Monday, December 18, 2017

The value of stars

A few years ago the Yankees were in LA to play the Dodgers. At the time the Yankees had a patchwork team but were surprisingly good. They were winning way more than anyone expected. I was talking before one of the Dodger games with Michael Kay, the Yankees’ excellent TV announcer, and congratulating him on the season so far. He said the ratings were way down. I was surprised. He had a winning team. “But we don’t have stars,” he said. You’d think winning would be enough but it’s not. Fans wanted to see guys hit epic home runs or strike out the side. Fans were used to stars like Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez and Mariano Rivera.

Last week the Yankees just traded for Giancarlo Stanton. He’s the current National League MVP and hits 50 home runs a year that are still in flight. It’s costing them $265,000,000. But he’s a star. He’ll now share the outfield with Aaron Judge who also hits tape measure home runs. Expect the ratings to go through the roof even if they finish last (which they most certainly won’t).  Oh, and their attendance might go up but it's those TV ratings where the real money is. 

It’s a lesson Hollywood learned long ago. Stars open movies. You pay Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts (in their heyday) stupid money because if they’re in a movie people will come the opening weekend. And even if the movie is a piece of shit, the studio will have made money that first weekend.

Television knows this too. Wanna get a show on the air? Cast Matthew Perry, or Matt LeBlanc, or Kevin James, or Tom Selleck, or Scott Bakula, or Ted Danson, or Kristen Bell, or Leah Remini, or Christine Baranski (but stop short of Charlie Sheen).  You get the idea.

But Hollywood is nervous. There is chaos in the universe. The star system is suddenly not working in movies. Partly because there don’t appear to be any real larger-than-life stars. Some very good young actors but no Clint Eastwood in his prime or (God help us) Faye Dunaway.

Instead, moviegoers are gravitating towards franchises. Superheroes. Dinosaurs. Jedis. The trouble there is these movies are REALLY expensive. You pay a movie star $14,000,000 and the movie bombs you shake it off. You pay $240,000,000 for BATMAN v ZOOLANDER and it bombs you have to sell off your backlot.

Directors are suffering from this franchise frenzy as well. At one time they ruled motion pictures with utter autonomy and power. Now Marvel replaces them like they were summer interns. (Okay, to me that's the one silver lining to this dark cloud.) 

Will Giancarlo Stanton hit 50 home runs? Will the Yankees win the World Series? All they know is their ratings are going to be sky high. Yeah, $265mi is a big price. But the Yankees are hedging their bets. They’re not only getting a star, they’re getting a franchise (Superman).

26 comments :

Roger Owen Green said...

The premise is true, although these people who become YouTube hits also disrupt the star system

Roger Owen Green said...

Oh, this is interesting: Millennials Have Dozens of “Must-Have” TV Programs, with More Than Half Subscribing to Multiple Paid Online Video Providers

As a boomer, I find this fascinating. My "must-watch" list is well under a dozen.

McAlvie said...

It is true that there aren't many big stars anymore, but that's because the networks spent too many years plugging reality shows. That was always going to be short lived, if only because they were going to run out of ideas eventually. And once the novelty wore off, viewers lost interest in even the dumbest of them. So now you have networks who have forgotten how to do scripted tv. You don't have honchos willing to stick with a really good show until it finds its rhythm, they all listen to the bean counters trying to push whatever they think is the next big thing. So we get a lot of reboots because they worked once, nevermind the studios don't seem to understand why they worked the first time. I checked out the new MacGyver, for example, and George Eads, who wasn't even the central character, was the only good thing about it. Who wants a MacGyver who's all angsty? Where's the fun in that? And if he needs George around to watch his back, how good is he anyway? But someone was smart enough, I guess, to figure out that a smarmy blonde who wears more hair product than most women was not going to win ratings. Why they didn't just give George the role in the first place is a puzzle.

As for superheroes at the movies, well people like to have something to cheer for, and these days we don't have much to cheer about as our country gets systematically dismantled. And we might as well enjoy it while we can, because it won't be long before Big Brother starts subverting Hollywood, too. It will be McCarthy all over again. Except this time the government is in bed with the Russians.

