Ryan Clarkson, Co-Founder and Co-CEO, Leveller Media
In the television world, executives and audiences alike used to pay a lot more attention to timeslots and time of year. The difference between a 9 PM Saturday and a 10 PM Sunday slot could be the difference between success and failure for a show. Curious historians of television can visit Wikipedia, which has an extensive list of all the shows retired to the notorious “Friday night death slot.” These days, the time a show premieres is less important: HBO’s Watchmen has been a huge success for the network, but only about 10% of a given episode’s viewers tune in to the HBO broadcast. The time a show airs still matters to the networks and HBO, but much less than it used to, and shows that premiere on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and other streaming services are never broadcast: They’re watched whenever the viewers feel like it.
The demise, or at least decline, of the timeslot wars hasn’t necessarily corresponded to an increase in risk-taking. Even the broadest and most diverse distributors continue to highlight minimally diverse content. Netflix, for example, opened Marriage Story and The Irishman to meaningful theatrical runs, but Atlantics, a debut by a woman of color, showed for just a few days, despite universal acclaim.
Unfortunately, many institutions remain blind to the diverse array of talent and stories available to Hollywood. This week’s release of the Golden Globe nominations left every kind of attentive viewer — film and TV fans, actors and critics, directors and producers — disappointed. No women were nominated for best director; actors and creators of color were generally marginalized. And but for a few, like Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, the stories are homogeneous. The head of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which runs the awards, naturally insists that nothing is wrong.
More than ever before, film and television art has a chance to win viewers with stories from outside the mainstream. As I write, Parasite is playing widely in American cinemas; it’s now the highest-grossing South Korean film to ever play in the United States. As Elissa Federoff, head of distribution at Neon, which released the film in the U.S., said, “We feel Bong is one of the greatest filmmakers in the world and believed this movie could transcend the small-minded idea that only an art audience would see it.”
In the months and years to come, I hope more executives, in Hollywood and around the world, demonstrate the bravery and business savvy that the Neon team has shown. At Leveller, we’re committed to telling new stories, to hearing from new voices, and to building a better media. It’s primetime for changing the world.