In Hollywood, Big Ambitions Move To Small Screen Show business today is plenty creative, says the man who wrote The Hollywood Economist. It's just that the most sophisticated stuff is showing up on TV screens. That's because television and the movies have fundamentally different business models.
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In Hollywood, Big Ambitions Move To Small Screen

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In Hollywood, Big Ambitions Move To Small Screen

In Hollywood, Big Ambitions Move To Small Screen

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GUY RAZ, host:

"Rubicon" is a textbook example of how the balance of power is shifting in Hollywood. That's what Edward J. Epstein says. He's the author of "The Hollywood Economist." And in a recent column at his website, he argued that television is now much more interesting than film and there's a sound economic reason behind that. But it's a big change from when he was a kid.

Mr. EDWARD EPSTEIN (Author, "The Hollywood Economist"): When I was young, my parents forbid me to watch, you know, the boob tube because the television was considered such a deintellectualizing experience. We've had a role reversal. Now, people go to cable television to watch programs like "Mad Men" and "Boardwalk Empire" and "Damages." And they go to movies to see comic books - "Spiderman," "Batman," "Superman," "Avatar."

RAZ: Why do you think this is happening?

Mr. EPSTEIN: Well, this role reversal has happened because of the changing economics of both television and of the movie business. The movie business is basically driven by marketing departments that have only one audience that they can guarantee to turn out on Friday and Saturday nights, and that audience is teenagers and youth.

Television, on the other hand, especially pay television, runs on a completely different business model. They have to stop people from cancelling their subscription, so they have to reach the head of the household who pays the bills. And the only thing they can really offer is original programming. So, they have basically put more and more money into original programming to keep the adult audience paying the bill.

RAZ: And HBO, you say, sort of led this revolution. But here's a question: I mean, HBO spends millions and millions of dollars on original programming. Do they make money off of them?

Mr. EPSTEIN: Absolutely. They don't have to make money off an individual program. They get paid by the total number of subscribers.

RAZ: So, this idea that HBO is producing programs, like "The Wire," to make good art isn't actually entirely true? It's more about making sure that people don't drop their subscriptions?

Mr. EPSTEIN: Well, I would even say it's the opposite because a top HBO executive told me that they would rather have a program that had very low viewership but very high critical acclaim, especially in New York Times and elite media. Because when people read those kind of stories about "The Sopranos" or "The Wire," their reaction is we cannot give this up.

RAZ: Do you think that this is where entertainment is headed, that basically the quality programming is going to be on television and the lower quality is going to be in the cinemas?

Mr. EPSTEIN: Well, we have two kinds of cinemas. One is what Hollywood producers, which opens in the multiplexes on 4,000 screens. The other, independent movies, called platform opening, which open in a couple hundred screens. Independent movies will always be high quality and always serve a niche audience. If we're talking about mass entertainment, I think, yes, the quality is going to be found more and more on television and less and less in the movies.

RAZ: That's Edward J. Epstein. His latest book is called "The Hollywood Economist: The Hidden Financial Reality Behind the Movies." Edward, thank you so much.

Mr. EPSTEIN: Thank you, Guy. It's been a real pleasure being on your program.

(Soundbite of music)

RAZ: This coming November 2, many people will vote but others will line up outside McDonalds for the return of McRib.

Mr. RYAN DIXON (Graphic Novelist, Blogger): It's not made of rib. The bones in it look more like French toast pieces and it's fully constructed to represent something that none of the parts that go into make it have any relation to its reality.

RAZ: Why some people drive 10 hours just to find a McRib. That's in the next part of ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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