YEKIMI said...

While I like the Superhero/Star Wars movies I am not going to run out and see them the very first day. Mainly because of inconsiderate assholes that think it's fine to blather on, yak on their phones, bring their damn infant who will cry through the whole thing, etc. and management won't do anything about it because they don't want to "offend" a "customer". I can wait. What I may run out and see the first day are the independent off-beat films [not to be confused with pornos, which are beat-off films] because chances are, here in the great Midwest, they're not going to be around long. When a theater re-opened in a nearby town, the bitching from people complaining that they didn't go because they didn't show "art house" type movies that they wanted to see was non-stop and they were tired of having to drive to Cleveland or Columbus to see them. Enough so that they set aside one of the screens just for those type indie & art-house films. What were the results? Crickets in that auditorium, spiders building webs across the screen. Lasted about 3 months and then they said "screw it" and went back to showing the usual dreck. So when they bitch now they're told they can catch it on DVD or stream it in a couple of months. There IS one theater in a nearby fairly large town that does specialize in so called art-house films [but has very limited seating] but their ticket prices are outrageous, way, way, way above what you'd pay at your local cinema.

John H said...

Michael Kay is the reason I don't watch Yankee games anymore. Every game is called as though it's Game 7 of the World Series. I now watch the Mets instead. Gary Cohen is an outstanding play by play announcer.

Chris G said...

I've seen it suggested that the thing with franchises is that they do take the place of stars, but by making characters from the franchise stars -- so part of the draw of Rogue One was that Darth Vader is in it, and Spider-Man had a guest appearance by Iron Man, and Thor has Hulk AND Doctor Strange, and so on.

Peter said...

The end of the era of bankable stars is both a good and bad thing. Bad because, as you say, it's mostly franchise fodder now, but good because for many years stars got huge paydays even when a movie was a load of shit and audiences flocked on opening weekend. The days when the name Arnold Schwarzenegger or Tom Cruise guaranteed a big opening weekend are long gone.


Since you mention Jedis, Ken, I'm looking forward to your review of The Last Jedi, mainly because this is probably the most comedic of all the Star Wars films and personally I found it TOO jokey. I enjoyed it and it has some jaw dropping moments, but I felt some scenes overdid the comedy.

VincentS said...

NOW the Stanton deal makes sense. I keep forgetting the real money is in the TV revenue. Thanks, Ken. Could you (or anyone) now explain why the Yankees picked Aaron Boone - a great guy, I'm sure, with NO managerial experience whatsoever - to manage the most valuable sports franchise in the world? He was born into the game because his father and grandfather played MLB ball? If my father and grandfather were cops (my father was, but my grandfather wasn't)would that be a legitimate qualification for me to carry a badge and gun?

blinky said...

La La Land would have been a better movie with actors who could actually sing and dance?
Would it have been as successful?
Maybe they should have done the Natalie Wood, West Side Story treatment and had someone else do the singing. And with CG they could have put her head on a good dancers body.

Mike Bloodworth said...

¿WHO?!

Donald Benson said...

Another business advantage to franchises is that stars are so breakable. Right now it's sex scandals, but bankability can be tarnished by any faintly political stand (or even declining to take one), dating somebody fans disapprove of, or tweeting "I like [just about anything]"

Superhero does something unpopular in any of his incarnations? Conglomerate apologizes, fires the talent presumably responsible, and superhero doesn't even have to go to imaginary rehab ("You see, Miss Lane, plaid kryptonite made Superman behave like a jerk"). In fact, there's a studio belief (or hope) that every actual human in a franchise is expendable, if need be. Definitely the case in animation, where writers, directors, voices, and outsourced animation studios can all be replaced with minimal disruption for casual viewers.

Mike Schryver said...

I respectfully disagree that Michael Kay is "excellent".

Anonymous said...

How about miss cast stars? Tom Hanks is totally miss cast in the new Washington Post pic...

Cap'n Bob said...

