It was an Everest moment in what would later be called Peak TV. It defined Game of Thrones as a pop-culture event that made sure to build moments into every season that were designed to stun the audience and compel primal reactions: lusty cheers, howls of rage, cathartic weeping. And it was proof that social media had changed how people watch their favorite shows, uniting people around the world in a virtual living room. Ned’s execution was foretold in the source material, George R.R. Martin’s best-selling novels, but it was a seismic shock for viewers who had no idea what they’d signed up for — a gut punch for grown-ups on par with the childhood agonies of losing Simba’s father and Bambi’s mother. In the old days (roughly pre-aughts — Facebook went online in 2005, Twitter in 2006), people might have cursed desperately or shed a tear, then commiserated with whomever happened to be sitting on the couch beside them. Or they would’ve called a friend or relative that they knew to be a fan. Or they might’ve gone online and left a post in a chat room, then refreshed the page to see if similarly bummed fans had logged on.
As established by other milestone moments strewn throughout TV’s history — from the birth of Lucy and Ricky’s son on I Love Lucy and the exoneration of Dr. Richard Kimble in the concluding two-parter of The Fugitive, through the still-controversial finales of Seinfeld, The Sopranos, Lost, and Battlestar Galactica — TV’s advantage over other storytelling mediums is a feeling of simultaneity. Whatever’s happening onscreen, we’re experiencing it together: millions of us, all at the same time (in our respective time zones, anyway). That’s when TV attains maximum TV-ness. It’s why live events like the Super Bowl and the Oscars still command high ad rates despite all the people who’ve cut their cable-TV cords and gone streaming-only. And it’s why, despite all the different iterations of time-shifting tech, from VHS to DVR, true fans prefer to watch their beloved series at the same moment as everyone else. We want to be part of something larger.
We cheered as the Hound and Arya teamed up. We marveled at the overwhelming scale of “The Battle of the Bstads” and “Baelor.” We shuddered as the Night King raised the dead. It wasn’t just happening. It was happening to us. It was happening to everyone who was riveted by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’s adaption, which acquired an extra-dramatic thrill after season six when it ran out of existing material and had to find its own path to an ending.
Until 2017, when HBO cracked down on piracy, Thrones was the most illegally downloaded show globally; you can watch it on your phone, laptop, and tablet, or catch it on HBO Now whenever you like, as many do. But it feels much more like a bridging series, more emotionally and creatively attuned to TV’s past than to its present and future. “We” are still doing things together, but rarely at the same moment. The experience of watching TV has become more like reading a novel or listening to music on headphones (or perhaps seeing a film in a theater with only one or two people in it). We’re aware that others are experiencing the story, but they aren’t physically or virtually with us as the plot unfolds. We watch new episodes of favorite shows when we get around to them. We discuss them when we’re able, and try to avoid spoilers in the meantime.
After the battle, massacre, double-cross, or conflagration that brings the curtain down on Martin’s world, an era will have ended in Westeros. And as goes Westeros, so goes TV.
Game of Thrones may be the last show we all watch together the way we used to, on such a tremendous scale. Even if you don’t watch it, you may feel as if you do. So many key incidents on the series — including the Red Wedding, Cersei’s walk of shame, and the death and resurrection of Jon Snow — seeped into the surrounding culture and became synonymous with “shocking plot twist” (or “obligatory plot twist”) even for people who’d never seen a frame of it. It’s a lavishly produced, massively popular piece of entertainment that generates awareness far out or proportion to its legal viewership (between 12 million and 16 million people watch a first-run episode, according to HBO), dominating online TV conversation during consecutive weeks when it airs new installments.
The most important words in that last sentence are “consecutive weeks” and “installments.” From the heyday of Charles Dickens, whose piecemeal novels were so popular that superfans used to wait at the docks for shipments of periodicals containing the latest installments, serialized storytelling has always known how to hook people’s imaginations with the bait of “What will happen next?”
Television, as it existed from the 1950s until recently, was the ultimate incarnation of the form. You can draw a direct line from Dickens to the comic strips that told stories over the course of weeks or months in newspapers to the half-hour adventure serials that used to play in movie theaters (new installments every Saturday!) to Janice plugging Richie in season two of The Sopranos, one episode prior to the finale, when everyone expected him to die at Tony’s hands.
