With A Very Murray Christmas, Netflix Shows It Is TV

Pubblicato: 5 dicembre 2015 in La materia dei segni

 

Bill Murray’s “A Very Murray Christmas” on Netflix hearkens back to the days when the broadcast networks ruled TV. Guess who rules TV now?

 

BILL MURRAY’S “A Very Murray Christmas” starts streaming on Netflix today. It’s an hour-long throwback to what a lot of television once was: an old fashioned variety show. The story doesn’t matter much; what does is the sentiment. Murray sings, he dances, he laments, and he drinks. He’s joined by Amy Poehler, Chris Rock, George Clooney, and Miley Cyrus, among others. And while the songs haven’t changed all that much since the ’50s, the homage has been updated with just the right amount of self-awareness for our more self-conscious time.

‘Netflix may be distributed exclusively online, but it can also do all that other stuff that TV has been doing for the past 70 years.’

But while “A Very Murray Christmas” might recall the past, it’s also very much of the present—and a harbinger of the way TV will work in the future. Netflix may have made its name—and its fortune—by turning us into a nation of binge-watchers. You can’t do that with “A Very Murray Christmas”—it’s only an hour! But Netflix has so thoroughly transformed our TV-watching habits that it now has the confidence to flex some new muscles. Instead of doing something new, it’s doing something old, showing it’s so confident in its ability to compete with broadcast and cable that its willing to embrace a classic genre they invented first.

“Netflix wants to constantly be seen as a place where all the action on TV is happening, and they’ve done a pretty good job of that,” Robert Thompson, the director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, says.

“It may be distributed exclusively online, but can not only do great dramas and comedies, it can also do all that other stuff that TV has been doing for the past 70 years, including a Christmas special.”

 

 

Family Fun

The song-and-dance acts known as variety shows were once the staple of American television. In the 1950s, stages were set up with audiences and big cameras. Performers told jokes, played music, performed skits, and danced. They were easy to produce. People loved to watch them. And, crucially, they served as one-stop entertainment for the whole family.

As December rolled around each year, shows would produce holiday specials in a similar style. “Holiday shows were most popular in the heyday of the variety show, from the late 1950s to the 1960s,” says David Inman, the author ofTelevision Variety Shows: Histories and Episode Guides to 57 Programs. “Some hosts, like Andy Williams and Perry Como, featured family members and the children of the show’s crew. It was all very family-oriented.”

 

The ’70s featured variety shows like Donny & Marie and The Carol Burnett Show, but with the rising popularity of sitcoms, variety shows lost their shine. “Variety shows were based upon music,” Thompson says. “Grandma, mom, and the kids all listened to Bing Crosby, but once we got to the age of Elvis and beyond, our musical tastes fragmented in significant ways.”

Nostalgia, Tradition, Music

That’s true—except for Christmas, a holiday steeped in dozens of songs for all ages. “Christmas is all about old school. It’s about nostalgia and tradition,” Thompson says. “At Christmas time, we watch TV specials that are half-a-century old. We still watch It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s the one time of the year when what normally would be considered so old fashioned to be stupid, it suddenly becomes chic, desirable.”

 

Christmas is also a boom time for TV. In 2014, there were more than 1,000 hours of holiday-themed programming on TV from November 25 to December 31, reaching 236 million Americans, according to Nielsen. CBS head Les Moonves said in an interview this week that giving up the rights toCharlie Brown was one of the missteps of his career.

So, while the variety show is largely now seen as campy (even embarrassing!), holiday-themed specials didn’t completely disappear. In 1988, Pee Wee’s Playhouse Christmas Special poked fun at the genre. SNL, one of the last remaining variety shows on television, hosts a popular Christmas special each year. (This year’s will feature A-list hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler). Even in the mid-aughts, anot-quite-cynical special from Stephen Colbert attracted huge audiences.

Bill Murray’s Magic

Everyone in the family may be able to agree on holiday music, but a real variety show also needs its stars. For Netflix, that’s where Bill Murray comes in. As the The New York Times noted in a profile this week, not only does Murray appeal to everyone, but he’s been able to command an almost cult-like following among a younger generation.

Murray also has a history with both variety shows and the holidays. He got his start on Saturday Night Live, where he famously mocked old-school entertainment, most famouslymaking up lyrics to the Star Wars theme on SNL. Meanwhile, he’s also starred in Christmas films likeScrooged, as well as one of the most famous non-Christmas holiday movies of all, Groundhog Day. “He’s always demonstrated great affection for old time showbiz like this,” Inman says.

Despite Murray’s obvious appeal, however, Netflix is still taking a risk. There’s something unique about gathering your family to watch a show live on TV (much like The Wiz Live! last night) with the rest of the nation. “These holiday specials were events,” Thompson adds. “You gathered around the TV and watched them. In that sense, Netflix dropping a holiday special you can watch anytime is different.”

But Netflix knows that live TV today matters very little to viewers. Exhibit A is its own success. “A Very Murray Christmas” is available not only today, but every day until Christmas, and every day after, until Christmas rolls around again. It’s now just part of Netflix’s inventory, which in a sense makes it seem less special. But as an always-on option, families have the flexibility to make it a part of their holiday traditions on-demand. It’s the way TV works now—Netflix has made sure of it.

 

Sorgente: With A Very Murray Christmas, Netflix Shows It Is TV | WIRED

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