Aaron Boone's brother, Brett, was a standout Mariner's infielder, too.

VP81955 said...

Bob Raissman reported in the New York Daily News today that John Sterling (and Suzyn Waldman) will return to the Yankees' radio booth for 2018. My condolences to Yankees fans. (If Giancarlo Stanton had told the Yankees he would only accept a trade to the Bronx if Sterling was fired, would they have done it?)

sanford said...

The person who didn't like Tom Hanks in the Post must live in Los Angeles, or New York. As far as I can tel it is only playing in one theater in Chicago. I live near Milwaukee and it hasn't come out here. A friend of my brother lives in Los Angeles and thought it was very good. Small sample size. I am guessing Anonymous is comparing Hanks to Robards. Hanks said he was not trying to imitate Robards.

John H said...

Suzyn gets a bad wrap. I will say that she is genuine, hard working and very well respected. Michael Kay is an arrogant sycophant. Ken Singleton is far superior.

Liggie said...

I don't think a TV show is dependent on stars as much as a movie would be, if the material and writing are good. When "The Big Bang Theory" started, only Johnny Galecki and Kaley Chico had (vague) recognition, but the she's likely the most successful sitcom of the last decade.

As for sports, it's funny. Everybody stresses that the team is more important than the stars, but given equal records the team with stars will always get more fan attention than the one with less recognizable players. Then you have the NHL, where the more charismatic current players haven't won championships, while all of the Stanley Cup championship captains are unmarketable because they have the same amount of charisma as refrigerated toast. So with who do you promote your league: engaging players who don't win; winning players who don't engage; or teams, many of whom average sports fans couldn't identify?

DJ said...

Then you have the NHL, where the more charismatic current players haven't won championships, while all of the Stanley Cup championship captains are unmarketable because they have the same amount of charisma as refrigerated toast.


Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh), the “face” of the NHL, unmarketable? Jonathan Toews (Chicago), the national spokesman for Canadian Tire, unmarketable?

BobinVT said...

If the Yankees televised their batting practice it would likely get higher ratings (and be more entertaining) than Mets games.

BobinVT said...

Brian Kenny of MLB Network makes an excellent point about stars. Mike Trout is pretty clearly the best player in baseball. Yet in his five year career, he has only appeared in the playoffs once, three games. Can you imagine the NBA playoffs without Lebron or Steph Curry, NFL without Tom Brady, or Stanley Cup without Crosby or Ovechkin? In many ways baseball is a quirky sport: no clock, the defense has the ball, the incredible number of games, non-rectangular, non-uniform playing area, etc. The limited number of playoff teams is another quirk. A much lower percentage than any other major sport. So MLB does not get to showcase its best player when many casual fans are tuning in. Hopefully the many moves the Angels have made this off season will rectify this.

VP81955 said...

Suzyn's OK; I liked her work as the Yankees beat reporter on WFAN back in the day. Her partner, though...

Jahn Ghalt said...

You could never mistake me for a Yankees fan (nor the Dodgers), but Stanton and Judge foretells some other great power hitting duos:

Willie and Willie
Babe and Lou
Henry and Eddie
Mickey and Roger

Could be fun.

Liggie said...

Yes, unmarketable. Alex Ovechkin is far more charismatic and engaging than Sid, who gives uninteresting interviews, but because the Capitals keep stumbling in the playoffs, he gets little credit. As for Toews, his nickname of Captain Serious says it all, and marketing of Canadian Tire means nothing in the US, where the game badly needs marketing.

MikeKPa. said...

I think the word "trade" is generous. The Marlins got fleeced. For a reigning MVP, you'd expect two of the Yankees top 5 prospects and one of their young everyday players (with power to replace what the lost in Stanton; Castro, who will be flipped for more prospects, doesn't count).

Interesting that in light of the departures of Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose, the networks are finding out that star anchors might not matter for the morning news shows. Ditto the nightly news with the hiring of David Muir at ABC and Jeff Glor at CBS.

mike said...

Kay and Sterling are the worst homers ever I heard.