The entertainment business, and original programming specifically, has always been a fickle mistress; but because of Hollywood’s recent obsession with vertical integration, expect to see a heavy dose of reboots and remakes coming to a streaming service near you.
Major production studios now fancy themselves as tech companies. Instead of being in the business of developing creative entertainment, players like Disney, Paramount, and Universal are now squarely in the streaming space. Actual tech companies, like Netflix and Amazon, forced their hand, they’d say.
In public-facing interviews, executives of these companies will give you a shrug and an anecdote about Darwinism: tech is the future, and we prefer to survive and evolve. Privately, though, they beam, because their jobs became significantly easier while their paychecks became significantly higher.
At this point, the streaming wars are about just gathering munitions. There’s a race to stockpile content, to squeeze any last drops of blood from old turnips, and to hump any carcass of nostalgia that was left for dead decades ago. The creative business is no longer about creativity; the premium ticket price that a theater fetched for two hours of time now represents roughly two months of recurring revenue instead. In other words, the objectives have changed.
The new business model is about time spent staring at an app, and the best way to accomplish that goal is by getting under your skin in any way possible. Ask any entertainment executive what he truly thinks about original content after a couple scotches, and they’ll all tell you the same thing: hitting dingers is great, but we’re trying to bat for average. To hell with the new, give me what works, they’d say.
And that’s exactly what’s happening with this new Field of Dreams reboot for Peacock. NBCUniversal executives saw that the nostalgia worked last week with the tremendously successful MLB game, and then immediately decided to regurgitate the story once again. They know it won’t work like the film worked, and they know it will taint the legacy of the IP. But just like Facebook rose to prominence on the backs of algorithms meant to encourage division and derision, so, too, is the entertainment business fine with whatever bastardization of great content is necessary to keep engagement high.
What’s most ironic is that films like Field of Dreams—the really meaty, beloved stuff that speaks to us in ways we didn’t know were possible—were difficult to make even back in 1989. The script looks like a slam dunk now, but Kevin Costner undoubtedly had to cash in a large stack of Hollywood goodwill in order to convince someone to give this movie a chance. Once the IP becomes successful, of course, all of the corporate dolts without a creative bone in their bodies come out from the woodwork beaming, as if they hadn’t tried to sabotage the project every step of the way. The back-and-forth between talent and leech has raged for decades in Hollywood, and it appears the leeches finally won.
If you ever want the pendulum to swing back in favor of producing thoughtful, original content, then make big technology a smaller part of your life. Take the fifty bucks you’d spend on five monthly streaming services and spend it on a couple independent companies instead. These people aren’t trying to entertain you anymore; they’re trying to hypnotize you into a bottomless pit of scrolling and trolling.
You’re never again going to get entertainment that moves you emotionally like Ray Kinsella’s catch with his father does. You’re never going to feel the orchestra carry your heart into the final credits as an Iowa sky glows pink over a beautiful baseball diamond. And you’re never going to be transported to a place where the wounds of humanity heal gracefully, thanks to an old mitt and a moment of forgiveness. That is, unless you do something crazy, like plow under your crop and build a baseball field, or abandon the status quo in favor of something better.
We must support real creative art vigorously, and with care, or else we risk losing it forever.
Cover photo via Universal/Gordon/Kobal/REX/Shutt.