The streaming era of scripted drama came into its own six years ago, when David Fincher debuted House of Cards on Netflix. It wasn’t the first show to “drop” an entire season rather than parcel it out over time. Other streaming services had released seasons, including the Netflix gangster comedy Lilyhammer. Broadcast and cable networks had experimented behind-the-scenes with making whole seasons available to critics, to demonstrate the coherence of a season-long story (the first cable series to do this was season four of The Wire). But the combination of a famous showrunner, two big-name stars (Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright), copious production values, a major marketing campaign, and the presence of many knee-jerk “prestige TV” signifiers (including murderous anti-hero protagonists, Godfather-styled plotting, and Stygian lighting) made this one feel like a next-generation evolution of a storytelling genre perfected by The Sopranos.
This version of the TV drama wouldn’t have existed without the convergence of three important factors: new technology (high-bandwidth streaming video, solid enough to do justice to cinematically rich imagery); a new TV storytelling model (the one-season dump); and the virtual watercooler of social media, where TV fans gathered to analyze, praise, and condemn whatever was happening on their favorite shows, at the exact moment when it happened.
The virtual watercooler was a logical outgrowth of the “watching parties” that have been occurring in bars and private residences since the medium’s creation, and that spiked whenever a pop-culture-realigning show aired a finale. Spoiler etiquette came out of it, a subject of constant debate because we were all in a transitional phase of viewership: one in which people were commenting on TV series live and simultaneously (at least within a particular time zone) because the shows all started at a predetermined hour, and you arrived promptly (or tried to) and started watching at the same time as everyone else.
The state-of-the-art incarnation of virtual-watercooler viewing, where you could watch viewer response play out in real time like EKG readings of a fluttering heart, had a brief run, all things considered. Shows like American Horror Story, Scandal, Pretty Little Liars, Homeland, and Empire saw what was happening and played to it, building OMG!!!! moments into every episode, sparking tweets, giving birth to GIFs, and inspiring next-day reaction pieces at media outlets like this one.
The heyday of the virtual watercooler spanned from the debuts of Facebook and Twitter in the mid-aughts through maybe a couple of years ago, when the Netflix/Amazon model of season-dumping became so ubiquitous, it’s now the default release method for streaming services. (And how fitting that two of the reigning wizards of OMG TV, Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy, would get deals at Netflix.)
Nowadays, the online conversation around streaming series still exists, but it takes a different form. If a show starts trending on Twitter, it’s often because people have already watched the full season and want to recommend it to others, not because they want to experience the same moment with everyone else. Shows like Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Bosch and Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why, Russian Doll, and Ozark built online buzz gradually, through word of mouth, more like an indie film slowly working its way across the country than a Marvel movie opening on 3,000 screens at once.
Versions of the virtual-watercooler phenomenon still exist for broadcast and cable series with large, loyal followings, like RuPaul’s Drag Race and This Is Us, and for events like the Super Bowl, the Oscars, and live productions of musicals. But it’s not as pervasive as it used to be. Once Game of Thrones ends, the experience may start to feel like a nostalgia act. And the No. 1 culprit will be streaming video and the one-season binge-drop model, which is but one subset of the convenience-based technology that’s revolutionizing every corner of life, for better or worse.
I once told my own children, who were born around the turn of the millennium, that when their dad was a child, there were only three broadcast networks, and we had to sit in front of the TV at a particular time on a particular day if we wanted to watch our favorite show, and that if we missed it, we had to wait months for a rerun, and hope we were sitting in front of the TV for round two, and after that, we’d have to catch up with it in syndication. They acted as if I’d described hunting woolly mammoths with hand-carved spears. Increasingly, we do everything according to our own bespoke timetables, whether it’s watching a show on Amazon or Netflix, reading editorials or watching cable-news segments when somebody brings them to our attention via Twitter or Facebook, ordering a meal from Seamless, or getting an Uber or Lyft to take us to the airport this weekend.
The convenience revolution has downsides that would be too huge to summarize here (gig economy, death of the middle class) even if they didn’t fall outside the purview of this piece. But it seems self-evident that one side effect is draining the virtual watercooler and replacing it with a more fragmented, solitary process. It’s trading the opening-night energy of previous iterations of TV for a systematic accumulation of interest that doesn’t reach critical mass until other people get around to watching the same show as you.
