Streaming

Now’s the Time to Try “Critical Role”

Now's the Time to Try "Critical Role"

I’ve written many times about my favorite TV show, Critical Role, in which “a bunch of nerdy-ass voice actors sit around and play Dungeons & Dragons.” I wrote about this internet phenomenon when the company staged the most successful Kickstarter campaign for a video project, smashing the previous record set by MST3K. I’ve written about how this group of eight best friends represents a serious challenge to the media status quo and a legitimate threat to more traditional forms of home entertainment.

 

But I’ve always written about the show with a bit of hesitation—not for fear of being branded a geek, mind you, and not out of concern for venturing too far from the mainstream. That’s hardly applicable, since more people watched the Campaign 2 finale of Critical Role earlier this year than watched the Season 10 finale of The Walking Dead. (Comparing the numbers directly is tough, but Critical Role got some 3.3 million views across Twitch and YouTube vs. Walking Dead‘s ~2.9 million viewers on AMC. How many of CR‘s online “views” account for multiple viewers isn’t clear.) 

 

No, the reason it’s tough to evangelize this amazing show is that there’s just so darned much of it. If we ignore all the ancillary series and spinoffs, all the one-off specials and after shows, Critical Role has, to this point, created over 1,000 hours of content, which is about 12 times the runtime of the entire 10-season run of Friends and about 15 times the total runtime of Seinfeld. 

 

I can’t even begin to guess how many people I’ve turned onto this show, only to have them utterly hooked then completely crestfallen when they realize exactly how long it would to take to catch up. And I sympathize with that. By the time Critical Role came crashing into the mainstream in 2019, the gang was already more than 200 hours into their second campaign. 

 

And it occurs to me that I should probably stop and define what I mean by “campaign.” In D&D lingo, a campaign is an ongoing, self-contained story with a unique set of characters. When Critical Role launched in 2015, they were already halfway through a campaign they had started around their own kitchen tables some years before. They didn’t start over from scratch

and create new characters and situations, because they couldn’t conceive of anyone actually wanting to watch them play their game and only agreed to play on camera as a favor to Felicia Day. So Campaign 2, in which they did create entirely new characters and launched a whole new story guided by Dungeon Master Matthew Mercer, was really the audience’s first opportunity to see this group tell a tale together from the very beginning.

 

So why should you care about any of this? Well, as I said, Campaign 2 came to a conclusion earlier this year but a

new campaign is starting this month. New characters, new settings—a whole new beginning. Which means that if you’ve missed out on this phenomenon until now, or sat on the fear that it was all just too much, now’s your perfect opportunity

to hop on the Critical Role train.

 

Of course, it has to be said that there are some people who simply scoff at the notion of watching a bunch of friends sit around and play a game for three to five hours every week. For some, that crosses a line into dweeb territory. Or maybe you’re just not interested in D&D.

 

Whatever reservations you might have, I implore you to set them aside and give the new campaign a shot when it airs

this month because, when you get right down to it, the real draw of this show isn’t the Dungeons or the Dragons. There are plenty of live-play D&D games out there, and none of them have achieved the success of this show.

 

The biggest reason for that is the fact that those shows were created to sell tabletop roleplaying as a product. They had casting calls and auditions. Some cat-petting executive somewhere said, “Hey, people are watching other people play D&D on the internet—let’s get a slice of that action.” 

 

What makes Critical Role unique is that the game they’re playing is secondary. The real draw is that we, the audience, get to watch eight best friends—who now own a corporation and small media empire together—take a break once a week, sit around a table, and give one another their full attention. They put down their phones, ignore their email inboxes, look each 

other in the eye, and do their level best to entertain the heck out of each other for a few straight hours.

 

There is, of course, a parasocial aspect to all of this in that it’s nearly impossible to become invested in a friend group without feeling like you’re a part of said group. Watching Critical Role doesn’t feel like tuning into an episode of Loki or Squid Game. It feels like hanging out with your buds.

 

And that’s ultimately a crucial element of the success of this show, because Critical Role isn’t intended to be passively 

consumed; it is, in many ways, a call to action. They aren’t merely saying, “Hey, come watch us have fun and love one another.” They’re saying, “Hey, you can do this, too. Go grab your own best friends or your family, sit around a table, and make each other laugh, cry, celebrate, and commiserate.” And audiences have listened. Fully half the people I know who watch Critical Role have gone on to start their own D&D campaigns and are rediscovering the joys of actual human interaction.

 

Call me a weirdo but I think the world needs more of that, now more than ever. It needs this weekly example of wholesome face-to-face collaboration and—more importantly—the vulnerability required to sit with the people you love most in the world and make a complete goober of yourself for their amusement. 

 

If all of that sounds like something you could get into but you’ve held off for all the reasons listed above, here’s your chance to give this magical show a try. Campaign 3 begins on October 21, live on Twitch and YouTube, or you can wait for the VOD to hit YouTube on October 25. 

 

Or, if you want to experience the insanity of watching Critical Role with a crowd, the first episode of the new campaign will also debut in select Cinemark cinemas around the country. As for me and my wife, we’ll opt for the comforts of our own home cinema, thank you very much. But if we had a Cinemark a little closer to home, I think we’d both be tempted to buy a ticket and skulk at the end of the theater for the first few minutes, if only to hear an auditorium full of Critters sing the show’s theme song, “Your Turn to Roll,” once again after months of anticipation. 

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

The Arguments Against Streaming Just Don’t Cut It Anymore

The Arguments Against Streaming Just Don’t Cut It Anymore

It never fails. Every time I reference a streaming video service in the course of a hardware review for other publications or review a film via streaming for this publication, I’m met not merely with skepticism but outright hostility from videophiles who ought to know better.

 

I’m berated for daring to claim that Netflix, Disney+, HBO Max, et al. have their place in a luxury home-entertainment environment. I’m belittled for claiming that such relatively low-bitrate services often offer a level of audiovisual excellence that’s practically indistinguishable from their equivalent UHD Blu-ray discs (assuming there is a disc equivalent.) 

