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Friday, May 18, 2012

Donna Summers: The Beat Goes On! Facebook solid stock launch but graveyard for games. "Unforgetable" may find new home on cable. NewsCorp under US Scrutiny. Comcast ups WiFi Bills. Man your Battleships, the predictable plot is invading a theatre near you.

"Battleship" may need to call in an airstrike if it hopes to sink "The Avengers" at the box office. (Universal Pictures / May 18, 2012)

The Skinny: Running around Manhattan for a week has left yours truly with no voice. I didn't lose it from laughing at all the comedy clips the networks showed to advertisers, it was the weather. Friday's headlines include a look back at upfront week, a preview of this weekend's box office, Comcast's move to expand broadband data caps and a senator wants to put some heat on News Corp.

Daily Dose: "Cult," a new drama from the CW about a serial killer, had to endure a more difficult than usual path from pitch to TV show. "Cult" spent six years trying to get made. Originally developed by the now-defunct WB, it was put on the back burner after that network merged with the CW. Then it kicked around there for a while until the option on the project expired and ABC gobbled it up. It gathered more dust at ABC and by the time it became free again, the CW had new leadership and the programming team was able to rescue "Cult." It's been ordered for midseason and the clips played well with advertisers.

They came, they pitched, they left. Upfront week -- which is when the broadcast networks pitch their fall shows to advertisers -- ended Thursday with the CW putting on an impressive display. Overall, advertisers seemed pleased with much of what they saw, but there are still concerns about NBC and questions about Fox's "American Idol" and "The X Factor." There are also increased fears about the mixed blessings of new technology. On the one hand, it's easier than ever for consumers to record shows and watch them on their schedule, which can be a good thing. The bad thing is that skipping commercials is also getting easier. A look back at the week that was from the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Variety

 More room to roam. Comcast is raising the caps on data usage for its broadband customers. While the cable giant said there was no connection, the move comes after grumbling from Netflix Chief Executive Reed Hastings about Comcast's Xfinity TV service on the Xbox 360. The issue with that service is that it lets subscribers stream television shows and movies, differently than other services on the video game console. Content from Netflix and other providers counts against the data limits, but Xfinity video does not. While that is still the case, now Comcast has increased the caps elsewhere. It's complex stuff so think of it as that amp in the movie Spinal Tap that goes to 11. More from the Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg.

Still unforgettable? CBS canceled the drama "Unforgettable," about a woman whose ability to remember every day of her life with incredible clarity makes her an ideal crime stopper. Even though most viewers couldn't remember to watch "Unforgettable," Deadline Hollywood said cable networks TNT and Lifetime are interested in perhaps rescuing the show from the trash heap.

Keeping the pressure on. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) grilled members of the Federal Communications Commission this week about what the regulatory agency is doing to determine whether media giant News Corp., subject of an ethics scandal in Britain, has misbehaved in the United States. The answer was essentially that they are not doing anything yet. I've covered the FCC on and off for over 20 years and the best way I can think to describe how it operates is to compare it to a fire department that may smell smoke and see fire but doesn't respond until someone calls it in. It is a reactive agency. More on Lautenberg's concerns from the Hill.

Facebook makes its debut on the Nasdaq stock exchange  
Is Facebook a Graveyard for Games? It may be a financial bonanza for investors riding on the coattails of Facebook's grand initial public offering today, but in social gaming land, few are celebrating.

Facebook, whose popularity among its nearly 1 billion users has been partly fueled by social games published by Zynga,  Electronic Arts Inc.  and others, may be facing a collapse of its gaming ecosystem, according to a book released this week by P.J. McNealy, a media analyst with Digital World Research.The book is titled "Early Days: The Social Gaming Market and Facebook's Achilles' Heel."To read more go to the LA Times by clicking  More.
Donna Summer, who died Thursday 
PHOTOS: Donna Summer | 1948-2012
Donna Summers: the beat goes on. If you drop a needle on the original version of “Love to Love You Baby” just as you're beginning this appreciation of Donna Summer, the so-called Queen of Disco who died Thursday at age 63, you would probably be finished reading long before the song ended. It has to be that long -- there's a world of impact there.