TV doesn’t feel the same when you watch it that way. It’s more of a solitary experience, no matter how many fellow fans discuss it with you on social media. And it necessarily reduces the level of excitement surrounding a season or series finale because the show has been deprived of that measured pace of one episode per week, with six days of contemplation and anticipation in between each chapter, all leading inexorably to that last run of episodes during which the fans, who’ve spent years living and breathing this thing, come to terms with the totality of the accomplishment, and ready themselves for the exquisite and horrible moment when the storytellers swing that sword at our necks and the birds take flight and the credits roll for the last time.
When TV ceases to be an appointment activity, however minor in the greater scheme, it becomes just another thing we fit into our lives, in addition to all the other things; it becomes just another form of content, along with movies, stand-up specials, YouTube videos of people twerking and failing at parkour and dressing their dogs like Game of Thrones characters. This may be a good thing or a bad thing or just a thing. But it is happening, or has happened. All that’s left is the stock-taking and analysis — and for one last time, Game of Thrones. Littlefinger summed it up for us: “The past is gone for good. You can sit here mourning its departure, or prepare for the future.”
Spider Man: Jackson disappointed in Promoters.
African-American actor and film producer, Samuel Leroy Jackson has expressed displeasure in the producers and promoters of the Spider-Man: Far From Home movie, as the newest marketing materials was marred with some series of errors.
The Marvel star reprises his role as former S.H.I.E.L.D. boss and flerken friend Nick Fury in the upcoming Spider-Man movie (in theaters July 2). Posters and trailers for the film have teased the first major meeting between Fury and Tom Holland’s Spider-Man, but as Jackson pointed out on Instagram, at least one poster portrays Fury with a major mistake
Jackson shared a side-by-side comparison of two Spider-Man posters, each with Fury’s signature eyepatch on a different eye. (For the record, as Jackson reiterates, Fury’s eyepatch belongs on his left eye, as that was the one he lost in a not-so-savage battle with Captain Marvel’s cat/flerken, Goose.)
Far From Home marks Jackson’s 11th onscreen appearance as the super-spy, and the film follows him as he introduces Spider-Man to a new ally, Jake Gyllenhaal’s Mysterio. “It was great to have [Jackson] on set intimidating everyone,” director Jon Watts previously told EW, laughing. “It was just like Nick Fury was actually there, keeping everyone on their toes.”
And, according to film producers Naomi Ellen Watts, Far From Home also finds Fury struggling to pick up the pieces after the events of Avengers: Endgame.
“He’s been gone for five years, too,” Watts said. “He’s the guy who’s always known everything about everything. He’s the guy who created the Avengers, and now here he is, returning after five years and seeing a very, very different world. So that’s a situation we’ve never seen him in before. The guy who’s always been in control not having the same level of control is interesting.”
‘Men in Black: International’ Heads for Disappointing $24 Million Launch
Sony’s “Men in Black: International” is heading for a disappointing $24 million opening weekend in the top spot at a mild North American box office, early estimates showed Friday.
The fourth iteration of the sci-fi comedy franchise is performing well under modest expectations, which had been in the $30 million range at 4,224 locations. “Men in Black: International” stars Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, replacing Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as the black-suited agents dealing with a baffling series of alien attacks against Earth.
New Line’s launch of its “Shaft” reboot is also showing little traction at multiplexes with Friday estimates coming in around $8 million at 2,952 sites, far below forecasts in the $16 million to $24 million range for the weekend. And Amazon’s widened release of its Mindy Kaling-Emma Thompson comedy “Late Night” was also falling flat at about $4 million at 2,218 venues.
The sole bright spots for the weekend appear to be Universal’s second weekend of “The Secret Life of Pets 2,” declining about 53% to around $22 million, and Disney’s fourth frame of “Aladdin” with about $17 million. The live-action reboot of “Aladdin” should finish the weekend with approximately $262 million domestically.
“Men in Black: International” takes place in the same universe as the previous trilogy, with Emma Thompson reprising her role as Agent O. Kumail Nanjiani, Rebecca Ferguson, Rafe Spall and twins Laurent and Larry Bourgeois also star. The film, set in the London bureau of the top-secret Men in Black organization, is directed by F. Gary Gray and written by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, based on the Malibu comic by Lowell Cunningham. The budget for “Men in Black: International” is $110 million, co-financed by Hemisphere and Tencent.