 

Rather than simply yelling “Yuh huh!” into the void, though, I thought it might be constructive to rebut the arguments of these bitrate hardliners, to respond directly to their claims that streaming is inherently subpar. And I’ll start with the most common:

 

But discs have more bits! And mo’ bits
equals mo’ better! Right?!

It’s easy to understand why this perception persists. Back in the bygone days of DVD, with its relatively rudimentary MPEG-2 video compression, if you purchased two different releases of a film on disc, the one with the higher bitrate almost always looked noticeably better.

 

But that was then and this is now, and it’s time to drop this outdated notion once and for all. In the modern era of digital video, once you’ve reached a certain threshold for transparency, throwing more bits at a video encode isn’t necessarily a guarantee 

of higher quality. It’s simply indicative of less efficiency.

 

Mind you, that’s a pretty recent development. Even as recently as the Blu-ray era, video compression couldn’t do a great job at bitrates low enough to pump out across the information superhighway. The AVC codec most commonly used for Blu-ray (and for HD streaming) can often struggle at lower bitrates, and as we saw with the Game of Thrones debacle a couple years ago, when bandwidth gets too low, AVC can get really ugly really quickly.

 

But streaming services don’t use AVC for 4K video—they rely on the more advanced HEVC codec. And it’s worth noting what those letters stand for: High Efficiency Video Codec. HEVC wasn’t designed to deliver superior video quality—it was designed to deliver equivalent video quality using fewer bits. To do 4K with AVC, you need a minimum of 32 Mbps bandwidth. To do 4K justice with HEVC, you need as little as 15 Mbps. And it’s telling that most streaming video services start at 16Mbps for 4K and go up to 30Mbps or more.

 

Am I saying there’s never any reason to encode 4K video 

at higher bitrates? Of course not. As I pointed out in my recent review of The Green Knight via Vudu, there was, collectively, a little less than one second of footage in that film that could have benefited from a higher bitrate than Vudu is capable of delivering. Let’s pause and underline that: Out of a two-hour film, there was about a second of footage, spread across multiple scenes, that would have looked better at much higher bitrates. It’s literally a blink-and-you-miss-it situation. And in my recent experience, that’s a worst-case scenario for higher-quality streaming platforms. What’s more, I own UHD Blu-ray discs with far more egregious compression artifacts.

 

For the most part, using a higher bitrate with HEVC simply means that the video is encoded less efficiently. I know I’ve used this example before but it bears repeating: UHD Blu-ray discs aren’t that much less compressed than Netflix. So, if your argument is that compression is bad, then by all rights, you should think that the best optical media format available today is trash.

The Arguments Against Streaming Just Don’t Cut It Anymore

Let me break down the numbers again to demonstrate why: Fully uncompressed 4K video with 12-bit color would require 7,166Mbps of bandwidth. That’s 7,166,361,600 bits per second. UHD Blu-ray is capable of bitrates up to 128Mbps. Better streaming services these days max out at somewhere around 30Mbps.

 

Let those numbers sink in. What you’re telling me is that you’re seeing a world of difference between 30Mbps and 128Mbps, but no real difference between 128Mbps and 7,166Mbps? Something doesn’t add up there.

 

But . . .

Hang on a second—I’m not done. I recently ran two single-blind tests. In one, I was the subject, and I tried my absolute best to spot any meaningful differences between the Vudu stream and the UHD Blu-ray of one of my favorite films. Not only could I not spot any meaningful differences—I couldn’t tell them apart!

 

In the second test, I had my hands on the remote and switched back and forth between the Apple TV+ stream of a popular ‘80s film, recently remastered in 4K, and the disc-equivalent version thereof. I asked two guinea pigs to identify which was which and tell me how they knew. Both consistently picked Version A over Version B, explaining that A had a more organic

Reference-Quality Movies
on Streaming

Those Who Wish Me Dead (2021)

“HBO Max’s presentation is further evidence of just how good streaming has gotten in recent years. On Roku Ultra, at least, the Dolby Vision presentation is absolutely reference-quality home theater demo material. What flaws there are in the imagery can’t be pinned on the high-efficiency streaming encode, at any rate.”

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

“If there are any significant shortcomings in Apple’s encoding of the film, aside from perhaps that bit of noisy smoke in the intro, I can’t see them. The bottom line is that the iTunes version in Dolby Vision makes the previous Blu-ray release look like hot garbage in every respect.”

Black Widow (2021)
DISNEY+ | BLACK WIDOW

“[Black Widow‘s] presentation on Disney+ far surpasses the quality of any commercial cinema I could reasonably reach in a half-day’s drive. . . . Fine detail abounds, not merely in closeups but also in long shots. Colors are gorgeous and the high dynamic range is employed spectacularly.”

Life in Color (2021)
NETFLIX | LIFE IN COLOR

“There’s one shot, in which a peacock bristles its plume in slow motion, that’s such a kaleidoscope of fine detail that I would expect it to be riddled with some digital ookiness even at 100 mbps. And yet, with my nose on my screen, I couldn’t see any of the telltale signs of HEVC reaching its breaking point. I can only assume Netflix recently adopted a new encoder because otherwise I just cannot make sense of why this imagery looks this pristine.”

Lucas (2021)
DISNEY+ | LUCA

“One thing you can’t fault Pixar on is the technical presentation, as Luca just looks gorgeous. I watched it the first time on my 4K projector in HDR10 and then again on a new Sony OLED in Dolby Vision, and the colors are just straight-up eye candy throughout.”

Soul (2020)
DISNEY+ | SOUL

“Image quality is fantastic and reference-quality throughout, with Soul being beautiful and just pleasing to look at.”

grain structure, better detail, more lifelike colors, less digital noise, and a generally more film-like look—although they admitted that Version B looked fantastic, and they would be perfectly happy with it if they hadn’t been looking at such a direct comparison.

 

Neither believed me when I revealed that Version A was the low-bandwidth streaming version until I backed out of the film and showed them the user interfaces of each source.

 

But Dennis, you’re watching on a 75-inch TV, which is fine for streaming. But on my massive projection screen, even Disney+ simply isn’t good enough.

This is another argument that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Screen size, in and of itself, doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t.

 

What matters is the relationship between screen size and your seating distance. In my media room, my wife and I sit roughly 6.5 feet from our 75-inch display. That means our TV takes up 45.5 degrees of our horizontal field of view. That’s roughly equivalent to sitting about a third of the way back from the screen in a THX-certified commercial cinema.

 

If you’re sitting 12 feet from a 10-foot projection screen, guess what? The image is only taking up about 39.9 degrees of your field of view, which would put you smack dab in the middle row of your local THX cinema auditorium. So my 75-inch TV is “bigger” than your 120-inch projection screen, as far as our eyes are concerned.

 

Of course, I have to give the necessary caveats: My media room setup is only good for two people—three if we’re really cozy—if we all want an ideal viewing experience. If I wanted to invite more friends or family over for movie night, I would need a larger screen and would need to sit farther from it. But that’s not the argument I’m making. We need to stop prattling on about screen size as if it’s all that matters. If Netflix is good enough for my 75-inch TV from 6.5 feet away, it’s good enough for your 10-foot screen from 12 feet away.

 

But if I pause my Apple TV . . .

Wait. Stop. Let me cut you off right there, because there are two problems baked into that truncated retort.

 

Video codecs like HEVC aren’t designed the way single-image compression codecs like JPEG are. HEVC relies on both intra-frame and inter-frame compression, and as such it’s intended to be scrutinized in motion. Yes, if you pause the image and compare a high-efficiency stream to a higher-bandwidth encode of the sort you would find on UHD Blu-ray, the backgrounds in the streaming version may not look as fully resolved. Fine textures may suffer a bit. There may be some color banding in a still frame that won’t be apparent in a picture running at 24 frames per second. So, if you’re interested in watching your films one frame at a time, streaming probably doesn’t suit your purposes.

 

The second problem is with the Apple TV. I’m sorry, but it’s simply not a high-quality video-playback device. That’s somewhat ironic since Apple 

TV+ is one of the best-quality streaming video services out there. It’s capable of truly reference-quality playback—but, oddly enough, not via Apple’s own hardware, in my experience. If you want to see what streaming is truly capable of, you need either a Roku Ultra or Nvidia Shield, both of which deliver video performance far better than the Apple TV 4K. (I generally opt for Roku since its integration with high-end automation systems is vastly superior.) Some higher-end smart TVs also do a fine job with streaming, but most don’t.

 

OK, fine, maybe the picture quality is good enough,
but streaming sound sucks!

I mean, sure, if you want to argue with science, go ahead. Extensive testing performed by both Netflix and Dolby Labs has demonstrated that Dolby Digital+, the audio codec employed by most streaming video services, is perceptually transparent at 640kbps. You know what audio bitrate Netflix and Disney+ use for Atmos? 768kbps.

 

The problem here isn’t bitrates. It’s sound levels. I’ve done extensive A/B testing between streaming and disc-based versions of the same films, and not once have I found the two to be mixed to the same levels. Streaming audio is generally anywhere between 1dB and 4.5dB quieter than the disc version or its equivalent. There are exceptions, but that’s a good general rule in my experience. 

 

The thing is, it’s nearly impossible to compare the audio quality of two audio sources that differ that much in terms of loudness levels. For scientific A/B testing, levels between two sources are usually matched to within 0.1dB. Is that overkill? Probably. 

But when you get to differences as much as 1dB or more, the louder sample will almost always be perceived as richer, better tonally balanced, with more robust bass—even if the listener can’t identify it as being the louder of the two samples.

 

Again, I want to be completely clear 

The Arguments Against Streaming Just Don’t Cut It Anymore

here: I’m not arguing that there’s no merit to lossless audio codecs like Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio. If you have the bandwidth for lossless audio—as do discs and high-bitrate downloads—then, of course, go with the bit-perfect delivery mechanism. I’m simply saying that if you think Netflix or Disney+ or Vudu or Apple TV+ audio is perceptually inferior, you can’t possibly make that assessment unless you level match them perfectly.

 

The same goes for video. If you have the space for 128Mbps, why wouldn’t you make use of that space? I’m not saying higher bitrates are bad. I’m simply saying that, beyond a certain point, they’re largely unnecessary.

 

But I watched X movie on X streaming service
and it looked/sounded terrible!

That’s probably valid. I’m not saying streaming is perfect, and I’m certainly not saying that all streaming services are built equally. I’m merely saying that most arguments against streaming as a legitimate source of luxury home-cinema content are invalid.

 

I desperately want to subscribe to The Criterion Channel since their catalog appeals to me more than words could convey. But every time I dip in and sign up for a month, I’m let down by their reliance on outdated video codecs and insufficient audio bitrates, and quickly cancel again. When I claim more bits don’t necessarily equal better quality, there is of course a limit to that. The Criterion Channel streams its audio soundtracks at 256kbps, which is a little over a third of the bandwidth necessary to deliver truly transparent audio quality.

 

And in terms of video, a lot of streaming HD still looks pretty bad by comparison, largely because many services still use AVC for 1080p video. There are exceptions. Disney+ does a great job with HD—so does HBO Max; and although Amazon used to be the worst in terms of 1080p streaming, its HD stuff is starting to look entirely acceptable.

 

So, again, I’m not saying streaming always looks and sounds as good as discs or full-bitrate downloads. But at its best, streaming is fully capable of delivering a home cinema experience that’s perceptually indistinguishable from physical formats or their bitrate equivalents.

 

And as we move into the future, that’s only going to become truer. UHD Blu-ray is almost certainly the last optical media format with any sort of mass appeal. As far as discs are concerned, HEVC is as good as it gets for video compression. But over the next five years or so, we’re going to see codecs developed for the streaming domain that make HEVC look as archaic as MPEG-2 looks now—codecs that deliver reference-quality 4K video at bitrates in the neighborhood of 3 or 4 Mbps.

 

Long story short, streaming is where all of the meaningful innovation is happening in terms of digital video. I’m not saying you have to like that fact. But maybe, just maybe, you should stop pooh-poohing it.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Ep. 20: The State of the Streaming Art

The Cineluxe Hour logo

Mike, Dennis, and John look at how far the streaming world has come from the Game of Thrones disaster two years ago, with HBO Max now offering reference-quality video—a standard more and more services are now able to meet. They also consider whether the affordable day & date model the studios adopted during the pandemic is likely to last, the problem of subscription overload, and wonder why Hollywood even bothered with the Oscars this year.

 

Highlights

 

  1:39   a brief description of the progression from Game of Thrones‘ lousy video to the reference-quality images in              Those Who Wish Me Dead

  2:38   streaming codecs can now handle chaotic images, like of a forest fire, without distortion

  4:24   the paucity of 4K HDR titles on HBO Max

  5:14   the increasing number of streaming services capable of reference-quality playback

  5:53   how even HD now looks better on Netflix and Disney+

  7:16   Amazon and The Criterion Channel need to improve their HD playback

10:11   how streaming quality is determined by the quality of both the service and the hardware

10:30   Roku vs. Nvidia Shield vs. Apple TV vs. TV apps

11:20   John expresses concerns about streaming’s audio quality

13:04   Dennis discusses Dolby Labs’ tests that show streaming is capable of reference-quality audio

14:04   Apple TV+ vs. Disney+ vs. Netflix vs. HBO Max vs. Amazon vs. Hulu vs. The Criterion Channel

16:12   will streaming soon become the only home-video format?

19:12   the increasing problem of too many subscriptions

21:31   Sony distributing its films on Netflix and elsewhere instead of setting up its own channel

25:05   will streaming continue to do day & date or will big movies go back to debuting in theaters first?

29:21   will the strength of streaming coming out of the pandemic doom movie theaters?

33:20   was there any real value in doing the Oscars during the year of a pandemic?

34:33   the Oscars don’t adequately take streaming into account, especially streaming series

39:30   John talks about the promise of Sony’s new Bravia Core streaming service 

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Michael GaughnThe Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review, Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing for such publications as Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at @SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

HBO Atones for Its Streaming Sins

HBO Atones For Its Streaming Sins

It may seem like eons ago (and hey, maybe we can blame the pandemic and its time-warping effect for that), but it’s only been a little over two years now since the entirety of the entertainment press was consumed with discussions about HBO’s inability to effectively stream its most popular show in anything approaching acceptable quality. Reliance on older, inefficient streaming codecs combined with insufficient server capacity made the Game of Thrones episode “The Long Night” an unwatchable nightmare of lackluster contrasts, blocky artifacts, and excessive banding for many viewers—especially those

tuning in on HBO Go or HBO Now, the company’s streaming apps du jour. And that’s all the ammunition the “Streaming sucks!” crowd needed to continue their crusade against the future of video content delivery.

 

Fast-forward to 2021, and both Go and Now have been shelved in favor of HBO Max, a newer platform that’s home to all manner of WarnerMedia content, not merely its premium-cable offerings. But perhaps the most significant side effect of all this app shuffling is that HBO seems to have finally gotten its act together in terms of streaming video quality.

 

This really hit home for me when I was watching the theater-at-home release of Those Who Wish Me Dead. Not to dig too deeply into the substance of the movie (what little there is), but the TL;DR version is that it involves a political hit-job and manhunt that’s all an overly elaborate setup for a heart-pounding chase sequence in the middle of an out-of-control wildfire in the Montana wilderness.

 

Right near the action-packed climax, a stray thought struck me and I couldn’t let it go: This movie must be absolute nightmare fuel for a video encoder. Even with the benefit of 4K Dolby Vision, there’s so much going on in the picture that maintaining the intense contrasts of a fire raging through a forest at night and rendering all of the detail from the soot and sparks blowing in the air couldn’t have been easy. What’s more, many scenes were shot with relatively shallow depth of field, which can be tricky for even the best video codecs to handle consistently. 

 

As soon as I glommed onto all that, the question for me wasn’t whether there were compression artifacts. It was how close I would have to get to the screen to see them. So I stood up and walked about half the distance from my seat to my screen. The image still looked incredible. So I took another step and halved the distance again. I still couldn’t see any of the telltale signs of video compression.

 

To make a long story short, in complete defiance of Zeno, I eventually ended up with my nose practically on the screen, and I still couldn’t see the glitches and misplaced pixels and posterization that result from HEVC (the video codec used for 4K HDR video material) reaching its breaking point.

 

Mind you, HBO Max still doesn’t have a lot in the way of Dolby Vision content to stream. Most of its offerings are in HD (despite the fact that 4K HDR masters exist, many of which have been released on UHD Blu-ray), and by and 

large the service still relies on the same AVC video codec that caused all the problems with Game of Thrones. True, it’s operating at around 2.5 to 3 times the bitrate of HBO Go and HBO Now, proving that WarnerMedia has decided to invest a bit more in server storage. The result, though, is that much of what you’ll find on HBO Max looks very good, but not quite reference quality.

 

But Those Who Wish Me Dead proves that HBO Max is at least capable of delivering a practically flawless home cinema experience. The company whose name was, just a few years ago, synonymous with the nadir of video quality has now proven it can deliver a level of visual excellence matched by perhaps 200 cinema screens worldwide, at last count.

 

That’s assuming, of course, you have an AV system capable of delivering on such quality. Most people don’t. It’s also assuming you’re doing your streaming via a high-quality source device. Most people don’t. 

 

But still, my recent experiences with HBO Max—for all my complaints about their abysmal user interface and lackluster search tools—proves the company that was once the laughingstock of the streaming world now at least has the potential to deliver video quality that’s a massive step up from the average screen at your local multiplex. And if nothing else, that shows just how far streaming has come, even in the past two years alone.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

The 75-Inch Revolution

The 75-Inch Revolution

I’m going to mention some things here that are probably pretty obvious to anyone who hasn’t spent the past couple of years wandering the Himalayas with their sherpa. But beyond those more commonplace facts lies a larger truth—that in just the past couple of years home entertainment has changed in ways that go well beyond even the unbridled crowing of the most rah-rah marketing hype.

 

No matter where you live, it’s impossible to ignore that the new entry level for TVs is 75 inches. Even if that screen size is way too big for many people’s homes, it’s still the size they hunger for. And sets like that have become readily affordable, making 42-inch sets seem as quaint as 19-inch screens seemed at the dawn of the HDTV era.

