The Oscars and ‘This Is Us’: What a Nation Wants From Hollywood

The Oscars and ‘This Is Us’: What a Nation Wants From Hollywood February 27, 2017

this-is-us-Mandy-Moore-Milo-VentimigliaI only watched the last third of the Academy Awards last night, and that was with the sound off — until best picture. Turns out I picked the best part. By now, if you care about that kind of thing, you’ve heard about the massive snafu in which “La La Land” was named best picture, but a moment later, it was revealed that “Moonlight” was the actual winner.

It’s all something about duplicate envelopes, and presenter Warren Beatty being handed the wrong one (the one for best actress, apparently, which was Emma Stone for “La La Land”), him being caught in the headlights, and so on. Investigations were launched, head will probably roll … it’s just one more unexpected, startling ending in more than a year of unexpected, startling endings.

Earlier in the evening, host Jimmy Kimmel also brought in a busload of unsuspecting tourists, as a gag. It’s hard to tell, though, who was the real butt of the joke — Hollywood or the ordinary folks from flyover America.

(And, the ratings took a dip, especially among younger viewers.)

“La La Land” is Hollywood celebrating itself, but a lot of ordinary Americans may wind up seeing it, because it offers song and dance and fantasy and escapism. “Moonlight” is the wrenching tale of an African-American boy growing up in horrific circumstances, struggling with sexuality and winding up in drug dealing. It’s one of those movies Hollywood considers “important,” but to be frank, relatively few people will wind up seeing it.

We can argue whether that’s a good or bad thing, but it’s probably a true thing.

Since I live on the West Coast, the Oscars ended fairly early, so I fired up the DVR and started to catch up on episodes of NBC’s hit family drama, “This Is Us.”

The Tuesday-night show has some edgy elements, but mostly it’s a warmhearted, emotional look at two generations of one family — young parents (Mandy Moore, Milo Ventimiglia) struggling to raise triplets (two of their own, and one adopted baby); and the three siblings as adults, negotiating work, love, marriage and family.

Somehow, NBC’s “This Is Us” has managed to be the show that gives people in Los Angeles, New York, Tulsa, Dallas and Minneapolis the same urge to reach for the hankies. That includes the press that covers TV, who have regular attacks of the feels.

It’s not faith-based, but it’s not faith-hostile, and one episode was even Catholic-friendly. It might look a bit out of place among the softer fare on Hallmark Channel, but it really looks out of place on NBC, which — aside from “The Voice” — has generally been angling for the progressive urban and coastal audience.

I’d love to know why NBC picked up “This Is Us,” but I’m sure Peacock execs are glad they did. And if we’re lucky, network TV might go back to programming for people like that busload of tourists at the Oscars — and the movie industry may, too. Goodness knows, because showbiz, caught up in the disruption of the digital era, could use the help.

To do this, the creative community has to get on board. “This Is Us” creator Dan Fogelman has managed to make a show that hits both heartland and coasts, and still looks cool doing it — which proves it can be done.

There is a gulf between movies and TV that Hollywood wants to make, and movies and TV that people want Hollywood to make. Not always — Hollywood and America obviously agree on superhero movies — but often.

People gravitate to the entertainment industry for a lot of reasons, but frequently it’s because they feel out of place where they were. Their tastes and interests are sometimes different from the bulk of Americans, and once they hit Los Angeles in particular, their lives look very different.

Many are misfits seeking a place to belong. The irony is, to be a serious success, they have to produce work that appeals to just the kind of people they left behind.

The creative community might want to make movies and shows that are hip, cool and edgy, that win them Emmys and Golden Globes and Oscars, that get them magazine covers and online profiles and that next big development deal, but unless you produce something that makes money, the gravy train comes to an end.

The sweet spot is when a show or movie is not only a critical success, but a ratings and financial one as well.

Recently, media expert Matthew Faraci spoke at Family Theater Productions, a Catholic production company in Hollywood, where I manage social media, blog and produce videos. He spoke about the “values” audience, and how Hollywood ignores these folks at its peril. Here’s a short interview I did with him before the talk:

So, what is the “values” or “family” audience? I like to call it the “This Is Us” audience, and it’s pretty big.

Hollywood’s leaving a lot of money on the table. It’s up to the showbiz creatives and executives to decide if they really want America’s business.

Image: Courtesy NBC

Don’t miss a thing: head over to my other home, as Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions; also like the Patheos Catholic FB page to see what my colleagues have to say.

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