Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 06/01/23

Young LeBron James. Just as TV’s Young Sheldon reaches back into the youth of Sheldon Cooper, the fictional Nobel Prize winner from The Big Bang Theory, Peacock’s Shooting Stars tells the origin story of the real-life basketball legend LeBron James. Based on the book by NBA star LeBron James and Buzz Bissinger (the Pulitzer Prize -winning author of Friday Night Lights), Shooting Stars (dropping this Friday, 6/2 on Peacock) offers an inspiring account of the origin story of the basketball superhero’s high school years when he and his young teammates lifted up St. Vincent–St. Mary High School in his hometown of Akron, Ohio to become the #1 high school team in the country, an accomplishment that launched LeBron’s celebrated career as a four-time NBA Champion and the league’s all-time leading scorer. I spoke with director Chris Robinson about what drew him to the challenge of bringing LeBron’s story to the screen.

JWK: What attracted you to LeBron’s story?

Chris Robinson: The script. When I first read it the themes really attracted me. It was a beautiful father-son story. Obviously it’s about basketball – and amazing basketball – (but it was also about) brotherhood, loyalty and, like I said, a father-son story. Those themes really resonated with me.

JWK: Was LeBron very involved with the making of the movie?

CR: Well, you know, this movie was 13 years in the making. So, I would say he’s been very involved in this process. He did the book. Rachel Winter, one of our producers approached (LeBron James’ SpringHill entertainment company partner) Maverick (Carter) and LeBron about making this story. So, then imagine thinking “Well, okay, there’s been a documentary (2008’s More Than a Game), there’s been a book – how do we make a movie? How do we make people care and understand?” That was a long process. I came in about three-and-a-half years ago and kind of put my context on it, my thought process, and we slowly but surely put this bad boy in the oven and baked it and we came out with this cake – and I’m very happy with this cake. I think that it speaks to the authenticity that we were able to find.

JWK: You have a strong television series background – working on such shows at Star, Black-ish, Grown-ish, Mixed-ish, and American Soul. This project would seem to have maybe lent itself to being a TV series – you know, a four-season series about LeBron and the team. Was there any thought to doing it that way – and what’s the difference in telling a story in series form as opposed to a movie?

CR: I never heard any talk of that. SpringHill has many different series. I love certain series. I’m very caught up in several of them right now as a fan but I also think that the beauty of making a movie is that it’s a finite piece of art. It’s a certain amount of time that you can fall all the way into the story, be soaked into it and really understand the nuances of it. I think when you tell a story that everyone already knows – to a point, right? – because we’re watching this story unfold before our eyes right now. LeBron is arguably one of the best – or the best – that’s ever done it – and the story continues. It continues with his son. You go back, there’s been an amazing documentary and an amazing book. So, to a degree, we understand the story because we’ve been watching it unfold. I think the challenge to tell a story in the form of a feature film was the right way to go.

JWK: What do you hope people take from his story?

CR: I just want them to soak it up and understand how it attaches to their own life because this is a story that is very much an American story. It’s about brotherhood, loyalty and family. You look at LeBron and he’s a superhero in real life. The things that made him who is were all those real-life things that may seem mundane but are so important in all our lives.

FYI: My review for Shooting Stars will run tomorrow (Friday).


American Broadcasting Company - Wikipedia

The ABCs of programming. A: Know your audience (aka customers). B. Respect your audience’s values. C: Stay in your lane, put out a good product and avoid politics. It’s sounds so simple. So, from Bud Light, to Target, to the LA Dodgers to even Chick-fil-A and Fox News, why are so many companies getting called out and rebuked by customers who feel beyond taken for granted – to the point of having beliefs mocked and scorned by businesses they have supported for decades? In the cases of Chick-fil-A and Fox News, it’s more a feeling that the companies are capitulating to Woke extremism  and aren’t sufficiently standing up for conservative values than it is a sense that they are actively attacking them.

All that said, when it comes to really blowing up your brand, it’s hard to compete with Disney. In that company’s case, the issue goes beyond merely injecting what many consider to be age-inappropriate gender messages into stories aimed at kids (which is actually enough to lose a good chunk of its natural audience) to (as in Florida) arrogantly believing that it has a right to special treatment (not afforded to its Universal and SeaWorld competitors) while waging a sanctimonious war against a perfectly reasonable law that attacks no one, is supported by the majority of the population and which is literally none of their business.