 

Here’s the more important point: Many of those models can provide reference-quality image reproduction, even toward the lower end of the price spectrum. This has never happened before. We are rapidly reaching a point where a good chunk of the 

An unprecedented number
of people now have video
displays that can beat the
previous gold standard of
the movie theater

American populace has sets that can create a better-than-movie-theater experience at home. And with relative ease. And for a relatively small investment.

 

But . . .

 

Just because somebody’s set is capable of that kind of performance doesn’t mean they have it set up to take 

advantage of that, or they even know their set can do that. And it doesn’t mean they have it placed properly in the room or even have it in an appropriate room—chances are, they don’t. It also doesn’t necessarily mean the rest of their system is up to snuff—again, it’s probably not.

 

But one thing that’s more than likely true is that many of them also have at least one signal source that’s capable of besting their local movie theater. That has also never happened before. Streaming services like Netflix, Disney+, and HBO Max are reaching the point where only trained viewers can perceive differences from reference-quality playback. And even that gap is closing rapidly.

 

So, an unprecedented number of people now have displays that can beat the increasingly irrelevant gold standard of the movie theater. And an unprecedented number now have access to content delivery that also exceeds that standard.

Again, that doesn’t mean they have their systems set up to take advantage of that, but the potential is there nonetheless.

 

So what does this all mean, and what does it portend?

 

First off, to take aim squarely at the gorilla in the room: Why the hell do we continue to think we need movie theaters? If 

Just because reference quality
has gone mass market
doesn’t mean there’s nothing
left for the luxury market
to call its own

your system can do it better, and you don’t have to drive there, and your investment in every evening of movie-watching doesn’t have to hover near $100 (at a minimum), and first-run content is showing up day & date on streaming, and you don’t have to watch ads if you don’t want to, and you can instantly switch to another film if your first choice sucks, and you’ve got the option of taking anybody who talks during the movie and locking them up in the basement, why would you think of theaters as anything other than the quaint, and mostly unpleasant, relics they are?

 

Second, things will inevitably get better from here. As more people become aware of what their systems can do, it can only lead to better viewing environments, better gear for those environments, and even better content being pumped into those environments. If there’s a downside to any of this, I’m not seeing it. (The whole “movies have to be a communal experience” argument is usually promulgated by Hollywood types who haven’t sullied themselves with The Great Unwashed in years, if ever.)

 

But just because reference quality has gone mass market doesn’t mean there’s nothing left for the luxury market to call its own. The list is long, but just to tick off a few things: Video walls will remain hugely expensive for the foreseeable future, but represent all but unexplored territory in the home environment. It takes a custom-designed, -built, and -tuned room to consistently have a reference-quality experience. Nobody’s figured out how to commodify that, and chances are no one ever will. And good luck trying to integrate a full-blown Atmos system into a typical middle-American living room without having it look like a CIA black site.

 

You get the point. It’s great that better-than-movie-theater is becoming as common as Kleenex. But not all rooms or systems—or viewers—are created equal. 

Michael Gaughn

Michael GaughnThe Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review, Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Learning When to Let a Good Thing Die

Learning When to Let a Good Thing Die

I seem to have misplaced that well-worn piece of cardboard with the pinhole in it that I usually keep by my side. But from my very oblique vantage point, it looks like Joel Hodgson is once again suckering the legions of Mystery Science Theater 3000 addicts to pony up money to create another round of episodes nobody needs except those pathetic and ridiculous lost souls who are content to spend the rest of their lives hermetically sealed in an echo chamber. If Hodgson has proved nothing else, it’s that people will greedily lap up large, fetid piles of horse dung as long as they’ve got the MST3K logo stamped on them.

 

Of course, he’s far from alone. Sometimes the entire culture feels like an exercise in keeping franchises on life support that should have been left to die a quiet death a long, long time ago. 

 

For those of you who don’t know, a few years back, Hodgson & associates staged the most successful Kickstarter campaign until that time to get a season of new MST3K episodes made. The shows, which ultimately landed on Netflix, were awful—terribly cast, lazily made, fundamentally unappealing. But the greatest sin of all was that, for all the money thrown at them, they just weren’t funny. Netflix fulfilled its obligation but, even though they’ll apparently re-up for just about any series this side of video of my uncle taking a nap, they decided to take a pass on another season.

 

But that apparently wasn’t good enough for the MST3K cult, which is now throwing a few million dollars more at creating another set of episodes that only they’ll watch. Of course anybody should be free to put out whatever kind of stiflingly unfunny self-congratulatory twaddle they want as long as there’s an audience for it, no matter how wretched and small. But MST3K once had some worth, and it’s kind of sad to watch Hodgson and friends and hangers-on continue to beat this particular pantomime horse well past the point of death and into dust.

 

Stop. Now. Please.

 

For those of you who really don’t know, MST3K was one of the few truly innovative TV series, a kind of stealth operation originally broadcast out of a UHF station in far-flung Minnesota. At its best, it brought a self-awareness of the mechanics and culture of TV- and moviemaking that had been absent from TV until then. And in the Hodgson era, it had a kind of dopey warmth that made it endearing.

 

The show only became successful because its initial small group of fans started sending around VHS tapes of the episodes, building a kind of clandestine viewership that, as mainstream TV began to fracture, developed a clout that would have been unimaginable in the era of the big networks. Unfortunately, that nerdy zeal, which had been one of the show’s strengths, has since become its curse.

 

To be really blunt, and cut straight to the chase, American culture has become fundamentally bankrupt, and it’s not hard to put a name on the cause: Narcissism. The best way to keep people from coming together for the common good is to appeal to their most selfish instincts, to create the illusion they’re being catered to in ways that inflate their sense of self-importance. I would be hardpressed to name an aspect of the contemporary world that doesn’t in some way exploit that inherently repressive divide-and-conquer strategy. And we all fall victim to it because we’ve all been trained to endlessly love ourselves, and no one else.

 

But it’s all just a stultifying exercise in exploitation. We think we’re being entertained but we’re ultimately just being played—a catch that always comes with the territory whenever you’re talking about franchises, which exist primarily to perpetuate their own existence and will do whatever they have to to survive. Actually pleasing any viewers runs a distant second.

