which has emerged with the success of the Broadway musical Million Dollar Quartet.

https://i0.wp.com/farm9.staticflickr.com/8200/8239430651_733906291d_o.jpg?resize=400%2C298 source



Written by (Roughly) Daily

December 4, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Time takes it all, whether you want it to or not”*…


From the moment Elvis Presley landed, we wanted every piece of him. This turned his old records into vinyl and shellac gold. While the value of discs by other popular mid-century artists such as Cliff Richard and Frank Sinatra dropped as time passed, Elvis’s didn’t. As an omnipresent figure, the prices of the King’s records rose to astronomical levels.

Unearthing an original “That’s All Right” record became a £4,000 lucky strike; a set of five original Sun singles at one time fetched £25,000. This made them a sort of pension for many collectors. They packed items away, hoping one day to exchange them for a caravan in the Dordogne. However, this has all begun to change…

As the King’s fans die of old age, and their collections hit the second-hand market, vintage Elvis records have never been cheaper: “Can’t help falling in price: why Elvis memorabilia is plummeting in value.”

* Stephen King


As we feel our age, we might recall that it was on this date in 1957 that Chuck Berry recorded “Rock & Roll Music” at the Chess Studios in Chicago.  (Some websites report a recording date of either May 6 or May 21, but Steve Sullivan’s Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings affirms May 15 as the date of record.)

The tune reached number 6 on Billboard‘s R&B Singles chart and number 8 on its Hot 100.  But its impact continued to grow: it was covered by dozens of artists including Bill Haley & His Comets, the Beatles, the Beach Boys (who had a top ten hit with the song in 1976), Dickie Rock and the Miami Showband, REO Speedwagon, Mental As Anything, Humble Pie, Manic Street Preachers and Bryan Adams.  In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Berry’s version number 128 on its list of the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”; and the song is included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.


Written by (Roughly) Daily

May 15, 2017 at 1:01 am

“I don’t know how music works, I’m just glad that it does”*…


Long time readers will know of your correspondent’s fascination with Sun Records, it’s presiding spirit, Sam Phillips (c.f., “So you wanna be a rock and roll star…“), and the acts–a pantheon of early rockers– that Sun birthed (c.f., “Collecting is my passion“).  Turns out, there was a very particular method to the madness…

If rock and roll is a religion, then Sun Studio is one of its holiest temples. The walls of this garage-turned-recording-studio in Memphis reverberate with the echoes of the past. This is where Elvis became king, Cash walked the line, and Perkins put on his blue suede shoes. This is where Roy Orbison, B.B. King, Ike Turner, and Jerry Lee Lewis all got their start. This is where rock and roll was born.

Behind every guitar riff, drum beat, and lyrical innuendo, there was the man in the control room who engineered it all. Sam Phillips helped turn poor boys, sharecroppers’ sons, and ex-servicemen into legends, icons, and superstars. “He was always trying to invent sound,” says Sam’s son, Jerry Phillips, “He felt the studio was his laboratory.”

The inside story: “How Sam Phillips Invented the Sound of Rock and Roll.”

* Lou Brutus


As we swivel our hips, we might sing a doleful birthday ditty to Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup; he was born on this date in 1905 (though some sources give the date as August 24).  A Delta blues singer, songwriter and guitarist, Crudup is probably best known today as the writer of “That’s All Right (Mama),” the A side of Elvis Presley’s first single (recorded, of course, by Sam Phillips at Sun), and for “My Baby Left Me” and “So Glad You’re Mine,” also covered by Elvis (and many others).

Southeastern Louisiana University rock historian Joseph Burns suggests that “That’s All Right (Mama)” is the world’s oldest rock and roll song, and notes that it contains (what is probably) the first ever guitar solo break.



Written by (Roughly) Daily

August 26, 2016 at 1:01 am

%d bloggers like this: