The following is a combination of press releases from HBO Max:
HBO Max — the upcoming WarnerMedia streaming platform that launched this week — has acquired the exclusive U.S. subscription-video-on-demand rights to the hit comedy Young Sheldon in a deal with Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution. HBO Max is also the streaming home of the entire library of The Big Bang Theory, the longest-running multicamera comedy in television history; all 279 episodes of Big Bang are available on the streamer now.
“We now feel like our Big Bang offering is complete,” said Kevin Reilly, chief content officer, HBO Max, president TNT, TBS, and TruTV. “We are so proud to be the home of this beloved franchise and the place where new and existing fans can learn about young Sheldon Cooper’s roots.”
“In order for Sheldon Cooper to visit his younger self, he would need to manipulate spacetime. All you actually need is HBO Max,” said Young Sheldon creators/executive producers Chuck Lorre and Steven Molaro. “We are so pleased that Young Sheldon will once again be reunited with his future self on HBO Max, and we are excited for fans, new and old, to be able to binge both The Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon for the first time.”
Young Sheldon is currently the number-one comedy on network television with total viewers, Teens, and all key 25-54 demos. The series has averaged more than 11.4 million viewers per week during the 2019–20 season to date (11,424,000 actual P2+), according to Most Current ratings information from Nielsen, +34% more viewers than the next-largest comedy with total viewers.
For 12 years on The Big Bang Theory, audiences came to know the iconic, eccentric and extraordinary Sheldon Cooper. The single-camera, half-hour comedy Young Sheldon gives viewers the chance to meet him in childhood, as he embarks on his innocent, awkward and hopeful journey toward the man he will become.
For young Sheldon Cooper, it isn’t easy growing up in East Texas. Being a once-in-a-generation mind capable of advanced mathematics and science isn’t always helpful in a land where church and football are king. And while the vulnerable, gifted and somewhat naïve Sheldon deals with the world, his very normal family must find a way to deal with him. His father, George, is struggling to find his way as a high school football coach and as father to a boy he doesn’t understand. Sheldon’s mother, Mary, fiercely protects and nurtures her son in a town where he just doesn’t fit in. Sheldon’s older brother, Georgie, does the best he can in high school, but it’s tough to be cool when you’re in the same classes with your odd 9-year-old brother. Finally, there’s Sheldon’s twin sister, Missy, who sometimes resents all the attention Sheldon gets, but also remains the one person who can reliably tell Sheldon the truth.
From Chuck Lorre Productions, Inc. in association with Warner Bros. Television, Young Sheldon is distributed by Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution. The series stars Iain Armitage as Young Sheldon, Zoe Perry, Lance Barber, Montana Jordan, Raegan Revord, with Annie Potts, and Jim Parsons as the voice of Sheldon. Chuck Lorre & Steven Molaro created the show and serve as executive producers with Steve Holland, Jim Parsons and Todd Spiewak. HBO Max Social
HBO Max, the direct-to-consumer offering from WarnerMedia, announced today the greenlight of Homeschool Musical: Class of 2020. Inspired by Tony Award winning actress Laura Benanti’s (“My Fair Lady” and “She Loves Me” on Broadway, Younger, Supergirl, Nashville) online movement #SunshineSongs, in which she offered to be an audience for the students around the country whose spring musicals were cancelled because of COVID-19, this television event will give students the opportunity to sing and dance like the stars they are, from the safety of their homes.
Homeschool Musical: Class of 2020 will explore tried-and-true themes of classic teen movies through the totally unique lens of a world turned upside down by the global pandemic. The cast, featuring a diverse group of super talented student actors with compelling backstories, will play seniors from the same high school and while the pandemic may have shut down their school, the drama and romantic intrigue live on.
“As a mom of teenagers, I know that this time has been a struggle for them. High School seniors in particular have been hit hard by this pandemic, their dreams of homecoming, prom, spring performances and even graduation being cancelled,” said Jennifer O’Connell, executive vice president original non-fiction and kids programming. “Laura’s brilliant idea to give these kids an audience and a platform has blossomed into this unique opportunity for us to not only celebrate their talent, but to entertain many other families across the country sharing their experience.”
“Our school shows are more than just entertainment. At the very least, they bring our communities together to revel in the talent of our young artists. At their best, they are a life changing experience that these kids will bring with them into the rest of their lives,” saidBenanti. “I am thrilled that the #SunshineSongs initiative has put the spotlight on so many incredible young performers; grateful to World of Wonder for its grand vision and to HBO MAX for providing a global platform on which America’s youth can shine!”
Homeschool Musical: Class of 2020 is executive produced by Laura Benanti along with Randy Barbato, Fenton Bailey, and Tom Campbell for World of Wonder Productions (RuPaul’s Drag Race), and Leland (Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez, RuPaul’s Drag Race) will write and produce the original songs and score.
About HBO Max
HBO Max is WarnerMedia’s direct-to-consumer offering. With 10,000 hours of curated premium content anticipated at launch, HBO Max will offer powerhouse programming for everyone in the home, bringing together HBO, a robust slate of new original series, key third-party licensed programs and movies, and fan favorites from Warner Media’s rich library including Warner Bros., New Line, DC, CNN, TNT, TBS, truTV, Turner Classic Movies, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Crunchyroll, Rooster Teeth, Looney Tunes and more. Sign up for updates at HBOMax.com.
WarnerMedia is a leading media and entertainment company that creates and distributes premium and popular content from a diverse array of talented storytellers and journalists to global audiences through its consumer brands including: HBO, HBO Now, HBO Max, Warner Bros., TNT, TBS, truTV, CNN, DC, New Line, Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Turner Classic Movies and others. WarnerMedia is part of AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T).
About Laura Benanti
In the midst of an illustrious career spanning Broadway, film, and television, Tony® Award-winning actress, singer and author, Laura Benanti now brings a longstanding dream to life as she gears up to release her new solo album with Sony Music Masterworks this year. She recently released a single, a cover of “Sucker” along with a moving video donating 100% of her earnings to FoodCorps. Additionally, on the heels of her viral social media campaign, #SunshineSongs, Laura debuted the Sunshine Songs Concert series to bring joy through music to senior living communities, aging loved ones isolated in their homes, children’s hospitals, and beyond. With starring roles on Broadway ranging from the My Fair Lady revival and Steve Martin’s Meteor Shower to She Loves Me, and the title role in Gypsy for which Laura garnered a Tony® Award (one of five career nominations to date). Meanwhile, her performance in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown garnered her a Drama Desk Award and Outer Critics Circle Award. Simultaneously, she enchanted audiences on the small screen, appearing on Younger, Supergirl, Nashville, The Good Wife, Nurse Jackie and her hilarious portrayal of First Lady Melania Trump on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert (among many others). In addition to films including Worth alongside Michael Keaton, Amy Ryan and Stanley Tucci and the upcoming “Here Today” alongside Billy Crystal and Tiffany Haddish, Laura recently released a hilarious book for Moms (co-written with her friend and Metropolitan Opera Star Kate Mangiameli) entitled “M is for MAMA (and also Merlot): A Modern Mom’s ABCs” available now at Barnes and Noble. Benanti is represented by UTA and Untitled. About World of Wonder
For more than two decades, award-winning production company World of Wonder has introduced audiences to new worlds, talent and ideas that have shaped culture. Programming highlights include: Emmy® Award winning “RuPaul’s Drag Race” (VH1/Logo), “Million Dollar Listing” LA & NY (Bravo), “Dancing Queen” (Netflix), “Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce” (Fuse), and “Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric” (National Geographic); award-winning films and documentaries including “Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures,” “Menendez: Blood Brothers,” “Inside Deep Throat,” “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” “I Am Britney Jean,” “In Vogue: The Editor’s Eye,” “Carrie Fisher’s Wishful Drinking,” “Monica in Black and White,” Emmy-winning “The Last Beekeeper,” and Emmy-winning “Out of Iraq.” Seven of WOW’s films have premiered at the Sundance Film festival including “Becoming Chaz” and “Party Monster.” World of Wonder has also created a substantial digital footprint with its YouTube channel WOWPresents (1M+ subs), SVOD digital platform WOW Presents Plus, along with an award-winning blog, The WOW Report. World of Wonder’s bi-annual RuPaul’s DragCon is the world’s largest drag culture convention, welcoming 100,000 attendees across LA and NYC in 2019 and expanding internationally to the UK in 2020. Co-founders Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey authored The World According to Wonder, celebrating decades of production, which can be found online at http://worldofwonder.net/. Randy and Fenton were honored with the IDA Pioneer Award in December 2014, celebrating exceptional achievement, leadership, and vision in the nonfiction and documentary community, named to Variety’s Reality Leaders List in 2017, and chosen for the OUT100 list in 2018 for their trailblazing work in the LGBTQ+ community. World of Wonder was also selected for Realscreen’s 2018 Global 100 list, which recognizes the top international non-fiction and unscripted production companies working in the industry today. World of Wonder creates out of a historic building/gallery space in the heart of Hollywood.
Brett McLaughlin, aka Leland, is a Golden Globe nominated songwriter, composer, executive producer and prominent figure in the LGBTQ+ community who has contributed to some of pop music’s most influential releases of the past few years. As a songwriter, he has collaborated with Selena Gomez (‘Rare’ and ‘Fetish’), Troye Sivan (Youth, Bloom, My My My!, Take Yourself Home), BTS (Louder Than Bombs), Ariana Grande, (Dance To This), Carrie Underwood (End Up With You), Charli XCX (1999), Lauv & Troye Sivan (I’m So Tired) and many more. Mclaughlin composed the score and wrote 12 original songs for the Netflix Original Movie ‘Sierra Burgess Is A Loser’ as well as executive producing the soundtrack. Other projects include composing musicals for the Emmy Award Winning ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’ and co-writing “Revelation” with Troye Sivan and Jonsi for ‘Boy Erased’, a biographical film about LGBTQ+ conversion therapy.
Culture Representation: Taking place in the 1950s in fictional Cayuga, New Mexico, the sci-fi drama “The Vast of Night” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with one African American) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: Two young people unexpectedly find out about mysterious UFO occurrences that appear to involve massive government conspiracies and cover-ups.
Culture Audience: “The Vast of Night” will appeal mostly to people who like movies that explore issues about life in outer space and what the U.S. government knows about it.
People who don’t know anything about “The Vast of Night” before seeing this sci-fi drama will get some pretty obvious clues within the first 20 minutes of this slow-burn-to-intensity film that’s clearly been inspired by “The Twilight Zone.” Taking place in the 1950s, the movie is set entirely during one night in the fictional city of Cayuga, New Mexico, where some of the people have reported unidentified flying objects (UFOs) in the sky during a night with a full moon.
There have also been some strange interruptions in the electrical lighting in certain buildings. “The Vast of Night”—directed by Andrew Patterson and written by James Montague and Craig W. Sanger—takes a while to get the action going, but the last third of the film is worth sticking around for, as the movie deliberately builds up to a suspenseful pace.
The city of Cayuga in this movie at first appears to be the type of tranquil, middle-class suburb where the majority of the city residents will turn up for a Cayuga High School basketball game as a major social event. That’s what is going on in the beginning of the film, as viewers are introduced to Everett Sloan (played by Jake Horowitz), a radio DJ who goes by the on-air name “The Maverick” when he works at the local station.
Everett, who appears to be in his late teens or early 20s, has in his possession a portable reel-to-reel tape recorder, which was a fancy new technology invention at the time. He’s making the rounds at the school’s gym during the pre-game practice to test out the recorder, which he plans to use to record the basketball game. Everett interviews people in the gym because he’s an aspiring investigative news journalist, but there’s also a sense that he wants to show off this recorder too.
Everett’s activity is briefly interrupted when he’s asked to help out some school administrators who have reported an electrical power problem in the room where the generators are stored. Apparently, the lights have been blinking off and on in certain parts of the school, and they don’t want any of these problems during the basketball game.
When Everett arrives, he finds out that there was an identity mix-up, and they wanted to send for a guy named Emmett (the school’s electrician), not Everett. The administrators mention that the electrical glitches are probably because of a small animal, such as a mouse or squirrel. As the movie continues, it seems like the only purpose of this scene is to establish that the town is having some unexplained electrical problems.
One of the people whom Everett encounters when he’s showing off his tape recorder is 16-year-old Fay Crocker (played by Sierra McCormick), who’s fascinated and a little intimidated by this new technology. Fay and Everett aren’t close friends, and he treats her like an older brother who doesn’t want his younger sister tagging along. But tag along she does, as Sierra and Everett make their way into the school’s parking lot, where several families are in their cars, waiting to be let in for the basketball game. Everett goes from car to car to further test his new tape recorder.
Although the dialogue in “The Vast of Night” is spoken with a rapid-fire pace (in the manner of that many American sci-fi/thriller films did back in the 1950s), the story unfolds in a leisurely manner in the beginning of the film. Not much happens in the first third of the movie, in order to create an atmosphere that this is supposed to be just a regular night in Cayuga, where the biggest thing going on is the basketball game.
Sierra and Everett aren’t staying at the basketball game because they have to work elsewhere. Everett is headed to the radio station, where he has a live broadcast for his music/talk show. Sierra is scheduled to work a shift alone as the city’s telephone switchboard operator.
Before they walk to their respective workplaces, Sierra and Everett have a lively discussion about some of the future technology that’s she’s read about in magazines like Modern Mechanics. She tells Everett that by the year 2000, there will be vacuum-tube transportation that can travel at incredible speed; phones that will look like tiny TVs; and lifelong telephone numbers as IDs that will be assigned to babies at birth, with the numbers disconnected upon death. Everett tells Sierra: “I believe the train tubes in the highways, but the tiny TV phones—that’s cuckoo.” (It’s the screenwriters’ obvious inside joke, since smartphones now exist.)
As soon as Sierra begins her switchboard operator shift, a few strange things start happening. She gets a call where all she hears is a repeated clicking-echo type of noise and nothing else. Then another call comes in, with a terrified woman saying that there appears to be a tornado coming toward her. A barking dog can be heard in the background, and then the caller is suddenly disconnected.
A concerned Sierra then calls a neighbor named Ethel to check on Sierra’s pre-school-age sister Ethel and the babysitter Maddie, who are both home alone at Sierra’s house. Sierra has been listening to Everett’s radio show while she works. She hears the strange clicking sound at the beginning of the show’s news broadcast, so she calls Everett to ask him if heard this strange noise too.
Everett didn’t hear it, but Sierra hooks him up to the phone line where he can hear it, and he records the noise. They both decide that Everett should play the noise on the air and ask listeners to call in and say if they recognize what this mysterious sound is.
A retired military man who identifies himself by the name Billy (played by Bruce Davis, in a voice role only) then calls in, and begins to tell a story live on the air. This story takes Everett and Sierra down a path of trying to uncover a mystery. Everett also gets a call from an elderly shut-in named Mabel Blanche (played by Gail Cronauer), who also has some information that’s part of the mystery, as the movie accelerates to a breakneck speed with a heart-pounding conclusion.
“The Vast of Night” uses a visual device of framing the story as if it’s an episode of a fictional show called “Paradox Theater” (an obvious nod to “The Twilight Zone”), by having some scenes open with the action playing out on a tiny, 1950s-style black-and-white TV. The movie’s cinematography by Miguel Ioann Littin Menz is infused with a lot of sepia tones that were common in movies of the 1950s, when color technology in films was still fairly new. And “The Vast of Night” also takes an unconventional approach by having the screen go completely dark during some suspenseful moments (one “blackout” scene lasts for about five minutes), which might give the viewers the impression that something is wrong with the screen or the movie’s playback.
Avid sci-fi fans will also notice some Easter eggs in “The Vast of Night,” such as Cayuga is the name of “Twilight Zone” creator Rod Serling’s Cayuga Productions. And the radio station that Everett works at is WOTW, which is an acronym for “War of the Worlds,” even though radio and TV stations west of the Mississippi River are supposed to have call letters that start with the letter K.
The only real flaw of “The Vast of Night” (and it’s a fairly minor one) is that the movie never really feels like it takes place in New Mexico, because “The Vast of Night” was actually filmed in Texas with a cast of mostly Texans and Oklahomans who keep their heavy Southern accents in the film. It’s kind of distracting for the cast to have the wrong accents, but this discrepancy in regional accents doesn’t take away too much from this engaging story. “The Vast of Night” might not be completely original in its subject matter, and the acting is good (not great), but the way the story is told with some unique touches should please die-hard sci-fi fans.
Amazon Prime Video premiered “The Vast of Night” on May 29, 2020.
Culture Representation: The documentary “On the Record” interviews a predominantly black group of people (with some representation of white people)—including #MeToo accusers, media people and activists—who discuss the #MeToo movement and accusations against disgraced entertainment mogul Russell Simmons.
Culture Clash: Most of the accusers are black, and they say there’s extra pressure on them to stay silent if they are accusing a black man because of the justice system’s racial inequalities for black men.
Culture Audience: “On the Record” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in the #MeToo movement and social justice issues.
It’s hard enough for many survivors of sexual assault to come forward, but for many people of color, there are added layers of complexity if the person making the assault claim is accusing someone of their own race. Black people are particularly sensitive to being called a “race traitor” when it comes to putting black men in the U.S. criminal justice system, which has a checkered history of racial inequalities. The meaningful documentary “On the Record” shines a light on this issue, as it tells the stories of several women who claim that they’ve been sexually assaulted or harassed by disgraced entertainment mogul Russell Simmons.
Simmons is best known for being the co-founder of Def Jam (which started off as a hip-hop record label and expanded into television and film), Rush Communications and the fashion brands Phat Farm and Baby Phat. In late 2017, at the beginning of the #MeToo Movement resurgence, several women came forward to accuse Simmons of rape or other sexual assault. He has denied all the allegations, by saying all the encounters were consensual. However, he stepped down from his businesses shortly after the public accusations.
One of the accusers is Drew Dixon, who claims that Simmons raped her in 1995, when she was an A&R executive at Def Jam. Dixon gets the most screen time in “On the Record,” because her process of deciding to come forward to The New York Times is chronicled in the documentary. Part of the documentary feels like a semi-biography of Dixon, since so much of her personal history is in the film.
The movie also shows a great deal of Dixon at home (where she’s shown listening to some of the music she worked on and even digging through her stuff to find an old Junior Mafia demo tape), as well as revisiting some of the places where she worked early in her music career. She’s also seen visiting with friends, as they discuss her decision to go public with her accusations. And even some of Dixon’s phone conversations with New York Times reporter Joe Coscarelli (who co-wrote the New York Times article with Melena Ryzik) are in the documentary.
Dixon is the daughter of politically active parents—her mother Sharon was elected the first African American female mayor of Washington, D.C., in 1991—and she has an education from prestigious universities. (She’s a graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Business School.) Although she came from a privileged background and likes a wide variety of music, Dixon says in “On the Record” that her heart lies with the street culture of hip-hop and other urban music.
“Music has always been a language I spoke,” Dixon says in the documentary. “Hip-hop had this additional appeal that was empowering for people who were otherwise overlooked. I grew up feeling that it was my mission as the daughter of local politicians. Hip-hop combined the two things that I loved: activism and this sense of pride with music. It seems like it could, I thought, to change the world.”
She knew she wanted to work in showbiz when she had the experience of booking the entertainment for her mother’s mayoral inauguration party. Rare Essence, Big Daddy Kane and Kwamé were the performers. It was then that Dixon decided that she had a knack for working with artists, so she had her sights set on working in a record company’s A&R (artists and repertoire) department, which is responsible for signing artists and overseeing music that goes on albums. After she graduated from Stanford in 1992, Dixon moved to New York City and began paying her dues in the music business.
Dixon worked as a receptionist at Empire Artist Management, Jive Records and Warner Bros. Records. She eventually became an executive at Zomba Publishing. In 1994, she landed what she thought at the time was her dream job: working in the A&R department at Def Jam Records, which was riding high with hip-hop artists such as LL Cool J, Public Enemy, EPMD, Warren G and Redman.
One of her first major successes at Def Jam was helping compile the hit soundtrack for the 1995 documentary film “The Show,” which featured songs from the Notorious B.I.G., 2Pac, Mary J. Blige, Method Man, Warren G, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and A Tribe Called Quest. Dixon also mentions in the documentary how in her early days in the music business, she knew the Notorious B.I.G. (also known as Biggie Smalls) before he was famous, and he would look out for her in the streets that were his territory where he was a drug dealer. Dixon also takes credit for being the person who came up with the idea to pair Blige and Method Man for their 1995 hit “I’ll Be There for You/You’re All I Need to Get By.”
In the documentary, Dixon goes into extensive detail about sexual misconduct she says that she experienced while she was a Def Jam employee. Dixon says that Simmons started off with saying crude sexual comments and trying to kiss her, which she felt pressured to laugh off at the time because she was afraid that he would lose her job if she complained. She says his behavior worsened, as he began sexually exposing himself to her.
Dixon remembers how she felt about it at the time: “I thought he was like a tragic ADD [attention-deficit disorder] puppy dog that I had to keep retraining … He always sheepishly apologized later, so I thought, ‘He feels bad.'”
She says that Simmons violently raped after he lured her into his home by telling her that he wanted her to hear some music from a new artist. According to Dixon, Simmons overpowered her, ignored her frantic attempts to stop the assault, and then afterward acted as if the encounter was consensual. Almost all his accusers tell similar stories.
Dixon says she was so traumatized that she eventually quit working for Def Jam. She became an A&R executive at Arista Records in 1996, where she had success working with such artists as Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, TLC, Usher and Carlos Santana. But things began to go sour for her at Arista when her boss Clive Davis was pushed out of the company and Antonio “L.A.” Reid became president/CEO of Arista in 2000.
Dixon says that Reid sexually harassed her repeatedly, and when she rejected his advances, he began to undermine her work. She says that she tried to sign Kanye West and John Legend to Arista, but Reid refused to let her sign them, and she believes it was partly out of spite. Dixon eventually quit Arista in 2004, and enrolled in Harvard Business School. However, she hasn’t worked at a major record company since then.
Reid (who was fired from Sony Music’s Epic Records in May 2017, because of alleged sexual harassment) and Simmons declined to be interviewed for the documentary. They each issued denial statements that are in the film. After the documentary was made, Simmons and rapper/actor 50 Cent made public statements pressuring executive producer Oprah Winfrey and Apple TV+ to drop the movie, which they eventually did. HBO Max acquired “On the Record” film after the movie’s well-received world premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
In “On the Record,” Dixon says that there were three things that happened in the fall of 2017 that compelled her to go public with her accusations: (1) When screenwriter/producer Jenny Lumet (daughter of acclaimed filmmaker Sidney Lumet) came forward with her own accusations about being raped by Simmons; (2) when Dixon saw the courage of Roy Moore’s accuser Beverly Young, who claimed that the disgraced politician sexually assaulted her when she was an underage teenager; and (3) when Dixon saw the statement that actor Harold Perrineau made about his actress daughter Aurora, who came forward with sexual-assault accusations against writer Maury Miller.
Dixon comments, “I thought, ‘I’d like to be a warrior. I’m tired of being a victim. I’ve been a victim for 22 years. Let me see what the other thing feels like. It can’t be worse.’ And that’s when I said, ‘Okay. I will go on the record.'”
Another accuser of Russell Simmons in the film is writer Alexia Norton Jones, who talks about how her past trauma still affects her. “He took a piece of me with him and he carried it with him for three fucking decades,” she says of Simmons. Dixon comments on going public after keeping silent for several years: “It was like pressing play on a movie I had paused 22 years ago in the middle of the scariest scene.” Other accusers in the film include Sheri Sher, a founding member of the all-female rap group Mercedes Ladies; singer/songwriter Tina Baker; publicist Kelly Cutrone; and model Keri Claussen Khalighi.
Sil Lai Abrams, another Simmons accuser who claims that he raped her, was an executive assistant at Def Jam in the 1990s. She describes the work environment: “It didn’t feel like an office, so much as you were almost like in a club.” Abrams comments that although there is “tremendous mobility for women” in the music business, “a lot of sexual harassment was baked into the culture.” Dixon also mentions that when she began working for Def Jam, Lyor Cohen (who was president of the record company and Simmons’ second-in-command at the time), wrongly assumed that Dixon had slept with Simmons to get the job.
Although some of Simmons’ accusers are white (such as Baker, Cutrone and Khalighi), most of the Simmons accusers are black. #MeToo movement founder Tarana Burke says, “A lot of black women felt disconnected to #MeToo initially. They felt like, ‘That’s great this sister is out there. We support her as an individual, but this movement is not for us.”
“Intersectionality” author Kimberlé Crenshaw comments on how #MeToo accusations are handled and perceived: “America picks and chooses who they are going to listen to. Not only does class have an indicator, but what that person looks like is an indicator. So, who we listen to is who we see as valuable in America.”
Dr. Joan Morgan (a feminist/cultural critic) and author Shanita Hubbard also weigh in with their thoughts on how black women might experience the #MeToo movement differently from other people. “I thought the black community would hate my guts,” Dixon says in explaining one of the reasons why she was very reluctant to come forward with her accusations about Simmons, who was responsible for employing and financially enriching a lot of black people.
Kierna Mayo, a former writer/editor at The Source (a leading hip-hop magazine), has this to say about black #MeToo survivors: “It’s high time that the lens turns to us, and that we’re allowed to be heard—and more importantly to be believed.” Mayo says that she believes the Simmons accusers because she knows what it’s like to be alone with Simmons. In the documentary interview, she doesn’t come right out and say that she has a #MeToo story about him, but she hints that if she did, she’s not ready to talk about it on camera.
One of the more powerful moments in the film is when Dixon, Abrams and Lumet meet up to show support for each other. Lumet says, “I didn’t expect anyone to be in it for the long haul with me. I’m glad I met you guys, because we’re in it for the long haul.”
The three women are also very candid in discussing colorism and admitting that being light-skinned black people gives them a “light privilege” advantage that people with darker skin might not have. Dixon comes right out and says: “Part of the reason why I did speak out is because I have ‘light privilege.'”
The documentary is undoubtedly sympathetic to the accusers and takes the viewpoint the accusers should not be vilified for how long it might have taken them to come forward, because every individual has a unique path in coming to terms with whatever trauma they experienced. Still, Lumet expresses guilt that is common for people who waited several years to tell their #MeToo stories: “I wish I could’ve gotten my shit together earlier so he [Russell Simmons] would’ve left everyone alone.”
“Off the Record” is a very female-centric movie, but there are a few men who are interviewed in the movie. Miguel Mojica, who was an A&R coordinator for EMI Records around the time that he knew Dixon back in the mid-1990s, says in the documentary that Dixon told him that Simmons raped her not long after it allegedly happened.
Mojica remembers that when he first met Dixon, “She was a bright spirit” and “we hit it off right away.” But he says she also changed after the alleged rape and wasn’t as light-hearted as she was when they first met. Other men interviewed in the movie are rapper/music producer Daddy-O and attorney Gary Watson, a former outside counsel to Def Jam.
Going public with the accusations wasn’t the only major life change for Dixon that’s chronicled in “Off the Record.” In the documentary, Dixon says that she asked her husband for a divorce, partly because of what she was going through with coming forward as a #MeToo survivor. (Dixon’s ex-husband and their two children are not in the movie.) But on the bright side, Dixon is shown taking steps to get back in the music industry, as there’s a scene of her mentoring a young singer named Ella Wylde.
Although Dixon gets the majority of the screen time compared to the other accusers, “On the Record” co-directors Kirby Dick and Amy Ziering don’t lose sight of the overall message that they obviously want the film to have: Sexual misconduct should not be excused because of someone’s race, and #MeToo survivors should not be shamed or pressured to keep silent because of their race.
HBO Max will premiere “On the Record” on May 27, 2020.
The following content is generally available worldwide, except where otherwise noted. All TV shows listed are for networks and streaming services based in the United States. All movies listed are those released in U.S. cinemas. This schedule is for content and events premiering this week and does not include content that has already been made available.
Monday, May 25 – Sunday, May 31
All times listed are Eastern Time/Pacific Time, unless otherwise noted.
Investigation Discovery’s “Nine at 9” promotion has nine documentaries for nine consecutive nights at 9 p.m. ET/PT, beginning on Monday, May 25.
“Who Killed Jeffrey Epstein?”
“The Inner Circle” (Episode 102) Sunday, May 31, 10 p.m., Investigation Discovery
“The Killer Truth”
“The Kitchen Window” (Episode 106) Sunday, May 31, 10 p.m., HLN
Movies in Theaters or on Home Video
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, most movie theaters in the U.S. are closed until further notice. Some independent movie theaters that are physically closed are showing movies online, as part of a “virtual cinema” program. Any movies listed below are available online as part of a “virtual cinema” program or are available for rent/purchase on other digital platforms.
No new true-crime movies released this week.
No new true-crime podcast series premieres this week.
Events listed here are not considered endorsements by this website. All ticket buyers with questions or concerns about the event should contact the event promoter or ticket seller directly.
All start times listed are local time.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, most in-person events in the U.S. have been cancelled or postponed if the event was expecting at least 50 people and was set to take place in May or June 2020.
Culture Representation: The documentary “AKA Jane Roe” interviews Norma McCorvey and an all-white group of people representing the working-class, middle-class and upper-class who talk about McCorvey and the impact she had on the abortion debate in the United States.
Culture Clash:McCovery advocated for both sides of the debate at different times in her life.
Culture Audience: “AKA Roe” will appeal primarily to people who have an interest in abortion issues, but the documentary will also appeal to people who want an inside look at how the media and activist leaders can be manipulated by an attention-hungry person.