 

Nerd culture, which stands quivering on the foundation of franchises, has been the death knell of entertainment. The tail of stunted emotional development now wags the dog of the larger culture, which no longer displays any nuance, maturity, or meaningful creativity but goes out of its way to pander in an effort (largely successful) to foster blind addiction. The frightening cycle of dependency embodied in MST3K is just the larger culture writ very, very small.

 

Mystery Science Theater 3000 has never been, and never will be, any better than it was in its earliest days when it was funny and new, and funny because it was new. It has since become another cornerstone of pop culture that exists solely to divert those terrified of the new, to be not funny but familiar. We need to begin breaking our addiction to the tried and true and deadening sometime. This would seem like the perfect place to start.

Michael Gaughn

Michael GaughnThe Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review, Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs, a couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Disney+ Needs to Break Its Own Rules

Disney+ Needs to Break Its Own Rules

Throughout March and April, Marvel’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier positively dominated the pop-culture conversation. You might have noticed that we at Cineluxe weren’t part of that conversation, but that doesn’t really have much to do with the series itself. It’s a fine show—far from Marvel’s best work, but also far from its worst. The series deals with a lot of big ideas, and although it doesn’t give them all the thorough examination they deserve, it’s still a pretty solid continuation of the Captain America films just without the benefit of Steve Rogers, who hung up the shield at the end of Avengers: Endgame. 

 

So, why the radio silence? Because a discussion of what did and didn’t work about The Falcon and the Winter Soldier in and of itself would sort of miss the point. Anyone who tells you they could really wrap their heads around the show before it was available to view in its entirety is lying. The biggest thing holding the series back was that it simply doesn’t hold up as weekly 

appointment television.

 

I’ve riffed on this subject in the past, about how Disney+ represented something of a revival of “water cooler” TV—how its weekly release schedule gave new shows some breathing room, and gave audiences an opportunity to discuss new episodes one at a time in chat rooms, message boards, and around the dinner table. 

 

That really worked to the advantage of the first two seasons of The Mandalorian, and it was practically baked into the premise of WandaVision. Of course, it wasn’t merely a creative decision to release those shows one episode at a

time over the course of a couple of months; it was a necessity, given that neither’s season finale was finished cooking when the first episode hit the table.

 

Forget the reasons for this anti-binging release strategy, though. The fact is that it works—except when it doesn’t. And The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is the perfect example of how a “this is the way we do things” mentality and a dogged adherence to tradition (no matter how new that tradition may be) can hurt a property.

 

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is, at the end of the day, a pretty good five-hour-plus movie. And given its length, it’s nice to have it broken up into six chapters so you can consume it at your own pace over the course of a night or two or an entire week—whichever fits your schedule. But given that it’s effectively one cinematic experience chopped into six roughly equal parts, doling it out over a month and a half of real-world time reminded me of Bilbo Baggins’ famous quote from The Fellowship of the Ring: It feels thin . . . sort of stretched . . . like butter that has been scraped over too much bread.

 

When Disney+ launched, the weekly release schedules were part of its still-forming identity. At this point, though, its identity is pretty well established. It surpassed 100 million subscribers sometime last month. Soon enough, its subscriber base will eclipse that of Netflix (although I hesitate to predict when, since analysts keep moving the goalposts and Disney+ continues to defy their wildest expectations for growth). 

 

At this point, you have to acknowledge that Disney+ is, if not the leader in streaming, at least a leader. Good leaders adapt, though. They have a good sense of what works and what doesn’t. And while the appointment-TV approach certainly works for most of the service’s properties so far, we now have at least one example of every-Friday releases negatively impacting a show’s effectiveness.

 

There was literally no good creative reason to tease out The Falcon and the Winter Soldier over the course of six weeks. Six days, maybe? That could have worked. And the entertainment-industry headlines would have written themselves: “Disney+ Brings Back the Mini-Series with Special Falcon & Winter Soldier Event.”  

 

Disney+ has broken nearly every rule of the streaming marketplace. Surely it can break this rule when it makes sense, even if the rule is its own.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

The Strange & Maddening Tale of Warner Bros. & HBO Max

The Strange & Maddening Tale of Warner Bros. & HBO Max

My daughter called me last week with what should have been a simple question: “Hey, do we have HBO?”

 

Insert a deep sigh here.

 

I explained to her that, yes, we do indeed have access to HBO Max, and that she would need to sign in with her login for our AT&T Mobile account. But before I could start to dig into all of the problems she might potentially have logging into the app, 

she thanked me, told me she loved me, and hung up. I knew she would be calling back.

 

Five minutes later, the phone rang again. “I can’t get it to work!” she said, obviously exasperated.

 

“Try using your email login rather than your mobile number,” I said. She quickly thanked me, told me she loved me, and hung up. But, again, I knew she would be calling back.

 

Two minutes later, the phone rang once more. “That doesn’t work, either!” So I asked her if she was trying to log into the

app directly or if she was using the “Sign In with TV or Mobile Provider” button. She confirmed that she was using the latter.

 

“I don’t know what to tell you, Punkin. HBO Max has just been a straight-up disaster since the day it launched. Maybe try again later?” And I could hear the frustration building in her voice.

 

“Why do you keep saying HBO Max? What is HBO Max? I just want to watch HBO!”

 

Mind you, my daughter is a tech-savvy Millennial currently attending graduate school. But when I explained to her that there were currently two HBO streaming apps—HBO and HBO Max—and that with the launch of the latter, the company discontinued HBO Go and rebranded HBO Now as simply HBO, but that we only had access to HBO Max and not HBO (at least I think that’s how it works), I may as well have been explaining integral calculus to our American Staffordshire Terrier.

 

And then I remembered something I probably should have thought to ask her from the giddy-up. “Baby, what device are you trying to log into this app on?”

 

“My Roku TV.”

 

“Ah, yeah, HBO Max isn’t on Roku. You’ll have to use your Xbox.”

 

I’ll elide the profanity that followed. I probably don’t need to, though. I can only imagine that if simply accessing this stupid app is so frustrating for a technology writer and his very tech-savvy daughter, it must be an outright nightmare for the casual consumer.

