NBC's Bad Sitcom, Lionsgate's Badass Battle and IATSE's Badly Handled Contract
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.
Cinematographers, motionpicture editors, sound engineers and the rest of the 15 IATSE Hollywood Locals have now voted to ratify the 2009-2012 Basic Agreement negotiated with the AMPTP. Some of the votes wound up as nail biters. Some passed easily. But IATSE leaders have been sweating it out and even lobbying in my blog’s comments section to plead the Vote Yes case and debate with members who joined an unusually vocal Vote No campaign.
January and February saw a lot of push-back from all the various IATSE Hollywood Guild members, and even board members, angry over the IATSE/AMPTP tentative contract. I first disclosed the terms of the negotiated pact over Thanksgiving weekend, even before union leaders had bothered providing details to members. The most controversial rollback is that, effective July 31, 2001, the health plan will require 400 hours of work per six-month period to qualify for coverage, instead of the current 300 hours. Even the union reps admitted 7 to 15 percent of the various guild members will lose their insurance.
It’s little wonder then that the individual guilds that make up IATSE had trouble spinning this to members. Several “No 400 Hours” Web sites started up, including www.400hours.com, and two on Facebook.
And suddenly, circulating among the membership were e-mails opposing the contract, like this one: “IATSE Members from many of the locals are banning [sic] together for the first time, as a collective, to fight the proposed AMPTP contract. ... The increase of 400 hours will cause over 3,500 members to lose their health insurance. The New Media provision terms weaken our Union’s Basic Agreement and open the door to major losses in every Local of hourly rates and working conditions. Remember, what you give away today, you are not likely to get back ever.”
Informational meetings held by the IATSE guild leadership grew increasingly angry and nasty. The Guild leaders began using their Web sites to post “Vote Yes” testimonials, like this one from the International Cinematographers Guild IATSE Local 600’s national executive board member John Toll: “400 hours? Let’s face it. It sucks, but what are our options? Voting ‘no’? Even if all IATSE locals voted against ratification, then what?”
But they didn’t. See you in three years. In the meantime, I wouldn’t want to be you.
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