Created on 21/6/2008
What makes good entertainment? Perhaps its obvious, but needs saying nevertheless, different forms of entertainment entertain different people. Thus an ever widening, diverse and changing menu of entertainment entertains our never-ending variety of people. The pressure on the people running these gigantic enterprises is incalculable. How do you reconcile the demands for artistic license, creative freedom and the need for a healthy bottom line when the head office boys and girls take a look. Sometimes these aims are in conflict. There are misconceptions about entertainment all the time, this reminds me of what Marilyn Monroe said when she ate her first matzo ball in chicken soup, “Lovely, can you eat the rest of the animal?”
I well remember when I was in my early twenties and making my small, very artistic first films, which made incredibly low amounts of money. My father, already a very successful film producer in his own right said, “you have to earn the right to be as artistic as you like, but first pay the rent, then you can afford to experiment.” He demonstrated that himself by executive producing the Confessions series of films which he later told me were the kind of films that allowed him to make more worthy projects like, Repulsion and Cul-de-Sac and Get Carter.
My television preference is for BBC 1, BBC 3 and Sky Sports in the UK and I’m a huge fan of HBO in the States. What all of these broadcasters have in common, is the originality and daring of its programming history. It’s not going to be possible to continue with this kind of original, idiosyncratic programming into the future. No broadcaster can operate with total independence and make ambitious programmes that we can all enjoy. Costs are much too high and this, combined with the advent of narrowcasting means there is a tremendous squeeze in play.
Narrowcasting is the result of the proliferation of broadcast channels after the market induced broadening from the original four channels of terrestrial television previously operating in the UK to the present day uncounted hundreds of stations. This has not meant that the number of viewers has increased, in fact, because of the Internet and home computing and electronic games, the total viewing audience has actually fallen. This combined with the huge number of broadcasting organizations means dividing the viewers into ever smaller segments or specialty groups. The result of this has been that cross-national television co-productions have become a fundamental part of all major international class programmes and series. The outcome is that there tends to have been a leavening of the sharper edges of our national creativity. Deals might make some production possible that otherwise wouldn’t happen, but if the outcome is homogenized and pasteurized do we really want it?
The organizations that dominate media have themselves become international behemoths of cross ownership in reality controlled by a surprisingly small number of billionaires, such as Rupert Murdoch. He originated in Australia, inheriting a growing number of newspaper titles in that country. He built it assiduously, first in the UK, and later America and Asia. It now includes control of Sky, Star and the Fox Group of Companies and many others including a huge array of newspaper titles such as The Times, The Sun, publishing and film companies such as Twentieth Century Fox. It is the model of a modern media behemoth.
I’m sure it’s not healthy for individuality, creativity or national interests, that all this communications and media power is ultimately in the hands of so few individuals, but it is the historic norm. There have always been just a few people controlling this environment. Remember the money oligarchs of the past like William Randolph Hearst, Lord Beaverbrook both newspaper barons, and in the film business there were others like the Warner brothers and Louis B. Mayer and in television the same small groups of powerful people controlled each national broadcasting organization, unless it was the government who did the job.
The difference now is that the more successful of these companies now cross national and continental borders. The natural outcome will be that with the passing down of power through the generations these agglomerations of power will eventually reach such size and diversity that they will be salami sliced back down into their smaller natural component parts. So you might be looking back at a separate film company, split off from the television or game or newsprint companies, but each of these will probably maintain an international profile.
You always need to remember that it’s the entertainment business, so it has to be creativity mixed with business or it just won’t work. In the words of the Israeli President, Shimon Peres, “Television has made dictatorship impossible, but democracy unbearable.”