 

It doesn’t have to be this way, though. Any number of studio-centric streaming services are straightforward and easy to understand—easy enough that my 78-year-old father (a recent cord-cutter) has no trouble signing into Disney+ or CBS All Access or even Peacock, for goodness’ sake, much less other rivals like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

 

But given how horribly Warner Bros. (a subsidiary of WarnerMedia, owned by AT&T, which also owns HBO) has bungled pretty much every decision it has made this year, is it really any surprise that HBO Max sucks so spectacularly?

 

Just look at the way Warner has handled its theatrical releases in the midst of our current pandemic, constantly shuffling release dates incrementally while other studios have made bold moves, and how it insisted on releasing Tenet to theaters at a time when cinemas in New York and California weren’t even open, much to the detriment of those cinemas that were open and ended up operating at a loss just to exhibit that box-office flop.

 

It gets worse. In the chaotic shuffling that accompanied the launch of HBO Max, there has also been a lot of uncertainty about what would happen to the content streamed on DC Universe, a Warner-owned superhero-centric streaming service that was home to such popular shows as Doom Patrol and Harley Quinn. At first, it seemed that only Doom Patrol would be moving over to HBO Max. Now it seems that Warner is transitioning DC Universe into a digital-comic-book-only platform and folding all of DC Universe’s animated and live-action content into HBO Max. But sadly, DC Universe was the only Warner streaming platform with 4K HDR support. So fans who’ve become accustomed to watching their favorite shows in high quality will now have to suffer an HD downgrade (not to mention pay a heftier monthly subscription, unless they get HBO Max for free as part of their mobile subscriptions, and ugh! I’m getting a headache just typing all of this).

 

I don’t want to gloss over one of the main points of that last paragraph. Here in late 2020, verging on 2021, HBO Max—the premier streaming home for most WarnerMedia movies and TV shows—doesn’t offer any of its content in 4K HDR, and there’s no clear timeline for when it will.

 

Which means all of the big exclusives coming next year—including the long-awaited director’s cut of the butchered Justice League theatrical film—will probably stream in HD quality at best, without the benefit of Dolby Atmos audio. It also means that if you want to watch Game of Thrones in 4K, the only way to do so for now is via a chunky 33-disc boxed set.

 

So, just to summarize for those of you who haven’t been taking notes: Not only has Warner Bros. responded to a global pandemic with stubborn devotion to a dying distribution model, its parent company also seems incapable of putting together a streaming platform that makes a lick of sense, nor one that competes with other similar services in terms of AV quality. If WarnerMedia or AT&T or whoever is making these seemingly never-ending disastrous decisions doesn’t shape up and start cheating off of Disney’s paper, I have a sneaking suspicion one of the biggest casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic may well be Warner.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Good Grief—The Peanuts Moving to Apple TV+ Isn’t the End of the World

Good Grief--The Peanuts Moving to Apple TV+ Isn't the End of the World

If Disney’s restructuring of its media and entertainment divisions to prepare for the streaming future of cinema wasn’t enough to convince you that the media landscape has forever changed, perhaps this will: It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is now an Apple TV+ exclusive.

 

The move has been described as an “indignity” and “a disservice to American traditions and the common good” by commentators who probably haven’t watched the special in years. To be frank, I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, the Peanuts special—which has aired on ABC for the past 20 years and was broadcast by CBS before that every year since its 1966 debut—is such a cultural touchstone that removing it from the airwaves and putting it entirely in the streaming domain 

does seem almost sacrilegious. (Note that I said “almost.”) On the other hand, would we even be talking about The Great Pumpkin right now if not for this development? I honestly can’t remember the last time I watched it on broadcast TV, and I wouldn’t be able to now if I wanted to, since I’m a full-fledged cord-cutter.

 

Before you get up in arms about this (or, depending on your perspective, before you start cheering), there are a few relevant details about the development worth considering. Firstly, The Great Pumpkin will seemingly now be a permanent part of the Apple TV+ lineup, viewable any time of the year for those who subscribe to the service. 

Interestingly, though, Apple is also making the special free-to-stream for non-subscribers during a three-day window from October 30 through November 1. So, if the Peanuts gang is part of your annual Halloween tradition, you’ll still be able to tune in without shelling out $4.99 a month, assuming you own a smart TV or a streaming device such as a Roku or, of course, an Apple TV.

 

The same is true of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving—which will hit Apple TV+ on November 18 and stream free from November 25 to November 27—and A Charlie Brown Christmas, which joins the permanent Apple TV+ lineup on December 4, with a free-to-view period running December 11 through December 13. Will these three-day free windows become an annual tradition? One can assume so. And Apple has also announced the development of a glut of new Peanuts holiday specials, including ones for Mother’s Day, New Year’s, and Earth Day.

 

It’s a big win for the streaming service, which hasn’t enjoyed the same success as competitors like Netflix and Disney+. But will it be a similar win for viewers? That’s a tougher question to answer. It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown has been available on home video for years now, and I’m pretty sure I recently saw the special-edition DVD in the $5 bin at Walmart, so it’s not as if this is some sacred artifact that loses its luster if audiences can view it more than once a year in this specific release window.

 

And as I said, as someone who doesn’t own the DVD, and who no longer subscribes to cable or satellite (and who also, not incidentally, lives in a neighborhood full of 100- and 200-foot-tall trees, making antenna reception all but impossible), this free Apple TV+ release means I’ll be able to watch The Great Pumpkin for the first time in years. And I plan to do so.

 

But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that something about all of this just feels a little wrong. Not an affront to the soul of America, as some would have you believe, but still . . . just a little wrong.

Dennis Burger

Dennis Burger is an avid Star Wars scholar, Tolkien fanatic, and Corvette enthusiast who somehow also manages to find time for technological passions including high-end audio, home automation, and video gaming. He lives in the armpit of Alabama with his wife Bethany and their four-legged child Bruno, a 75-pound American Staffordshire Terrier who thinks he’s a Pomeranian.

Can Live Theater Thrive Online?