Before she died of heart failure in February 2017, at the age of 69, controversial abortion-debate figurehead Norma Jean McCorvey participated in a documentary about her life and made a bombshell revelation while making the film. The ailing McCorvey had a “deathbed confession” about her extremely contradictory activism about abortion. That confession doesn’t come until the end of director Nick Sweeney’s absorbing documentary “AKA Jane Roe,” but the entire film offers a fascinating portrait of a deeply troubled woman who will forever be known as a groundbreaking plaintiff in abortion legislation.
A great deal of the documentary includes exclusive interviews with McCorvey and separate individual interviews with advocates on both sides of the abortion debate, as well as archival footage. As the title of the documentary indicates, McCorvey was also known by the alias Jane Roe, the plaintiff in the U.S. Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, which the plaintiff won, and it resulted in making abortion federally legal throughout the United States in 1973. Prior to this Supreme Court decision, it was up to an individual state to decide if abortion could be legal or not in the state. McCorvey was given the alias Jane Roe to protect her privacy, but after the Supreme Court decision, she went public with her real identity.
McCorvey, a Texas resident in the Dallas area, was divorced and pregnant with her third child in 1969, at the age of 21, when she sought an abortion in Texas and was denied. By her own admission, she was also an alcoholic, drug addict and “street person” during her 20s, and she was in no position to be a healthy and responsible mother to a child. And she couldn’t afford to travel to a state that had less restrictive abortion laws than Texas.
McCorvey had already lost custody of her first child, Melissa (also known as Missy), who was born during what McCorvey describes as an abusive marriage to a husband whom she married when she was 16 and whom she eventually divorced. Missy was primarily raised by McCorvey’s mother. McCorvey’s second child from another man was put up for adoption. The child whom McCorvey was pregnant with when she was denied an abortion (which led to the Roe v. Wade case) was also put up for adoption.
Although one might assume that McCorvey’s seedy and troubled background would make her a less-than-ideal “poster child” for the pro-choice movement, the movement selected her because she was the exact type of underprivileged and uneducated woman who was the most vulnerable to getting an unsafe, illegal abortion that could kill her. The Roe v. Wade case, with attorneys Sarah Heddington and Linda Coffee representing the plaintiff, applies to all females. But the plaintiffs’ attorneys argued that when abortion is illegal, poor people tend to suffer the most.
In the beginning of “AKA Jae Roe,” McCorvey tells her life story, by describing her unhappy childhood. She says that her mother was a “drunk” and a “two-faced bitch who didn’t want a second child—me.” She describes her mother as physically abusive to her and “someone who had a taste for the party life and didn’t want to let go.”
Her father couldn’t take it anymore and left the family when McCorvey was young. She became a juvenile delinquent, which set her on a path to becoming a drug addict, drug dealer and hustler by the time she was in her 20s. Andy Meiseler, who co-wrote McCorvey’s 1994 memoir “I Am Roe,” appears briefly in the documentary to talk about her background.
The documentary shows that McCorvey was in obviously failing health while doing these interviews. She’s wheelchair-bound and often wears an oxygen tube, even though in other parts of the movie, it’s clear that smoking is still a bad habit for her. When asked if she misses her family, McCorvey replies bitterly, “You can’t miss anything you never had.”
McCorvey also talks about knowing from an early age that her true sexual identity was being a lesbian. She describes how, at the age of 10, she and a friend named Rita, who was around the same age, robbed a gas station by stealing money from the register, so that they could run away to Oklahoma City. While the two girls were staying at a motel, a maid caught them kissing, and the two girls were arrested and sentenced to juvenile detention, partially because of the robbery but also because they were caught in homosexual activity.
As McCorvey remembers it, being in juvenile detention surrounded by other females confirmed her sexual preference: “I had a lot of girlfriends,” she says of her time locked up with other females. When she got out, she was sent to live with a male relative who sexually abused her. And then she got married at 16 to 22-year-old Woody McCorvey, only because (according to Norma McCorvey) her mother told that if she was having sex with him, she might as well marry him.
McCovery also admits in the film that she got married because she knew that Woody had a lot more money than she did. She mentions that she always dreamed of becoming a movie star so that she could have a glamorous life. And she says something very telling which also explains her motivations for her controversial decisions: “I learned straight on that if you’re nice and quiet and polite, no one pays attention to you—and I like attention.”
After being a very vocal pro-choice advocate in the 1970s and 1980s, McCovery went in the complete opposite direction in the 1990s and 2000s, by becoming a born-again Christian and voicing her support for the pro-life movement. Was this conversion sincere or was it all an act? In the documentary, she reveals that it was all an act, which she basically admits that she did for the money that pro-life groups were paying her.
The film takes a responsible journalistic approach by interviewing influential activists on both sides of the abortion debate. On the pro-choice side are Charlotte Taft (who was an abortion counselor at now-shuttered Routh Street Women’s Clinic in Dallas) and feminist attorney Gloria Allred, who had McCorvey as a client in the late 1980s. On the pro-life side are Rev. Flip Benham and Rev. Rob Schenck, who talk extensively about why the pro-life movement is working hard to make abortion illegal again.
Benham is by far the more fanatical of the two, since he doesn’t believe in any compromise in the abortion debate. He also advocates for and participates in using extreme tactics to get people to stop having or facilitating legal abortions. “I’m not an activist. I’m a Christian,” Benham insists, even though he is shown in a lot of news footage holding picket signs and shouting insults at people who go into clinics that provide abortions.
Taft calls Benham a “constant harasser.” He describes himself as “born-again” and someone who used to be a “drunken buffoon.” He adds, “I wanted my wife to abort our twin boys … But I came to the realization that abortion is murder.”
Schenck says that people in the pro-life movement consider Roe v. Wade to “represent the most loathsome and terrible practices in our society: killing children.” Just like Benham, Schenck worked closely with McCorvey when she switched alliances and became an activist for the pro-life movement.
Taft says about McCorvey’s about-face: “Being friends with Norma was a complicated experience.” The documentary points out that even before McCorvey renounced the pro-choice movement and began to campaign against abortion, she had already alienated herself from much of the pro-choice movement when, in the 1980s, she admitted that the abortion she sought back in 1969 wasn’t because it was a rape pregnancy. She said she lied to the doctor about being raped because she thought it would increase her chances of getting a medically approved abortion in Texas.
Although Roe v. Wade was never about how or why pregnancies occur, McCorvey’s credibility and reputation were tarnished when she publicly confessed that she lied about that 1969 pregnancy being the result of rape. That’s why when there was a major pro-choice rally in Washington, D.C., in April 1989 (an estimated 300,000 people attended), McCorvey was not invited to speak at the rally, even though she was there. She also wasn’t invited to be on stage. Instead, there were several celebrity speakers, such as Gloria Steinem, Whoopi Goldberg, Valerie Harper and Cybill Shepherd.
It was at this rally where attorney Allred first met McCorvey, who would eventually become her client. Allred says of McCorvey being snubbed by the pro-choice leaders at the rally: “She felt that she had been denied the opportunity to be recognized and acknowledged.” Allred and McCorvey did a whirlwind publicity tour to rehabilitate McCorvey’s public image as a pro-choice advocate. But by 1995, McCorvey had converted to Catholicism, renounced her previous life as a pro-choice activist, and became heavily involved in pro-life activities and fundamentalist Christian proselytism.
One of the casualties of McCorvey’s highly publicized religious conversion was her relationship with her longtime partner Connie Gonzalez. Although they had been living openly as lesbians even after McCorvey’s conversion, McCorvey and Gonzalez agreed to their church’s demands that they no longer engage in any homosexual activity. According to Benham: “One cannot be a practicing homosexual and Christian at the same time. That would be a distinct impossibility.”
In archival footage of Benham baptizing McCorvey in a swimming pool, Gonzalez looks on with a mixture of fear and sadness, as if she knew what would inevitably happen to her relationship with McCorvey. After Gonzalez had a stroke in 2004, McCorvey left her in 2006. When McCorvey talks about Gonzalez (who died in 2015) in the documentary, it’s the only time that the feisty and defiant McCorvey seems extremely vulnerable and regretful. She describes Gonzalez as a “good person” who was the love of her life.
One of the must-see aspects about “AKA Jane Roe” is how the documentary shows the reactions of Allred, Taft, Benham and Schenck when the filmmakers show them the interview footage of McCorvey proudly confessing that she just used the pro-life movement to get money—she received an estimated $456,911 over several years—and she only said what the pro-life leaders told her to say, not because she actually had pro-life beliefs. All of them initially react with surprise, but once the reality sinks in of what McCorvey confessed, they each have different follow-up responses.
The documentary also includes McCorvey getting a major shock of her own, when she’s shown reacting in angry disbelief to the results of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The morning after the election, McCorvey (who supported Hillary Clinton) is shown excusing herself to go get sick in the bathroom after it was officially declared that Donald Trump was going to be the 45th president of the United States.
As for whether or not McCorvey’s final words should be believed, even after she told so many abortion-related lies over the years, she says in the documentary’s interview footage: “I am a good actress. Of course, I’m not acting now.” McCorvey may not have made it to Hollywood to become a glamorous movie star, but it’s clear that she did get her wish to become a famous actress after all.
FX premiered “AKA Jane Roe” on May 22, 2020. FX on Hulu premiered “AKA Jane Roe” on May 23, 2020.
ABC officially announced its 2020-2021 TV shows, but has not yet announced the schedule. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the network’s upfront presentation, which traditionally takes place at Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall in New York City. Instead, the announcement was made online. Most of the existing shows had previously been announced as renewed. However, the upfront presentation made it official that “Emergence,” “Fresh Off the Boat,” “Bless This Mess,” “Schooled,” “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” “Kids Say the Darndest Things” and “Single Parents” have been cancelled. ABC has not yet announced the fates of “United We Fall,” “For Life,” “The Baker and the Beauty,” “Don’t” and “Family Food Fight.”
New scripted shows include the drama “Big Sky” and the comedy “Call Your Mother” (formerly “My Village”). The network’s new unscripted show is “Supermarket Sweep,” hosted by Leslie Jones. Some of the stars of the new shows are familiar to TV audiences. Jones was previously a “Saturday Night Live” cast member. “Call Your Mother” star Kyra Sedwick is best known for starring in “The Closer.” “Big Sky” star Katheryn Winnick was previously a series regular on “Vikings.”
