By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
There’s more trouble for Jeff Zucker and Ben Silverman. NBC’s upcoming sitcom Parks and Recreation was supposed to be a real winner since the mockumentary comes from Greg Daniels and Michael Schur of The Office, and stars SNL alumna Amy Poehler.
I say “supposed” because there are problems galore in the rough-cut pilot, according to a hush-hush March 18 “Consumer and Market Intelligence Research Summary” which I obtained. Considering the show starts airing April 9, can this sitcom be saved in time? Here’s a shortened version of the document, complete with typos:
• PARKS AND RECREATION’s overwhelming resemblance to THE OFFICE caused many viewers to simply see it as a “carbon copy” of a successful show. The pilot was seen as “predictable” and lacking in character development, even for a pilot. PARKS AND RECREATIONS needs to differentiate itself from THE OFFICE; otherwise it runs the risk of being seen as “derivative,” “forced,” and “unoriginal.”
• Focus needs to evolve away from the pit — consider showing Leslie [Amy Poehler] and her team dealing with various parks and recreation duties. There is a lot of interest in exploring the comedy potential in a government office. The bureaucracy that exists at this type of local government is “very believable” and viewers hoped it could provide for some quirky and silly situations.
• Although many saw her as the “Michael Scott character [from The Office]”, Amy Poehler was well liked. SNL fans felt her character Leslie was a bit “too serious” and “too low-key” and many expected her to have more energy and enthusiasm, especially when she is getting drunk at the end of the show. Viewers appreciate her “big heart”.
• The show could use a genuinely likeable male lead. The lack of quality male characters was evident in both the Dial Test and Focus Groups. While Leslie, Ann and April are good characters; all the men in the show were seen as “sleazy” in one way or another. Because there are no “datable” men in the cast, there is little “romantic tension” or “interesting relationship potential” in the show.
Execution & Tune-out
• The beginning of the show needs to better explain the setting and situation. Many were confused as to the reasons and motivations behind the “documentary.”
I love the smell of napalm in the boardroom, especially when it involves Hollywood versus Wall Street. So Lionsgate management is assembling a squad of lawyers, bankers, flacks and proxy solicitation firms to defend itself against the marauder Carl Icahn, who’s both a corporate raider and a shareholder activist trying to gain control of the undervalued minimajor. On the one hand, Lionsgate is trying to convince reporters not to read too much into its new high-priced team for hire. On the other hand, the studio is convinced Icahn will launch a proxy contest sooner rather than later.
It will occur at Lionsgate’s next shareholders’ meeting scheduled for September. But proxy fights are notoriously expensive to mount, and they don’t often succeed. (Remember Stanley Gold and Roy Disney’s against Walt Disney’s Michael Eisner?) But many times they do have the effect of destabilizing management. (Remember that Eisner not only gave up the chairman title but wound up resigning from the company?)
Lionsgate will claim, even though its stock price is at rock bottom, that the company has a successful nine-year track record, and over the past five years, its shares have performed at a level equal to or better than others in the media sector. But Icahn surely can tap into national shareholder anger at the fact that sitting management is presiding over stocks in the crapper, as well as argue that Lionsgate has gotten too far away from its core business of making low-cost films for high profits, by spending too much, with little to show for it.
Lionsgate management has been telling Hollywood privately that the only reason Icahn is going after the minimajor is because “he wants it for his son.”
True, Icahn wanted to give one of the four Lionsgate board seats he was seeking to his 29-year-old offspring, Brett. But this is not an outrageous demand. A Princeton grad like his father, Brett worked for years under the radar as an analyst for his dad’s investment company.
So much for Lionsgate trying to spin its battle with Icahn as amicable even though he was buying up as much as 15 percent of the public company’s shares on the open market. The nastiness finally came out into the open this month when Icahn said in an SEC filing that he wanted to add and subtract Lionsgate board members. But the studio insisted on a standstill agreement. And on March 11, Lionsgate broke off talks with the billionaire.
Now, Icahn has stopped buying stock. He is purchasing as much as $325 million in Lionsgate debt that can be converted into company shares. Some think this is a paper-tiger tender offer. Maybe, but Icahn and Lionsgate both have claws.