Television: Warner Bros.’ Content Machine

You’ve heard it a million times, “Content is King.” Sure, some people will argue, others will demote content to Queen status or note the importance of other elements, but at the end of the day it is all semantics. I think everyone realizes the importance of content, forget the ‘rankings.’

The importance of content was highlighted in a piece that ran in The Wall St. Journal on Friday.  Called Hollywood’s TV Factory,” the piece lays out how the studio most famous for movies like Casablanca, Rebel without a Cause and more recent hits like Million Dollar Baby has a more pedestrian profit center: cranking out hit television shows. In fact, Warner Bros. completely dominates the small screen. Take a look at this chart laying out the number of TV shows in production at the Big Six studios:


More than CBS and ABC combined

How did Warner Bros. get such a commanding position? They invested the windfall from producing Friends (which has generated roughly $4 billion) into exclusive deals with some of the biggest producers around. People like Chuck (Two and a Half Men, Big Band Theory) Lorre, Jerry Bruckheimer and J.J. Abrams. They’ve got juggernaut daytime programs like The Ellen Degeneres Show as well.

But here’s the real question for Warner Bros. – how will they be able to use this position of dominance as we move to a more socially-driven TV experience?  They produce shows like The Vampire Diaries which is one of the most popular Social TV programs currently on air. I’d be interested to know to what degree Warner Bros. is looking into Social TV as a means to more deeply engage viewers of current shows as well as a way to drive DVD sales and merchandise of their extensive content catalog. Warner Bros. is brilliantly positioned to take advantage of both Social TV and Content Marketing, two of the new drivers for the modern entertainment company.

For more on the WSJ piece, check out this video:


Ashton Kutcher, Charlie Sheen, Two and a Half Men and TV History

It was announced that Ashton Kutcher, that Cougar-marrying, camera-pimping, celebrity punking, Twitter-owning celebrity and I believe one-time actor will be joining the cast of Two and a Half Men, replacing Charlie Sheen (insert your own descriptive modifiers here).

I’m going to admit to watching precisely 20 minutes of one episode of that show. That was roughly 19 more minutes than I feel I needed to.  The show doesn’t work for me, but it does for a lot of people, as it is consistently ranked in the Top 20 shows on television.  A position clearly in jeopardy with the loss of the show’s star.  But, despite my lack of knowledge, or perhaps because of it, I’m here to say that I think the introduction of Kutcher is going to work. Or at least could work. Why do I think this will be the case? Here are several reasons:

Two and a half careers

1. Ashton Kutcher

While no one is going to confuse Kutcher with Sir Laurence Olivier, I think he’s a pretty engaging presence on-screen. He’s likable and I think people are going to be rooting for him in this role. A lot of people. Remember, this is a guy with 6.7 million fans on Twitter. And I believe that he’s going to take this very seriously. After a couple of mediocre movies, his last outing was actually pretty well received. I think he’s going to see this as a real opportunity to jump start his acting career.

2. Charlie Sheen

Now, the smart thing for Sheen to do would be keep his mouth shut and just move on. There is absolutely no way he is going to do that. Here’s what Sheen had to say upon hearing the news:

“Kutcher is a sweetheart and a brilliant comedic performer … Oh wait, so am I!”, the actor said in a statement. “Enjoy the show America. Enjoy seeing a 2.0 in the demo every Monday, WB.”

I can easily see Sheen lashing out in some form or another for quite a while, building interest in the show, and sympathy for Kutcher.

Between these two actors/celebrities/social media juggernauts I think the heat generated is going to be intense. Fans of the show, and there are many, will tune in. People, like me, who weren’t fans of the show are going to turn in. Kutcher fans will tune in. The media coverage is going to be so huge that the numbers for that first show are going to be enormous.  And if Kutcher leverages his various media channels skillfully, something he’s shown the ability to do, we could see a whole new entertainment dynamic.

But beyond those two, there are other reasons I think this could work.  Situation Comedies, or really just about any TV show, are hard to keep fresh. So many shows jump the shark, desperate to

Inadvertently helping the show?

keep the show interesting. Add a baby, move locations, literally jump a shark, you’ve seen them all. Two and a Half Men premiered in September of 2003. That’s a long time ago in TV time. This switch provides a externally forced shake-up that could breathe new life into the show for the writers and other actors.

Let’s also consider several examples from TV history of a lead/main character leaving a show. Certainly not an exhaustive list, and I’m sure there are negative examples, but here are the ones that came immediately to my mind:

M*A*S*H – McLean Stevenson leaves after three seasons. The show manages to squeak out eight more seasons(!) and go down as one of the greatest shows of all time.

Charlie’s Angels – Farrah Fawcett bails after the first season, but the show goes five and spawns two movies and a remake TV show.

Three’s Company –  Suzanne Somers leaves after season five, the show has three more years (two of which it was Top 10 in ratings) as well as a spin-off.

Cheers – Shelley Long’s departure didn’t hurt the show, as Kirstie Alley joined the cast, the show remained in the Top 10 in ratings every year for six more seasons, cementing a place in the TV Hall of Fame.

NYPD BlueDavid Caruso leaves after Season 2 in one of the great Hollywood cautionary tales of all time. The show goes on for another 10 years, cementing its place in the TV Hall of Fame.

ER – George Clooney leaves the show after five seasons but the show carries on for another 10, say it with me, cementing its place in the TV Hall of Fame.

So, six high profile examples. Does that guarantee the Sheen/Kutcher switch will work? No, but those that are claiming this will never work don’t know their TV history.