The premiere dates will be announced at a later time. ABC has renewed the following shows: “American Housewife,” “Black-ish,” “The Conners,” “The Goldbergs,” “A Million Little Things,” “Mixed-ish,” “The Rookie,” ”Stumptown,” “20/20,” “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” “American Idol,” “Dancing with the Stars,” “Holey Moley,” “Shark Tank,” “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette.”
The following is an excerpt from an ABC press release:
NEW DRAMA SERIES
From visionary storyteller David E. Kelley (“Big Little Lies”) comes “Big Sky,” a thriller created by Kelley, who will write multiple episodes and serve as showrunner in its premiere season. Private detectives Cassie Dewell and Cody Hoyt join forces with his estranged wife and ex-cop, Jenny Hoyt, to search for two sisters who have been kidnapped by a truck driver on a remote highway in Montana. But when they discover that these are not the only girls who have disappeared in the area, they must race against the clock to stop the killer before another woman is taken. Based on the series of books by C.J. Box, “Big Sky” is executive produced by David E. Kelley, Ross Fineman, Matthew Gross, Paul McGuigan and C.J. Box and is produced by A+E Studios in association with 20th Century Fox Television. A+E Studios is the award-winning studio unit of the global media company A+E Networks, LLC. 20th Century Fox Television is a part of Disney Television Studios, alongside ABC Studios and Fox 21 Television Studios.
Cast: Katheryn Winnick as Jenny Hoyt, Kylie Bunbury as Cassie Dewell, Brian Geraghty as Ronald Pergman, Dedee Pfeiffer as Denise Brisbane, Natalie Alyn Lind as Danielle Sullivan, Jesse James Keitel as Jerrie, with John Carroll Lynch as Rick Legarski and Ryan Phillippe as Cody Hoyt.
NEW COMEDY SERIES
“CALL YOUR MOTHER”
From Kari Lizer (“The New Adventures of Old Christine”), this multicamera comedy follows an empty-nester mom who wonders how she ended up alone while her children live their best lives thousands of miles away. She decides her place is with her family and as she reinserts herself into their lives, her kids realize they might actually need her more than they thought. “Call Your Mother” is produced by Sony Pictures Television & ABC Studios. ABC Studios is a part of Disney Television Studios, alongside 20th Century Fox Television and Fox 21 Television Studios.
Cast: Kyra Sedgwick as Jean Raines, Rachel Sennott as Jackie Raines, Joey Bragg as Freddie Raines, Patrick Brammall as Danny, Emma Caymares as Celia and Austin Crute as Lane.
NEW ALTERNATIVE SERIES
ABC has not yet announced details about this game show.
Culture Representation: Taking place in New Orleans, the comedy “The Lovebirds” has a racially diverse cast (African Americans, Asians and white people) representing the middle-class and upper-class.
Culture Clash: Two bickering lovers try to solve a murder mystery so they won’t get blamed for the crime.
Culture Audience: “The Lovebirds” will appeal primarily to fans of Issa Rae, Kumail Nanjiani and predictable comedies that mix romance and action.
“The Lovebirds” is a perfect example of a movie whose trailer makes the film look a lot better than it actually is. It’s disappointing, since the comedic talents of Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani (the movie’s title characters) are wasted on a formulaic screenplay and pacing that is at times surprisingly dull for an action-oriented movie.
Paramount Pictures was originally going to release “The Lovebirds” in cinemas on April 3, 2020. But then, the coronavirus pandemic happened, movie theaters worldwide were shut down, Paramount dumped “The Lovebirds,” and gave the rights to Netflix. Given Netflix’s tendency to have silly and forgettable romantic comedy films, “The Lovebirds” is right at home on the streaming service. If the movie had been released in theaters, it certainly would not have been worth a full ticket price.
“The Lovebirds” starts out very promising in its first 20 minutes. The opening scene is of new couple Jibran (played by Nanjiani) and Leilani (played by Rae) having a blissful moment the morning after spending the night together for the first time. They head to a café, where they make the decision that their new relationship status has made it officially okay to kiss each other in public.
Four years later, Jibran and Leilani are living together, and their relationship has turned into a bickering hell. Jibran is an aspiring documentarian who hasn’t been able to finish his film about corruption in the education system. Leilani works at an ad agency and is the main earner for the household.
Leilani seems to resent that she has to carry most of the financial burden for the couple and is growing impatient that Jibran isn’t pulling his share of the weight. Meanwhile, Jibran is resentful that Leilani doesn’t understand the process of making the documentary, and he thinks she’s the one who’s being unreasonable. The concept of “success” and how it’s tied into self-esteem and respect from a love partner are the real issues in the relationship, but these issues come out in their arguments in petty ways.
For example, Leilani thinks it would be fun for her and Jibran to be contestants on the reality show “The Amazing Race,” a competition where teams of two complete challenges around the world , with the winning team getting a $1 million prize. Leilani has been begging Jibran to apply to the show with her, but he refuses because he’s a snob about reality TV and he’s insulted when Leilani compares documentaries to reality shows.
Meanwhile, Leilani is very social-media conscious and cares a great deal about what other couples in their circle of friends are posting on their social media, but Jibran could care less. When a mutual-friend couple announces their engagement on social media, Jibran chastises Leilani for “liking” the engagement photo, because she’s told him that she thinks marriage is “problematic.” But Leilani argues that if she didn’t “like” the photo, then she would look like a hater to everyone else.
Their arguing escalates into a huge shouting match where Jibran yells, “I don’t want to settle for someone who’s so fucking shallow!” Leilani responds with an insult that cuts even deeper: “I don’t want to settle for someone who’s satisfied with being a failure.” It’s at this point, that it looks like Jibran and Leilani have decided to end their relationship.
This argument is actually the best scene in the movie, which is why it’s so disappointing that the quality of the “Lovebirds” screenplay goes downhill from there. The next day, while Jibran and Leilani are a car together (he’s driving and she’s in the passenger seat), they begin arguing again about their relationship. Their bickering is suddenly interrupted when a man on a bicycle (played by Nicholas X. Parsons) crashes into their windshield.
A horrified Jibran and Leilani get out of the car and ask the man if he needs help, but he refuses and quickly rides off without noticing that he has dropped his phone, which Jibran keeps to probably turn in later. Suddenly, a mustachioed man (played by Paul Sparks) comes up to the couple and identifies himself as a cop who needs to use their car to chase after the man on the bike.
He quickly takes the wheel of the car, while Jibran and Leilani are both terrified and excited at being part of this car chase. Through some action-packed twists and turns, the biker gets cornered and the driver hits him with the car. Instead of calling for medical assistance, the driver instead runs the man over and kills him.
That’s when Leilani and Jibran realize that this mystery carjacker isn’t a cop after all. (The fact that he didn’t concerned about getting police backup during the car chase should’ve been a big clue.) And after the bicyclist is lying dead in the street, the carjacker/murderer runs away, just as another couple walks up and sees Jibran and Leilani standing next to the dead body.
The other couple assumes that Jibran and Leilani are responsible for killing the dead man with the car, so they immediately call 911. That leads to Jibran and Leilani frantically denying that they were responsible and trying to explain that a mystery man who ran away actually committed the crime. It doesn’t sound believable, so Jibran and Leilani both panic and run away, but not before calling out each other’s names so the female 911 caller can tell the police that information.
While taking refuge at a local restaurant, Leilani convinces a reluctant Jibran that they should try to solve the murder mystery on their own so they won’t get blamed for the crime. Her thinking is that it’s up to them to prove their innocence because the police won’t believe their story and it already looks bad that they ran away from the scene of the crime.
Jibran thinks it’s a better idea to explain to the police what happened, but Leilani refuses. She also plays into the couple’s fears of police treating black and brown people worse than other races, and that’s ultimately why Jibran goes along with her plan. The rest of the movie, which takes place over the course of one night, consists of Jibran and Leilani getting into more and more ridiculous situations.
Whether it’s a coincidence or not, Nanjiani previously co-starred in another over-the-top action comedy about a wacky twosome trying to solve a crime, in 2019’s “Stuber.” In “Stuber,” Uber was the ride-sharing service that gets a lot of product placement, while “The Lovebirds” has Lyft as the ride-sharing service of choice. “The Lovebirds” isn’t as annoying and silly as “Stuber,” but it’s pretty close. (You know a movie is bad if one of its big comedic scenes has the stars of the movie singing along when they hear Katy Perry’s “Firework.”)
The biggest disappointment of “The Lovebirds” is how often the movie’s pace drags when it shouldn’t. A scene with Jibran and Leilani ending up at a mysterious black-tie gathering with people wearing masks (something that’s in the movie’s trailer) could have been hilarious, but the humor ends up falling flat.
There are also some fight scenes that don’t make sense. For example, Jibran and Leilani break into what looks like a fraternity house and brutally assault one of the guys there (it’s in the trailer), but while this fight is going on, the other house residents who are in the next room unrealistically don’t hear this very loud and raucous fight. “The Lovebirds” is one of those slapstick movies where certain people get injuries that would send someone to a hospital in real life, but the severely injured person is still able to function as if the injury is nothing more than a pesky bruise.
Michael Showalter directed “The Lovebirds” after previously directing Nanjiani in the 2017 comedy “The Bick Sick,” a film inspired by the real-life love story of Nanjiani and his wife Emily V. Gordon, who both wrote the film’s Oscar-nominated screenplay. The difference in quality between “The Big Sick” and “The Lovebirds” shows how crucial having a well-written screenplay can be, even if the director is the same. Aaron Abrams and Brendan Gall, who wrote the formulaic and uninspired screenplay for “The Lovebirds,” mainly have a background in television (they both worked on the TV series “Blindspot”), so it seems they have a way to go before they can master the art of writing comedic feature films.
Rae and Nanjiani (who are executive producers of “The Lovebirds”) are both talented writers/actors who found fame on HBO comedy series—Rae on “Insecure,” Nanjiani on “Silicon Valley.” You can’t help but wonder how much better “The Lovebirds” would have been if Rae and/or Nanjiani had written the screenplay. Their performances in “The Lovebirds” sometimes elevate what is essentially lowbrow movie material, but the appealing personalities of these actors just can’t quite turn this stinking mess of a movie into the comedy feast that it should have been.
