There were several items in today's New York Times that gave me pause. First up, a mention in "Arts, Briefly" claiming that a stage version of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner is coming to Broadway in the Fall 2008. This great 1967 film starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn and Sidney Poitier was simultaneously ahead of its time and very much of its age. A ridiculous 2005 remake called simply Guess Who starring Bernie Mac and Ashton Kutcher (sigh ... compare those two names to the previous three) tried to turn the concept upside-down, but the result was just your typical, crappy, unfunny, cliche, stereotypical comedy. Around the same time, I caught the original on TCM, and although I had seen it several times before, I paid closer attention, even taking notes for an eventual post (that has obviously still never been written). The film is perfect fodder for a play and surely will attract some great big names for the cast. But can Guess Who's Coming to Dinner be any more than an artifact of a certain moment in our country's history? Not because race is still not a big issue, but because the very strength of the story in this film was that the characters weren't racist; they were 1960s, major city, upper class, liberal, white San Franciscans. The world around them (including in San Francisco) and the attitudes 40 years later are quite different. That does not mean there's not still conflict to be mined, but I fear that the characters of the parents -- especially the father -- might need to change so much that he would become a much less sympathetic and relatable character. But I suppose avoiding this and recreating it is the task that writer Todd Kreidler and director Kenny Leon are taking on.
Why is it that in every media story concerning Hollywood and box office that comes out right about ... oh ... this time of year, the one thing always left out of the equation is whether or not the movies are any good. In today's latest treatise "Summer Cinema's One-Week Wonders," David M. Halbfinger apparently paraphrases Rob Moore, president of worldwide marketing, distribution and operations at Paramount by stating that "Smaller studio movies can no longer count on picking up the spillover audience." Proof positive? Lucky You which Warner Bros. opened up against Spider-Man 3. Warner Bros. obviously had high hopes for this film considering that it had been finished and sitting on a shelf for something like two years. In fact, I seem to recall Entertainment Weekly bemoaning the fact that if Lucky You was finally released, they wouldn't be able to include it in their seasonal preview issues anymore, and by that point, it had felt like an old friend. Maybe Lucky You tanked not because there was no spillover audience, but rather because the movie sucked. Maybe the underwhelming results of Ocean's Thirteen and Surf's Up were not because "this year's May offerings might have left audiences hung over a little bit in June" as attributed to Regal Cinema's CEO Mike Campbell. Maybe it's because they were underwhelming movies. Or, rather, there was probably a bit of hangover, but not simply because there were huge blockbusters out like Spider-Man 3, Shrek 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (a/k/a PotC: 3!) sucking-up all the theatrical oxygen, but because these third films were all some manner of disappointment, and people just decided that $30 was enough to spend on mediocre movies. Oceans Thirteen (which has grossed $112 million, mind you; it's not exactly a flop; only comparitavely!) maybe just got lost in the timing. I just always find it fascinating that Hollywood (as an entity) always manages to look for (or blame) the audience for not coming to their crappy product rather than making the crappy product better. Knocked Up has done well for no reason other than being a really funny movie. It was more than true for Little Miss Sunshine last summer, as well. I anticipate big business for Hairspray for much of the same reason, although it certainly has more star power behind it. Meanwhile, journalists and entertainment industry analysts should stop feeding the bullshit excuse.
There was also a story by Bill Carter called "NBC Stands by Thursday Comedies, Despite Ratings" which justifiably puts forth the argument that the current crop of Thursday sitcoms -- My Name Is Earl, The Office, Scrubs and 30 Rock is the best the network has ever broadcast, even going back to that golden age of The Cosby Show, Cheers and Seinfeld. If you think about it, that's very true. NBC always had a bitch of a time filling the 9:30 PM hour regardless of whether its 9 PM anchor was Seinfeld or Cheers, and its 8:30 series were usually above average at best. I'd further argue that all four of the current series -- which are each unique and quite different from any other sitcoms that have come before or since -- are much more creative in scope and ambition than any of their precursors, with the possible exception of Seinfeld. And yet, will any of them have the same impact on the future of the form? Will any of them spawn other half-hours that aren't simply rip-offs but are actually creative and clever in their own right? They haven't so far. I don't consider that a problem or a flaw of the individual series at all, but it is an interesting consideration, and I think it speaks to the difference between those series -- which each cast a wide-net in appeal even as they contributed to changing the genre in their own individual ways -- and this current crop which, as the ratings do indicate, simply do not attract the same degree of audience. Granted, there are lots of reasons for this, and none of them -- to my mind -- actually have to do with the quality of the shows. I believe it has much more to do with the changing nature of creativity in television overall ... but that's fodder for another post.