Monday, August 25, 2008

Competing with the internet

As technology offers us more and more entertainment the more watered down it becomes. Just like when baseball expanded back in the early 90's, there weren't enough good pitchers to go around (and still aren't). Thus the level of talent wasn't as consistent from bottom to top. It's hard to compare Mike Schmidt to Chase Utley using traditional numbers alone since they played in different eras. The baseball math nerds (aka sabremetricians) have all sorts of fun numbers to gauge this, like ERA+, OPS+ and VORP. Even without the numbers it's not hard to see that the cream always rises to the top. The same could be said of good media and entertainment.

It's strange to see what traditional forms of the media do in order to compete with the ever growing outlets of entertainment. TV networks have shifted to inexpensive reality programming and also go the opposite route with movie-like production on shows like Pushing Daisies and Lost. Popular music has become extremely manufactured but at the same time independent groups now can be lucrative as they no longer have to cater to the big labels and cheaply release their music privately or thru small companies. Movies makers always look for new material, the new flavor being the graphic novel industry. Again there is a contrast in the way the conduct business; there exists now the biggest budgets yet at close to 200 million to also seeing indie films costing under a million getting attention at small festivals and cable channels.

The theater, certainly the oldest form of the entertainment media, also seems to be making changes to compete with the internet and other new media forms (like watching stuff on your phone!!). Lately, the big trend is adapting plays and musicals from popular movies, tv shows and classic rock groups like ABBA. Disney has produced its classic animated features into theater like The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast. The Producers was such a big hit that not only did spawn a musical but that musical then became a film adaptation! There are more examples, of course, and I can't speak to the quality of all of them. I have seen both The Lion King and now as of last weekend, Spam-a-lot (adapted from Monty Python films, mostly Holy Grail).

Spam-a-lot was a very fun show. Like The Producers, the script was closely written with some of the original members. The show was loosely related enough for me to enjoy fresh material but also relaugh at some old but good Monty Python humor. I went with my old college roommate and his wife (and old high school friend) to the play, we also enjoyed an excellent meal at a restaurant near Rittenhouse Square called, Parc. Aside from the valet parking fucking up what they did with Jeff's keys, the evening was a perfect one.

Does the theater doing more recognizable entertainment work for them? Well, sure. It got me there. I'll freely admit I wanted to see this play because of the familiarity. I'm not a theater going kind of guy, so the old material was enough to bring a guy like me and mainstream middle class America into a theater. That's good thing, especially for theater. I'm now more apt to try a play that is completely original and new.

Now are all adaptations going to be as good? Not a chance. The more that the theater goes to the well, so to speak, the more of a chance that it will be a bomb. Thus we see the watering down effect as mass appeal doesn't always mean quality. Sure there will be good plays just as there are good ball players like Chase, but overall the theater will suffer from mediocrity just as baseball has to some degree.

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