Netflix will premiere “The Lovebirds” on May 22, 2020.
The following is a combination of press releases from HBO Max:
WarnerMedia, a division of AT&T Inc.,announced today a robust slate of new distribution agreements that will make HBO Max, the company’s highly anticipated streaming platform, widely available to customers at launch later this month. Covering a range of categories and platforms, including cable and broadband operators, gaming consoles and connected TVs, the newest companies to sign on to distribute HBO Max at launch include Altice USA, Cox Communications, Microsoft, National Cable Television Cooperative (NCTC), Samsung, Sony Interactive Entertainment and Verizon. These companies join AT&T, Apple, Charter, Google, Hulu and YouTube TV in offering HBO Max to their customers at launch.
HBO Max will debut May 27, 2020with 10,000 hours of curated content and a programming lineup that offers something for everyone in the home. Anchored by the entire HBO service, the platform will also include an exciting roster of new original series, fan-favorite series and films from across WarnerMedia’s rich library and key third-party licensed programs and movies. HBO Max will be available from WarnerMedia at $14.99 per month.
“The launch of HBO Max is an important milestone for our company, and we’re excited that these valued partners will be on board for the launch,” said Rich Warren, president of WarnerMedia Distribution. “Through our expansive distribution pipeline, millions of customers will have immediate access to a best-in-class streaming experience come May 27.”
Detailed information about each distributors’ offering for HBO Max is as follows:
Altice USA has signed on to distribute HBO Max, giving all of its existing Optimum and Suddenlink HBO and HBO NOW subscribers immediate access to HBO Max and its expanded programming offering at launch. HBO Max will be available to these customers in addition to their existing HBO linear and on demand services and at no extra cost. Customers will be able to access HBO Max by downloading the app or accessing it on desktop and logging in using their Altice One, Optimum or Suddenlink credentials. Altice’s remaining and new customers will be able to purchase HBO Max directly from the company as part of a cable TV package, as an add-on to a video package, or as a standalone streaming service available to internet-only customers.
Verizon has signed on to distribute HBO Max to customers through its Fios TV and Fios Internet services. All of Verizon’s existing Fios customers who subscribe to HBO or HBO NOW will get immediate access to HBO Max at launch and at no extra cost. HBO Max will be available to these customers in addition to their existing HBO linear or streaming services. Those customers can use their Fios login credentials to access HBO Max either on supported devices through the app or via desktop. Verizon’s remaining and new Fios TV and Fios Internet customers will be able to purchase HBO Max directly from the company, as an add-on to video services or as a standalone streaming service available to internet-only customers.
Cox Communications, the largest private telecom provider in the U.S., will give all of Cox Contour’s existing HBO subscribers immediate access to HBO Max at launch and at no extra cost, in addition to their existing HBO linear and on demand services. Customers will be able to log into the HBO Max app on supported devices or access it on desktop and log in using their Cox account credentials. All remaining and new customers will be able to purchase HBO Max directly from Cox.
HBO Max will be made available at launch to independent cable and broadband operators – such as WOW!, Atlantic Broadband, RCN, Grande Communications & Wave, and MCTV, among others – through a new agreement with NCTC, on behalf of its 750 member companies throughout the U.S. and its territories. Existing HBO customers of the participating NCTC member companies will be given access to HBO Max at launch at no extra cost and new customers will be able to purchase HBO Max directly through their cable or broadband provider. The offering will then roll out more widely in the coming months, with additional member companies having the opportunity to provide the offering to their customers. For a full list of NCTC’s member companies, visit nctconline.org.
HBO Max will be available on PlayStation® 4 systems at launch. PlayStation® users in the U.S. who subscribe to HBO Max will be able to download the HBO Max app via the PlayStation®Store and access its full programming slate directly through their consoles for a seamless viewing experience beginning May 27th.
Users of Microsoft’s popular XboxOne gaming consoles in the U.S. who subscribe to HBO Max will be also able to access the platform at launch. The HBO Max app will be available on current Xbox One consoles and via the Microsoft Store on day one.
Finally, HBO Max will now be available through select Samsung TVs, bolstering the platform’s U.S. distribution to include a television manufacturer at launch. Owners of Samsung smart TVs – models from 2016 through 2020 – will be able to download and purchase HBO Max directly, offering another seamless viewing option for customers looking to access this best-in-class content experience.
In addition to including HBO favorites, Max Originals available at launch include Love Life, On the Record, Legendary, Craftopia, Looney Tunes and The Not Too Late Show with Elmo. Throughout the summer, new Max Originals will debut, including Karma, an original second season of the critically acclaimed DC fan favorite Doom Patrol, an original second season of Sesame Workshop’s animated series Esme & Roy, the return of the critically beloved mystery comedy Search Party, Adventure Time: Distant Lands- BMO, the three-part documentary series Expecting Amy, the adult animated comedy Close Enough, the 1988-set comedy Frayed, the heart-warming British animal rescue series The Dog House, the generational family docuseries The House of Ho, the animated children’s series Tig N’ Seek, and Seth Rogen’s feature length comedy An American Pickle.
“PlayStation” is a registered trademark or trademark of Sony Interactive Entertainment Inc.
May 27, 2020 UPDATE:
Comcast to Bring WarnerMedia’s HBO Max to Xfinity Customers
Comcast and WarnerMedia today announced a deal to bring HBO Max to Xfinity X1 and Flex customers. As part of the deal, existing Xfinity HBO customers will have access to HBO Max beginning today at no additional cost via the HBO Max app and website while the companies work to quickly bring the HBO Max app to the award-winning Xfinity X1 platform along with the recently launched Xfinity Flex, a 4K streaming device that is included with Xfinity Internet. Additionally, new customers will be able to purchase HBO Max directly through Xfinity in the coming days.
“X1 and Flex bring our customers an unmatched depth and breadth of live, on demand and streaming entertainment, and we look forward to partnering with WarnerMedia to integrate the HBO Max app on our platforms alongside close to 200 other streaming services – all searchable with the award-winning Xfinity Voice Remote,” said Rebecca Heap, Senior Vice President, Video and Entertainment, Comcast Cable.
”We’re thrilled to cap off the excitement of today’s launch by adding Comcast’s Xfinity to our roster of distributors who are now offering HBO Max to their customers,” said Rich Warren, president of WarnerMedia Distribution. “This deal marks another important step in the distribution of HBO Max and provides millions of Xfinity customers with access to the product.”
Existing Xfinity TV customers who subscribe to HBO either a la carte or as part of a package – along with Xfinity Internet customers who subscribe to HBO through Flex – can access HBO Max by signing in to the HBO Max app or website with their Xfinity credentials. When HBO Max launches on Xfinity platforms, it will join Peacock, Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Amazon Music, HBO, YouTube, EPIX, STARZ, Pandora, and many more streaming services on X1 and Flex.
Xfinity X1 delivers the most comprehensive library of entertainment on one platform – aggregating live TV, On Demand, and popular streaming apps from a growing collection of networks and streaming services. Xfinity Flex is a 4K streaming device included with Xfinity Internet that extends the best features of X1 to Xfinity Internet customers, giving them one integrated guide to access all of their streaming video and music, as well as a TV interface to manage their Xfinity WiFi, mobile, security and automation services – all of which is controllable with voice.
HBO Max is WarnerMedia’s newest direct-to-consumer streaming platform delivered over the internet with 10,000 hours of curated content and a programming slate that offers something for everyone in the home. Anchored by the entire HBO service, the platform also includes an exciting slate of new original series, fan-favorite series and films from across WarnerMedia’s rich library and key third-party licensed programs and movies.
About Comcast Corporation
Comcast Corporation (Nasdaq: CMCSA) is a global media and technology company with three primary businesses: Comcast Cable, NBCUniversal, and Sky. Comcast Cable is one of the United States’ largest video, high-speed internet, and phone providers to residential customers under the Xfinity brand, and also provides these services to businesses. It also provides wireless and security and automation services to residential customers under the Xfinity brand. NBCUniversal is global and operates news, entertainment and sports cable networks, the NBC and Telemundo broadcast networks, television production operations, television station groups, Universal Pictures, and Universal Parks and Resorts. Sky is one of Europe’s leading media and entertainment companies, connecting customers to a broad range of video content through its pay television services. It also provides communications services, including residential high-speed internet, phone, and wireless services. Sky operates the Sky News broadcast network and sports and entertainment networks, produces original content, and has exclusive content rights. Visit www.comcastcorporation.com for more information.
HBO Max to #ReleaseTheSnyderCut
After global passionate fan calls to action and the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut movement, HBO Maxand Warner Bros. Pictures announced today that it will exclusively world premiere Zack Snyder’s director’s cut of the Warner Bros. Pictures/DC feature film Justice League in 2021. Snyder surprised fans with the news this morning during a live online commentary of his film Man of Steel with Henry Cavill.
#ReleaseTheSnyderCut first became a passionate rallying social media cry among fans in 2017 and has not let up. From countless press articles and hundreds of thousands of social media mentions, it became a powerful global movement among cinephiles and comic book fans.
“I want to thank HBO Max and Warner Brothers for this brave gesture of supporting artists and allowing their true visions to be realized. Also a special thank you to all of those involved in the SnyderCut movement for making this a reality,” said Snyder.
“Since I got here 14 months ago, the chant to #ReleaseTheSnyderCut has been a daily drumbeat in our offices and inboxes. Well, the fans have asked, and we are thrilled to finally deliver. At the end of the day, it really is all about them and we are beyond excited to be able to release Zack’s ultimate vision for this film in 2021. This could never have happened if it weren’t for the hard work and combined efforts of the teams at HBO Max and Warner Bros. Pictures,” said Robert Greenblatt, Chairman, Warner Media Entertainment and Direct-To-Consumer.