Meanwhile, the conglomerate that gobbled up (and, in some cases, creatively damaged, the Star Wars, Marvel, Muppets and Simpsons franchises) and is no stranger to employing bullying tactics is spinning its bullying against the people of Florida as standing up to a bully (namely Governor Ron DeSantis) and wants everyone to believe that its current round of job cuts and cost-cutting moves is actually not the result of faltering business. The simple fact is Disney has needlessly alienated much of its audience – and, IMHO, the Woke mindset that is dragging it down is also impacting ratings for its ABC TV network. Leaked videos of executive meetings like this don’t help Disney’s and ABC’s reputation as a home of family entertainment.

I’ve been using this space for the past week or so to look that the 2023-24 plans for the five broadcast networks (previously posting about CBS, NBC and Fox), offering my unsolicited thoughts and advice. IMHO, if the goal is to build on your core audience, they’re all doing a better job than ABC which almost never boasts about having the highest rated shows (because they certainly don’t them) but are reduced to hyping its own highest rated drama (Station 19) or comedy (The Connors). The dreary Connors, for instance, comes in at a less-than-spectacular 49th in total viewer ratings behind CBS’ Young Sheldon (#7), Ghosts (#10), The Neighborhood (#28) and Bob Hearts Abishola (#33) and NBC’s Night Court(#44). It those are your top-rated series, that’s not a great report card.

In any event, Disney seems to have pretty much thrown in the towel on its broadcast network releasing a writers strike-impacted fall schedule that, except for a return of Dancing with the Stars (returning after a brief run on Disney+) and three hours of a resurrected Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights (presumably consisting largely of repurposed Disney+ content), lists only one halfhearted effort at launching a semi-new show.  That would be The Golden Bachelor, a geezer version and apt spinoff of its aging and tired Bachelor franchise. Later in the season the network plans to add 911 (which it snatched from Fox and which, yes, outrates every drama series currently running on ABC) and High Potential, a mystery drama based on a French show about a single mother who helps cops solve crimes. On the potential index both The Golden Bachelor and High Potential will be graded on the ABC curve and could be deemed successes whether they truly are or not. Of the two though, High Potential seems to have more potential.

Anyway, as I did for CBS, NBC and Fox, here are…

Three Free Suggestions for ABC (aside from bringing in an entirely new management team that actually respects its audience and is enthusiastic about creating excellent uplifting broadcast television):

  1. Add ESPN Presents: NFL Monday Night Football to the Monday night schedule. It’ll gave ABC an immediate ratings boost and help promote Disney’s ESPN brand in the process.
  2. Get rid of American Idol replace with a live reboot of American Bandstand (with Ryan Seacrest hosting). Personally I’m tired of talent formats that depend on picking a loser each week. I think the time is ripe for a good old-fashioned variety show mixing new acts with established favorites.
  3. Dump The Connors. The depressing Roseanne spinoff is not only aging, it’s simply not very funny and has never been nearly as successful as ABC likes to pretend it is. That’s especially when compared to the ratings of the rebooted Roseanne was getting when it was cancelled in a spasm of corporate virtue signaling that should have been converted into a teachable moment about both racism, mental health and mercy. Last week, in fact, marked the five-year anniversary of Roseanne‘s axing which happened on May 29 as Mental Health Awareness Month was nearing its conclusion. There’s no arguing that Roseanne Barr the person’s infamous racially-tinged tweet about former Obama advisor Valerie Jarrett was wrong and warranted a sincere public apology (which was offered, though Barr claims she didn’t realize Jarrett is black). Her apology and known struggle with mental illness, however, should have been taken into account. As things played out, it seems to me that the punishment was over-the-top cruel as it not only stripped her of life’s work but the spinoff even had her character die of drug overdose. You don’t do that to a person struggling with mental health. It’s just mean. My deeper advice to ABC is, in the future, be kinder. And funnier.

You’re welcome, ABC. Next: The CW.

John W. Kennedy is a writer, producer and media development consultant specializing in television and movie projects that uphold positive timeless values, including trust in God.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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