The epic 17-minute jam introduced Summer to America with some of the most memorable moans in pop music history, and over the following decade the Boston-born diva went on to become one of the most popular vocalists in the world. Her influence on pop music -- especially during the birth of electronic dance music -- goes far beyond those moans, and even they helped tilt American culture.
Summer and her early producer-collaborator Giorgio Moroder's not-so-subtle message of sexual freedom was a sonic seduction, and when a shortened version of the song was released, it climbed to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. That such a brashly sexual work could reach a national audience during “American Top 40” with Casey Kasem on Sunday mornings says a lot about America in the 1970s. In hindsight, its success arguably marks as important a cultural shift as Elvis shaking his hips on Ed Sullivan's show. If Presley suggested male sexuality through visual cues, Summer confirmed it through a series of faked orgasms --  the BBC once tallied it at 23.

The message of the song's lyrics may have been simple -- this feels good, and I love it -- but its saucy sense of freedom expanded the notion of what was acceptable on the airwaves in the mid-'70s; hearing it even today, it's shocking to learn that the single was so successful. But it makes sense given the times.

As the song hit, the women's liberation movement and ideas of female sexuality were expanding; X-rated movie houses were screening underground hit films such as  “Deep Throat” and “Behind the Green Door,” and in the discotheques and loft parties in New York City, a gay night-life culture was pushing the envelope too.

Summer won five Grammy Awards over her four-decade career, sold an estimated 130 million albums, became the first musician to land three double albums at the top of the charts, appeared in movies and on television, and, through her work with Moroder and beyond, helped push pop music into the digital age.

Her long string of hits stretched from the 1970s through the '80s. “Bad Girls,” “She Works Hard for the Money,” “On the Radio,” among them, were in heavy rotation when they came out and remain in heavy rotation on classics stations. Her voice, with sharp phrasing and an ability to deliver emotional heft with a few subtle vocal nuances, could whisper and command with equal grace. She even managed to transform the strange 1960s standard “MacArthur Park” into a dance-floor hit.

From a historical perspective, Summer's most influential song will forever be “I Feel Love,” the Moroder-produced dance track that is a clarion call of techno and house music. It was a crossover smash with a thumpy, driving robo-beat with synth washes, odd echoey analog synthesizers, a sibilant high-hat repeating with the measures. On “I Feel Love,” Summer expressed pure joy with a mantra so pure and pleasing that you wondered what the singer was on or who was doing what to her during the recording. She most certainly was feeling love.

“I Feel Love” created a blueprint: repetition that builds into a kind of relentlessness, a mantra that creates a kind of bliss, followed by a snap of silence -- a break, the quiet, slow reintroduction of a skeletal version of the beat -- followed by a grand return and more repetition. This construct remains central to electronic dance music, and when the song was expanded and released in 1983, it became early evidence of a move into the world of remixes. You can hear that template in the work of superstar producers such as Afrojack, David Guetta and Swedish House Mafia even today.

Summer and Moroder's method of music-making, in fact -- a producer and a diva teaming up to create dance-floor magic, designed not for live performance but to be jammed at massive volumes on sweaty dance floors -- is one that over four decades later still rules the charts.

It's in the DNA of Madonna's early work with John “Jellybean” Benitez, Janet Jackson's work with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Britney Spears' collaborations with a range of different beat-makers, or Lady Gaga's close association with Swedish producer RedOne.

And though Summer later regretted the sexual nature of her early hits -- she eventually became a born-again Christian -- her influence on the sounds and spirit of the disco era and its aftermath can't be denied.

VIDEO: Classic Donna Summer

Inside the Los Angeles Times: Scott Collins looks at the comedy glut coming to TV in the fall. She worked hard for the money. An appreciation of Donna Summer.

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