“When Zack and Debbie shared the extraordinary vision of where Zack wanted to take Justice League, my team and our counterparts at Warner Bros. took it as a mission to solve the many issues that stood in the way,” said Kevin Reilly, Chief Content Officer at HBO Max, President, TNT, TBS and truTV. “Thanks to the partnership at Warner Bros. and the relentless pursuit of the entire WarnerMax team we are able to deliver this incredibly exciting moment for Zack, the fans and HBO Max.”
“Thanks to the efforts of a lot people, we’re excited to bring fans this highly anticipated version of Justice League,” said Toby Emmerich, Chairman, Warner Bros. Pictures Group. “This feels like the right time to share Zack’s story, and HBO Max is the perfect platform for it. We’re glad the creative planets aligned, allowing us to #ReleaseTheSnyderCut.”
In Justice League, fueled by his restored faith in humanity and inspired by Superman’s selfless act, Bruce Wayne enlists the help of his newfound ally, Diana Prince, to face an even greater enemy. Together, Batman and Wonder Woman work quickly to find and recruit a team of metahumans to stand against this newly awakened threat. But despite the formation of this unprecedented league of heroes—Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Cyborg and The Flash—it may already be too late to save the planet from an assault of catastrophic proportions.
The Justice League screenplay is by Chris Terrio, story by Chris Terrio & Zack Snyder, based on characters from DC, Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. The film’s producers are Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, with executive producers Christopher Nolan, Emma Thomas, Jim Rowe, Ben Affleck, Wesley Coller, Curtis Kanemoto, and Chris Terrio.
About HBO Max
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About Altice USA
Altice USA (NYSE: ATUS) is one of the largest broadband communications and video services providers in the United States, delivering broadband, pay television, mobile, proprietary content and advertising services to more than 4.9 million residential and business customers across 21 states through its Optimum and Suddenlink brands. The company operates a4, an advanced advertising and data business, which provides audience-based, multiscreen advertising solutions to local, regional and national businesses and advertising clients. Altice USA also offers hyper-local, national, international and business news through its News 12, Cheddar and i24NEWS networks.
About Cox Communications
Cox Communications is committed to creating meaningful moments of human connection through broadband applications and services. The largest private telecom company in America, we proudly serve six million homes and businesses across 18 states. We’re dedicated to empowering others to build a better future and celebrate diverse products, people, suppliers, communities and the characteristics that makes each one unique. Cox Communications is the largest division of Cox Enterprises, a family-owned business founded in1898 by Governor James M. Cox.
About National Cable Television Cooperative, Inc.
The National Cable Television Cooperative, Inc. (NCTC) is a Kansas-based, not-for-profit corporation that operates as a programming and hardware purchasing organization for its member companies who own and operate cable systems throughout the U.S. NCTC seeks to maximize current and future opportunities to ensure the profitability, competitive stature and long-term sustainability of its member companies. NCTC represents more than 750 small and mid-sized independent cable and broadband operators across the U.S., in programming and technology acquisition. NCTC is actively engaged in helping network providers and suppliers evolve their business models to deploy new video/data solutions to match the changes in the media landscape.
Culture Representation: The documentary “The Story of Soaps” takes a historical look at American TV soap operas and their impact on pop culture, by interviewing a racially diverse (white, African American and Latino) group of actors, screenwriters, TV producers and other people connected to the business of soap operas.
Culture Clash: Many of the people say in the documentary that soap operas are often misunderstood or underrated and that reality TV shows have brought on the decline of soap operas with professional actors.
Culture Audience: “The Story of Soaps” will appeal primarily to people who want to learn more about this type of this “guilty pleasure” TV genre and also take a breezy nostalgia trip for American soap operas’ most notable moments.
The comprehensive and thoroughly entertaining “The Story of Soaps” skillfully manages to make this documentary go beyond the expected compilation of TV clips and commentaries from talking heads about the history of American TV soap operas. The documentary also puts all of this sudsy entertainment into a cultural context that shows how soap operas have had much more influence than they’re typically given credit for when it comes to our entertainment choices and how we see the world.
Directed by Robin Pelleck and Rebecca Gitlitz (who are also executive producers of the documentary), “The Story of Soaps” packs in interviews with numerous people (mostly actors, screenwriters and producers) who are connected to the world of TV soap operas in some way. The long list of actors includes Kristian Alfonso, John Aniston, Alec Baldwin, Maurice Benard, Carol Burnett, Bryan Cranston, Mary Crosby, Eileen Davidson, Vivica A. Fox, Genie Francis, Diedre Hall, Jon Hamm, Drake Hogestyn, Finola Hughes, Susan Lucci, John McCook, Eddie Mills, Denise Richards, Marc Samuel, Melody Thomas Scott, Erika Slezak, John Stamos, Susan Sullivan, Greg Vaughan, Chandra Wilson and Laura Wright.
Screenwriters and producers interviewed in “The Story of Soaps” include Shelly Altman (“General Hospital,” “The Young and the Restless”); Brad Bell (“Husbands”); Lorraine Broderick (“All My Children,” “Days of Our Lives”); James H. Brown (“All My Children,” “The Young and the Restless”); Andy Cohen (“The Real Housewives” franchise); Marc Cherry (“Desperate Housewives”); David Jacobs (“Dallas,” “Knots Landing”); Agnes Nixon (the “All My Children” creator who passed away in 2016); Jonathan Murray (“The Real World”); Ken Olin (“This Is Us”); Jill Farren Phelps (“General Hospital”); Angela Shapiro-Mathes (“All My Children: Daytime’s Greatest Weddings”); Yhane Smith (“Harlem Queen”) and Chris Van Etten (“General Hospital”).
Other people interviewed are People magazine editorial director of entertainment Kate Coyne, “The Survival of Soap Opera” co-author Abigail De Kosnik, “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” co-star Erika Jayne, Netflix consultant Krista Smith, casting director Mark Teschner and Soap Opera Festivals Inc. co-founders Joyce Becker and Allan Sugarman.
Brad Pitt, Julianne Moore, Morgan Freeman and Tommy Lee Jones are named in the documentary as some of the Oscar-winning actors whose early careers on screen included roles in soap operas. Leonardo DiCaprio, Melissa Leo, Marisa Tomei and Kathy Bates are other Oscar-winning actors who were in soap operas before they became famous. Other alumni of daytime soap operas include William H. Macy, Demi Moore and Meg Ryan.
The documentary begins with testimonials from several actors who were in soap operas in the early years of careers, such as Cranston (“Loving”), Baldwin (“The Doctors,” “Knots Landing”), Stamos (“General Hospital”) and Fox (“Days of Our Lives”). Cranston’s first TV job was a guest role in “One Life to Live” in 1968. And when he was in his 20s, he landed a recurring role as Douglas Donavan in “Loving” in 1983.
Cranston says, “I think there are these derisive comments made about soap operas and it’s not fair and it’s not accurate. You’re there to learn. You’re there to bring as much honesty and reality as you can to the moment—and it’s difficult.”
“This genre [soap operas], this job invited me in and put me to work like nobody’s business,” Cranston continues. “It made me feel accomplished, like I broke through a barrier.” Cranston went on to become an Emmy-winning actor several years later, for his role as methamphetamine manufacturer/dealer Walter White in “Breaking Bad,” which he says was a show that was really a soap opera.
Baldwin also says that working in soap operas was extremely valuable to him. He describes “Knots Landing” (where he played the role of Joshua Rush from 1983 to 1985) this way: “It was probably one of the five most important times of my life. They had a very good cast. They had a very talented cast. And that changes everything when you go to work. You don’t care if it’s a soap if you’re working with somebody who’s great. I loved it.”
The grueling hours of working on a soap opera, especially a daytime soap opera that airs five times a week, results in a “sink or swim” atmosphere for a lot of actors who are new to the business. Stamos, who’s best known for starring in the long-running sitcom “Full House,” comments on his 1982-1984 stint as Blackie Parrish in “General Hospital,” which made him a star: “It was great training.”
Fox (who co-starred with Will Smith in the 1996 film “Independence Day”) says of her time on “The Young and the Restless,” where she played the character of Stephanie Simmons from 1994 to 1995: “I learned so much. I learned to hit my cue, how to memorize, how to cry, how to flip my hair.”
“General Hospital” casting director Teschner comments: “There was this stigma to daytime [soap operas] and people misperceiving the acting style as being over-the-top and ‘soapy.’ But I always say that if you can do daytime, you can do any time.” Teschner also mentions that it’s not unusual for a daytime soap opera to film up to 120 pages of dialogue a day, which is the amount of pages that’s typical for a feature-length movie.
“General Hospital” star Francis, who’s been playing Laura on the show since 1977, says in the documentary about her dedication to staying on a soap opera: “Why do I do it? Why do I put myself through this? Because I love to tell stories.”
“General Hospital” co-star Wright, who’s played the role of Carly on the show since 2005, offers a more business-minded perspective to what actors bring to the escapism appeal of soap operas: “It’s our job to sell it to you.” Many of the actors in “The Story of Soaps,” including Melody Thomas Scott (who’s played the character of Nikki on “The Young and the Restless” since 1979), say that because TV brings repeated familiarity in people’s homes, many soap opera fans confuse the actors with the characters that they play on TV.
“The Story of Soaps” has various themed segments which give excellent analysis and commentary on important aspects of soap-opera history. The segment titled “By Women, For Women” details how daytime soap operas have provided many of the best opportunities for women working in television behind the scenes. While male executives dominated prime-time programming, female executives were allowed to shine in daytime television, since the early years of television.
Irna Phillips, who’s often referred to as the “Queen of the Soaps,” could be considered the godmother of daytime TV soap operas, which took the concept of radio soap operas and transferred them to a visual medium. Phillips created the TV soaps “Guiding Light,” “As the World Turns” and “Another World.” She also mentored “All My Children” creator Nixon (who also created “One Life to Live” and “Loving”) and William J. Bell, who created “Another World” (with Phillips), “The Young and the Restless” and “The Bold and the Beautiful.”
In the 1950s, when it was more common for the majority of women to be homemakers, daytime soap operas provided an ideal captive audience for advertisers. The term “soap opera” comes from the fact that during the radio era (before television was invented), soap companies would be frequent advertisers on these drama series.