The previous three “Men in Black” films combined for more than $1.6 billion in worldwide box office. All three scored North American debut weekends of more than $50 million. “Men in Black: International” is also launching in most international markets. Reviews were dismal with a 25% score on Rotten Tomatoes.
“Shaft,” the fifth film in the franchise, stars Jessie Usher playing John “JJ” Shaft Jr., an FBI agent and a cybersecurity expert with a degree from MIT. Samuel L. Jackson plays his estranged father and Richard Roundtree plays his grandfather, the original Shaft, as he did in the first three “Shaft” movies in the early 1970s. Critics were unimpressed, resulting in a 35% Rotten Tomatoes score.
“Late Night” had generated forecasts in the $5 million to $9 million range. The film was acquired by Amazon following its Sundance premiere for a record $13 million and launched in four locations last weekend with a solid $246,035. It benefits from more positive reviews, sitting at 80% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Focus is seeing moderate returns on its launch of Jim Jarmusch’s “The Dead Don’t Die” with around $3 million at 613 locations. The zombie comedy, starring Bill Murray and Adam Driver, was the opening night film at the Cannes Film Festival last month. Reviews have been mixed with a 51% score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Year-to-date domestic box office as of June 12 has hit $4.93 billion, down 6% from the same point last year, according to Comscore. “Avengers: Endgame,” which has topped $826 million in seven weeks, and “Aladdin” had helped narrow the gap — which should widen again this weekend, thanks to overall business falling short of last year’s $182 million opening for “Incredibles 2.”
Disney’s “Toy Story 4” should rescue the box office next weekend. Early tracking had placed the animated comedy with a debut in the $150 million range.
Janet Mock Signs History-Making Deal With Netflix
Last year, Janet Mock made her directorial debut with the popular FX series Pose. Now, she's making history as the first trans woman of color to sign an overall deal with Netflix, where she'll direct and produce a slate of projects for the streaming giant.
"This deal is so bonkers,” she announced in a video posted to Netflix's Strong Black Lead vertical. “I, of course, will be writing and directing and developing a few hush hush projects that I can’t really talk about, but one of them is a half-hour drama and another is a college series. So I’m really excited for that.”
According to Variety, Mock has signed a three year multimillion-dollar, which will give the streaming giant rights to her television series and first-look option on feature films. Mock will also executive produce and direct Ryan Murphy's upcoming series Hollywood, which Murphy previously described as "a love letter to the Golden Age of Tinseltown." Even though she's heading over to Netflix, Mock will continue to direct and write on Pose.
“This is the first kind of deal of its kind for a trans person, no less a trans woman of color,” she continued in the video. "You know 84% of Americans say that they don’t know and or work with a trans person, and so there’s potential now with Netflix’s worldwide audience to introduce millions, hundreds of millions of viewers to trans people and showing people who may not understand us that we can tell our own stories.”
Gina Rodriguez Had To Stop Filming ‘Jane the Virgin’ For Her Mental Health.
Gina Rodriguez has been open about having anxiety, and with the final season of Jane the Virgin wrapping up this summer, Gina got candid about how she had to stop filming the show for her mental health.
During a discussion on mental health at The Kennedy Forum with NBC's Kate Snow, Gina said she can typically work through her anxiety and keep acting but wasn't able to this season. She explained:
"There was a point where I couldn’t…push through every single time anymore, and I’m one of those human beings…where they're just like, I’ll handle it later. I’ll deal with it later. I’ll figure it out later. I just have to do this now. All the while you’re dealing with your silent little dragon in your head. And it came to a point, and this last season was the first season where I had to stop production. I had a really tumultuous season, and I was unafraid for the first time to be like, ‘I can’t.’”
After hearing Kate's husband, Chris Bro, open up about depression and experiencing suicidal thoughts, Gina explained that she can relate.
Gina said she remembers having depression starting at age 16 and that it could be linked to her Hashimoto's disease, which is an autoimmune thyroid disorder.
Thankfully, Gina said that once she started talking to other people about her mental health, "it just opened up a pathway that allowed me to talk about it freely, to seek help, to be unafraid."
Later, she explained that she wants to continue talking about mental health awareness because so many people look up to her. She said, "It has to be a part of the conversations I have with these young girls. I can’t just tell them to go out and make their dreams come true and then to ignore everything else.”
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