Don’t Presume You Know Where The Next Hit Is Coming From

I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to paying disproportionate attention to hype.  Partially because of the way I’ve prioritized my alerts, which means I get an awful lot of invites for stories on what the latest big gambles from streamers and studios are.  With the glut of summer releases, festivals, upfronts and award campaigns, I probably average a couple of hundred per day.  You can summise what the majority of them have been about; I’ve already written something about most of them,  And with few exceptions, mostly in a chiding fashion.

But every now and then I’m generally surprised when I see some numbers that point out that hype, whether it’s orchestrated by humans or algorithms, can at best only create awareness.  Getting someone to decide to actually make a purchase or, more significantly, an investment of time is often tied to a myriad of reasons that are rarely articulated through conventional research, especially when it’s conducted at times when those big gambles are all over whatever screen we’re consuming and sucking up most of the front-of-mind attention.  Consumer research often reveals that comfort and familiarity can play more prominently than calls to action.

And if you’re a TV fan, especially though of an age which tends to get short-sided in a good deal of tracking research, you likely at least know who David E. Kelley is.  He’s been at this for nearly 40 years, and at the turn of the century he was effectively Ryan Murphy and Shonda Rhimes rolled into one.  He was the darling of 20th Century FOX TV, churning out quality dramas with strong global appeal and enough gravitas with broadcast network executives to practically assure a sale and a profit almost every time out.

And if that track record wasn’t strong enough, he just happened to be married to arguably one of the most attractive women on Earth, Michelle Pfeiffer.  And he’s not half bad looking himself.  I first crossed paths with him when he’d accompany Harry Hamlin to my trailer adjacent to their LA LAW soundstage on Friday mornings after an original episode ran.  This was the first year where Nielsen was using peoplemeters and reporting demographics on an overnight basis, and Harry in particular found this fascinating.  His appetite for actually learning was atypical amongst talent, and I reveled in it.  Kelley was on his first significant assignment and was referred to as “the legal guy” on the staff of Steven Bochco’s production company.  Hamlin may have been voted People’s Sexiest Man Alive, but Kelley was the one that the women in my trailer seemed more interested in.

But that was a long time ago and while Kelley’s still talented and yes, still happily married to Pfeiffer, his track record of late hasn’t been outstanding.  Wikipedia reminds us of some of them:

In 2011, Kelley wrote a script for the pilot episode of a new Wonder Woman TV series for Warner Bros. Television, but the pilot was rejected by NBC for its fall 2011 lineup.[58]

A new medical series, Monday Mornings, co-created with Sanjay Gupta, premiered February 2013 on TNT, the cable television channel owned by Time Warner. Set in Portland, Oregon, the show stars Ving RhamesAlfred Molina and Jamie Bamber.[59] In May 2013, the show was canceled by TNT.[60]

A new comedy series created by Kelley, The Crazy Ones, starring Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar, premiered on CBS on September 26, 2013. The show was cancelled after a season due to lukewarm reception.

In June 2019, Kelley wrote a script for a CBS crime drama series, The Lincoln Lawyer, based from the 2005 novel of the same name by Michael Connelly.[65] On May 2, 2020, CBS announced that the pilot would not be moving forward.[66] However, on January 11, 2021, the series was picked up by Netflix.[67]

Yes, he did have success with BIG LITTLE LIES (if you had Nicole Kidman attached to a project, so might you), and ABC did run with BIG SKY for three low-rated and old-skewing seasons where the pandemic and corporate upheaval didn’t help accelerate decision-making.  Bottom line, like many of us, it would be easy to assume that Kelley’s best days might have been behind him.

And if you paid attention to those passing judgment on his new Apple TV+ series PRESUMED INNOCENT, you might have doubled down on that assumption.  Wiki also recapped those results:

The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reported a 76% approval rating with an average rating of 6.9/10, based on 62 critic reviews. The website’s critics consensus reads, “Enlivened by an outstanding ensemble, Presumed Innocent isn’t guilty of upstaging the original movie but acquits itself well as an entertaining courtroom drama.”[2] Metacritic, which uses a weighted average, assigned a score of 65 out of 100 based on 32 critics, indicating “generally favorable reviews”.[13]

In a word, meh.

But take a look at this past week’s JUST WATCH Top 10 for original streamers.  There’s Kelley’s latest work at the top of the list–and on a smaller-subscriber platform no less.

I suppose some subscribers might have made the mistake that this was the 1990 theatrical movie that the Scott Turow book was based upon.  I kind of think Jake Gyllenhaal is more distinctive-looking than Harrison Ford, but that’s just me.  But the fact is that people who did click on it stayed and watched, and against pretty formidable competition, not to mention the NBA Finals.

I watched the first episode last night myself and it sparked of the kind of intensity and sometimes quirkiness that defined the dramas that Kelley churned out for the two decades of his 20th history.  Indeed, if you are a fan of the works of Murphy or Rhimes you can see who and what influenced them.  Kelley’s shows aren’t that extreme, and they do tend to skew older.  But in a world where subscribers matter more than demographics, and where a gaping white area often exists for older and more cerebral audiences to devote their precious time to, PRESUMED INNOCENT is an ideal fit.

And kudos to the folks at Apple TV+ for remembering that and giving him an outlet and the support to remain prolific and viable.   Just like Kelley, many of them used to listen to me, too.

Until next time…

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