“The Survival of Soap Opera” co-author De Kosnik notes that when soap operas began on TV, they pioneered the lingering close-ups of actors’ faces to show their emotions, thus adding to the melodramatic appeal. She also mentions that loyalty to certain soap operas would be handed down from generation to generation of women, much like loyalty to certain sports teams would be a generational tradition for men. Although soap operas tend to have a female-majority audience, there’s been a steady increase of male fans of soap operas over the years, especially for primetime soaps.
The documentary’s “Fan-Addicts” segment examines the culture of soap opera fans. Benard (who’s played Sonny Corinthos on “General Hospital” since 1993) calls soap-opera enthusiasts: “The most loyal fans in the world.” The documentary includes a lot of archival footage of fans giving adulation to some of the most famous soap stars over the years, including Stamos and Lucci.
Lucci says of her iconic Erica Kane character, which she played during the entire run of “All My Children” from 1970 to 2011: “I loved playing her. There was such range with her. She was a capable of doing and saying just about anything. And the audience saw humanity in her stories.” And yes, the documentary includes footage of Lucci finally winning her first Daytime Emmy in 1999, after she had a long losing streak of being nominated 18 times and never winning before.
Soap Opera Festivals Inc. co-founder Becker reminisces about the company’s first fan event in 1977, which she says drew “hundreds of thousands of people”—a crowd turnout that probably wouldn’t be possible today, considering how much the popularity of daytime TV soap operas has declined. Becker also describes why soap opera fans are devoted to soap opera cast members: “It’s almost like your own family.”
Legendary comedian Burnett is famously an “All My Children” superfan—so much so that she had a guest-starring role on the show as Verla Grubbs in 1983, 1995, 2005 and 2011. In “The Story of Soaps,” she repeats a story she told in her memoir: When she and her husband spent a month-long vacation in Europe many years ago (before VCRs and the Internet), Burnett asked a friend of hers to send a telegram every Friday with a summary of everything that happened on “All My Children” that week.
One time in the early-morning hours, Burnett was awakened by a hotel employee who was trembling with the telegram, because the visibly shaken employee thought that all the tragic bad news in the telegram was real. Burnett said she started laughing so hard that she began to cry, and the hotel employee thought that she was crying hysterical tears of sorrow, until she explained that what was in the telegram was really an “All My Children” plot summary. Burnett says later in the documentary about “All My Children” being cancelled in 2011: “I’m still angry that they took it off the air.”
A documentary segment called “Love, Lust, Luke & Laura” explores how TV soaps often pushed the boundaries of raunchiness with sex scenes and outrageous love stories, beginning in the 1970s and ramping up even more in the 1980s. Stories about infidelities are very common in soap operas, but the sexual revolution also opened up wilder storylines on soap operas, such as falling in love with a space alien, taboo stepsibling romances and as much nudity as possible.
“General Hospital” characters Luke Spencer (played by Anthony Geary) and Laura were undoubtedly the most famous couple on daytime TV soap operas. Luke and Laura’s 1981 wedding on the show was a major media event, and it remains the highest-rated daytime TV soap opera event, with an estimated 30 million U.S. viewers. However, their relationship was controversial because Luke raped Laura when they first began dating.
De Kosnik says that the 1979 rape storyline was concocted by “General Hospital’s” then-executive producer Gloria Monty (who died in 2006), in a desperate ploy to boost the show’s ratings, because “General Hospital” was on the verge of being cancelled at the time. The show’s producers explained that the rape was “rape seduction” and justified it by saying that Luke really loved Laura. However, that kind of storyline would not have gotten such an easy pass if it had been suggested in later decades.
In “The Story of Soaps,” Francis says about that controversial rape storyline: “I had to justify it for so many years. And I have to say that it feels good to sit here and say it’s awful. They shouldn’t have done it.” In 1998, “General Hospital” made an attempt to remedy this wrong by having Laura angrily confront Luke (they were still married at this point) about the rape.
The documentary segment “It’s a Revolution” is one of the best that demonstrates how soap operas are both a reflection of and influence on culture. Just as soap operas were often the first TV series to have groundbreaking stories about sex, soaps were also among the first scripted TV drama series to address serious social issues. The Vietnam War controversy, abortion, interracial romances, gay teens, transgender relationships, AIDS, mental illness and eating disorders were among the many topics that were considered too taboo for scripted TV series until they were presented on TV soap operas.
“Days of Our Lives” star Diedre Hall, who has played Marlena Evans on the show since 1976, says: “The most compelling thing about daytime drama is that we follow the pulse of what’s goin on.” “General Hospital” writer Van Etten says that he used to be a “deeply closeted” gay man, but he was influenced to come to terms with his own sexuality after seeing Ryan Phillippe portray gay teen Billy Douglas in a 1992 “One Life to Live” storyline.
Emmy-winning “General Hospital” star Benard’s Sonny character is bipolar, and so is Benard in real life. Benard says of the “General Hospital” executives’ decision to make Sonny a biploar character: “I can’t thank them enough.” He says that authentic representation matters in destigmatizing mental illness.
The soap opera “Generations” also led the way in representation for African Americans, since it was one of the first scripted TV dramas to feature a white family and an African American family as equal stars of the show. Although the show didn’t last long (it was on the air from 1989 to 1991), “Generations” co-star Fox comments that the show “changed perceptions” of black people on soap operas, since the black characters on “Generations” weren’t just playing servants, sidekicks or other supporting characters.
But daytime soap operas began to have more competition in popularity with the resurgence of primetime soap operas. The documentary mentions two major social changes that began in the late 1970s and affected the rise of American primetime soaps, such as “Dallas,” “Dynasty,” “Knots Landing” and “Falcon Crest.” First, more women began working outside the home and didn’t have time to watch TV during the day, but they wanted to get their soap-opera fix at night. Second, the VCR became available as a home product, thereby revolutionizing the way people watched TV, by giving people the freedom to record and watch programs whenever they wanted.
“The Story of Soaps” also points out that the most popular primetime soaps in the 1980s were about rich families because it was a reflection of the decade’s fascination with excess and wealth. Former “Dallas” writer Jacob says it all came down to this concept: “People like to see people that rich [be] that miserable.” And, of course, the documentary includes a look at the “Who Shot J.R.?” cliffhanger phenomenon of “Dallas” in 1980, when lead character/villain J.R. Ewing got shot in the show’s third-season finale in March of that year, leaving viewers to wonder (until it was revealed in November 1980) who shot him and whether or not he was going to live. An estimated 83 million U.S. viewers watched the fourth-season premiere “Dallas” episode that solved the mystery.
And each popular TV soap opera of a decade is a reflection of what was going on society at the time. “Beverly Hills 90210” and “Melrose Place” were about people from Generation X establishing their identities and careers in the beginning of the Internet age. “Desperate Housewives” was a commentary on middle-aged, middle-class women in the suburbs during the end of the George W. Bush era and the beginning of the Barack Obama era. And awareness in the mid-to-late 2010s of more inclusivity on TV has been reflected in primetime soaps such as “Empire” (a show about an African American family dynasty) and “This Is Us,” which centers on an interracial family with diversity in body sizes.
The documentary’s “Stranger Than Fiction” segment takes an unflinching look at how reality TV has eroded the popularity of traditional soap operas. Reality TV programs have proliferated and thrived because they’re almost always cheaper to produce than scripted shows with professional actors. Several people interviewed say that the O.J. Simpson trial of 1995 was a TV game changer, since live coverage of the trial pre-empted many daytime soap operas, and many TV networks saw that the trial coverage got higher ratings than the soaps. The trial is often called “a real-life soap opera.”
“The Real World” executive producer Murray (who credits the show’s late co-creator Mary-Ellis Bunim for being a TV pioneer for TV soaps) says that they pitched MTV on the concept of “The Real World” as being a “docu-soap.” The late Pedro Zamora, who was on “The Real World: San Francisco” in 1994, is credited with helping bring more awareness to TV viewers about AIDS, since he was the first openly HIV-positive person to be on a reality TV series.
And most reality shows about people’s lives are basically just soap operas with people who usually aren’t professional actors. “The Real Housewives” franchise (which was inspired by “Desperate Housewives”) and the Kardashian/Jenner family and are predictably mentioned. Many former reality TV stars have admitted (but not in this documentary) that much of what’s on these reality TV shows is already pre-planned by the show’s producers. Curiously, this documentary didn’t include any footage from “The Bachelor” franchise, which has been described as being among the most “soap opera-ish” reality shows of all time.
The documentary’s “Death of Daytime” segment gives an overview of the cancellations of numerous daytime TV soap operas in the 2000s and 2010s. “Guiding Light,” “As the World Turns,” “Passions,” “All My Children,” “One Life to Live” and “Port Charles” were the long-running American soap operas that were cancelled in these decades. “All My Children” was the cancellation that caused the most viewer outrage, according the documentary. The rise of social media, streaming services, interactive websites, apps and podcasts have further fragmented audiences, who now have millions of more options than the days when there were only a handful of national TV networks in the United States.
Although soap operas seem to be a dying genre, several people interviewed in the documentary point out that many Emmy-winning prestigious shows of the 2000s and 2010s were really soap operas, including “Game of Thrones,” “Breaking Bad,” “The Sopranos” and “Orange Is the New Black.” On the other end of the spectrum, trashy talk shows hosted by the likes of Jerry Springer, Maury Povich, Morton Downey Jr., Sally Jessy Raphael and Jenny Jones also took their cues from soap operas, since these shows thrived on creating nasty fights with guests while the cameras were rolling.
TV news has also absorbed the influence soap operas, as many news programs (especially on cable TV) have taken big stories and presented them as soap operas, with TV hosts and commentators being sort of like a Greek chorus weighing in with their opinions. The overall message of “The Story of Soaps” seems to be that if people have a snobbish attitude toward soap operas, then they should take a look at their favorite entertainment and media and see how much soap operas have had an influence. They might be surprised to see how much soap operas have impacted our culture.
ABC premiered “The Story of Soaps” on May 19, 2020.