Gillmor Gang: Strange Days Indeed

The place we’re in, the valley of the dolls between the vote and the Inauguration, is overshadowed by the battle to save our lives. The vaccines look promising, and so does the persistence of the Trumpster to play his games. Somehow we have to live with that, on both sides. In the business we’re in, the technology industry, broadband has penetrated to the point we can survive with a reasonable degree of fidelity to the world COVID erased.

This week’s move by WarnerMedia to release all 2021 pictures on HBO Max and in theaters is both a capitulation to reality and a political gambit to negotiate with theater owners. Disney, with their theme parks and investments in streaming crescendoing in layoffs and rebuilding, announced a mix of 80% streaming with only 20% theatrical. Trump’s TikTok deadline has already passed, and the administration is pretending to not pay attention in order to keep negotiations for a buyout alive. The incoming government talks of a working bromance between Biden and McConnell. It’s the opposite of reality TV, or TV reality.

Newsletters straddle mainstream and social media, rolling up links that blur the credibility of publications with the Wild West of uncredentialed freelancers. Some of these voices are playing the newsletter sweepstakes, choosing to move from a salaried position to their own subscription model. For those publications funded in part by a paywall, the transition to a newsletter comes with opportunity and risk. Selling a subscription for a single voice competes with the bundled voices of a paywall publication eventually diluting potential readers’ available funds. We’re seeing this same subscription saturation dynamic in the rise of streaming networks.

Another trend, notification-based news, is making inroads with live streaming over social networks. The pandemic has forced many students into working from home over Zoom for interactive sessions mixed with traditional lecture-type webinars. Events normally covered by trade publications have yielded at least for now to influencer and analyst driven watch parties. Podcasts forego subscription and advertiser revenue for lead generation and industry traction. The 24/7 nature of work from anywhere fights for eyelid time with binge viewing, listening, and reading.

Beyond the virus’s impact on audiences, the productions themselves have new challenges. The FX series Fargo ceased production in March, as did ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy. When you see the completed shows, it’s fascinating to try and guess which scenes were shot under the much tighter strictures of the fall. Grey’s Anatomy used the pandemic as a plot point, but it took a few shows for the actors to settle into a more relaxed rhythm. Pre-pandemic footage from the abbreviated series’ previous season lived uncomfortably alongside the new material to cover the transitional story line.

Citizen Kane, considered broadly as the best film Hollywood ever made, spawned a Netflix production about the author of the screenplay, one Herman J. Mankiewicz. Presented in black and white with Kane-like musical scoring and the original film’s innovations in deep focus photography and low angle shots that include the ceilings of sets, the story uses flashbacks and time-jumping to great effect. It’s streaming meets MGM’s catch phrase from the time: All the stars in the heavens. Director David Fincher tells the New York Times how he overshoots by 20% the number of pixels so he can post process and polish the rough edges and camera jiggles into a precise reflection of the intricate vision of his cinema universe.

40 years ago this week John Lennon was murdered by a troubled fan. I was watching Monday Night football when Howard Cosell broke in with the news. What was left of my childhood vanished in that moment. I was newly divorced, struggling to keep my momentum going, no idea of what our world would become, and stupid with sadness over someone I’d never met. The Beatles was this magic machine, a coalition of the fleeting imperfection of the group and the unifying perfection of what they had accomplished.

The days tick by. The vaccine trucks roll. The Supreme Court denies another desperate move to overturn the will of the people. Nobody told me there’d be days like these. Strange days indeed.


The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary, and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, December 4, 2020.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

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