Inside "Forbidden Broadway"

In Part One, I talked to Tony-winning writer/director Gerard Alessandrini about the genesis of Spamilton, his highly acclaimed spoof of the megahit musical Hamilton. Here we discuss the challenges of getting his show in front of the massive audience that was introduced to Hamilton when it appeared on Disney+, the prospects for touring the latest edition of his legendary revue Forbidden Broadway, and the impact the pandemic is having on the theater world in general.

—Michael Gaughn

It seems like a missed opportunity that you can’t have Spamilton on tour now that everyone’s seen Hamilton.

We’re a little disappointed that theater isn’t happening around the country, because we did have a tour of Spamilton out that was going to many of the cities where Hamilton had already played. Now that Hamilton has been on Disney+, I’m sure we 

would have been getting a lot of bookings and having a lot of fun touring.

 

One thing that bodes well is that Hamilton will probably remain in cycle on Disney+ or elsewhere, so there will still be interest in the show when you do get a tour out.

I absolutely think that’s true. It’ll still be there and everybody will know it from the point of view of the original cast, which is how I wrote Spamilton. So, yes, hopefully down the line, it’ll really make Spamilton more accessible and topical.

 

There is an interesting dynamic now in that Hamilton will still be prohibitively expensive to see when it gets to go back on tour—balcony seats were selling for more than $700 for the Atlanta dates—but you now have a mass audience that’s been exposed to the show through Disney+ that would probably be eager to see Spamilton live—partly because your ticket prices aren’t stratospheric.

That’s exactly right. But, of course, Hamilton is on hiatus, too—there’s no Hamilton in New York; there’s no Hamilton on tour. I’m sure they must be frustrated also.

 

Which of the other recent Broadway shows would lend themselves well to a broader audience via video?

The only show that followed Hamilton that sort of had a freshness and depth to it was Dear Evan Hansen. But I don’t know if they’ve done a video of that. The Hamilton video was done well because they had the money and the opportunity. The show was already a huge, huge hit. But 

most shows don’t have the budget to do a high-quality video production. Rather than record a performance, most producers were probably thinking in the old tradition of “Oh, this will be made into a movie.”

 

But a few other shows besides Hamilton have done high-end videos that are enjoying broadcast. One I saw was SpongeBob: The Musical on Nickelodeon—don’t laugh—and they did an excellent video of it. It was very fun.

You also had a cast for Forbidden Broadway all ready to go out on tour when this hit, right? So, now you’ve got two shows that are sort of sitting in limbo.

We had three or four individual productions of Forbidden Broadway planned for the summer. I know we had one in San Diego, and the San Francisco Gay Men’s

Can Theater Thrive Online?

SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical

Chorus was going to do a special and hysterical version.

 

There’s a wonderful regional theater down the street from where I live in Connecticut that’s been celebrated for decades—The Ivoryton Playhouse. We were all ready to do Forbidden Broadway Comes to Ivoryton. I was directing it and writing special material for The Playhouse. We got right up to dress rehearsal. Then we had to stop. All those productions got either postponed or are indefinitely up in the air. So, we’re waiting to see what’s going to happen.

 

What’s your guess about how this is going to play out for those productions?

I think it’s going to be a long time. They’re going to have to have a vaccine before people go back in the theater. Even if the government lets us open these theaters, who wants to risk their lives to see any kind of musical comedy or even a good play? I think theater has been sort of damaged and may have to reinvent itself from the ground up.

 

But I do want to make a guess that the smaller, Off-Broadway theaters and smaller shows like Spamilton and Forbidden Broadway will come back first, because to make a big show work financially, you have to pack a 2,000-seat theater, whereas with Off-Broadway, believe me, we can run with a small audience and make it work. We can even take away seats and make

room.

 

I think the tourism of theater is pretty much going to be on hold for a long time in New York, but New Yorkers are actually going to want to go see something. Ergo, Off-Broadway may have a resurgence.

 

And it’s a lot easier to shoot a smaller show for streaming than a big Broadway show.

We do have some good video of Forbidden Broadway and Spamilton. In the old-school tradition, we also have terrific cast albums that are very professionally done. Cast albums are still viable entertainment.

 

If there’s one good thing for me about Broadway ending or freezing it’s that now neither Spamilton or Forbidden 

Can Theater Thrive Online?

Broadway: The Next Generation are dating in any way. They’re still right up to date.

 

One of the problems with New York theater being closed through at least early next year is that the talent is dispersing out of economic need. It’s too expensive to stay hunkered down in Manhattan. Actors traditionally make money as waiters but the restaurants only have limited service.

Right. Restaurants are attached to theatergoing in New York. And you’ve got to remember that an actor’s range of talent is time-dependent. In other words, you want to see young, beautiful people in a show—and in the movies as well. A lot of talented younger actors are missing their window of opportunity.

 

For example, they were planning to do that big revival of The Music Man with Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster. But now the stars might be too old for the parts by the time they get around to doing the show. The same is true in sports. Even with the most talented player, that physical prowess and ability to do those wonderful things only lasts a few years where they’re at top peak. By the time they’re in their thirties, they’re too old.

 

There might be a similar problem with hanging onto movies to release them in theaters instead of taking them straight to streaming. Given how quickly everything is changing in society, they could feel out of date by the time they’re released.

How true! I saw a questionable post online that said even Hamilton is out of date because it’s from a different, pre-coronavirus era. I don’t know if that is exactly true but all this has sort of put the kibosh on me as a writer because I write topical humor. So, how do I know something’s going to be funny in six months? I don’t. So, there’s no sense guessing. In the meantime, I’ll stay home and enjoy watching Hamilton and Disney+, and TCM On Demand.

Gerard Alessandrini is a Tony Award-winning writer/director of musicals, best known for the long-
running musical satire Forbidden Broadway and the Hamilton spoof Spamilton, both of which
have been performed in theaters around the world. He has been the lyricist (and sometimes
composer) for over a dozen musicals, including Madame X, The Nutcracker & I, Scaramouche,
and the Paul Mazursky musical of Moon Over Parador, and has won numerous accolades,
including two Lucille Lortel awards and seven Drama Desk awards. His voice can be heard in
Disney’s Aladdin (1992) and Pocahontas. He’s also written special-material songs for many
stars, including Angela Lansbury, Carol Burnett, Bob Hope, and Barbra Streisand.

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.