Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog

Dec. 1 2015 8:02 AM

What It’s Like to Live and Die by TV Ratings

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

Hey, everyone! I hear you want to know about the Nielsen ratings? Sure!

I created a network television show, which obviously means I’m an expert in everything. The Nielsen ratings are a way of measuring how many viewers are watching a TV show live. For those younger people reading, a television is a large electronic box that hangs on the wall or is freestanding in what is sometimes called a media center, which is a late-20th-century term for big cabinet. If you can believe it, you turn on that television at the exact moment that a television show starts. You can’t be late. Just like an airplane or a train! Then you watch the commercials. And the Nielsen ratings are a way of counting the number of people who do that!

But how does it work? If you’re very lucky, you get chosen to be a Nielsen household. That means you get some kind of box installed in your television. But what if I don’t have a television? What if I watch TV shows on my computer? No one cares about you, you little millennial snotbag. So then this box records the shows you are watching and somehow gets that data back to some kind of central headquarters. I like to think it’s a “central headquarters,” but I really have no idea what the Nielsen offices look like. In my mind, it’s kind of like CSI, and all the people who work there are super-hot scientists who wear lab coats and appear to each other in holograms. “Did you see what Hillary Jensen of Ohio watched last night? She is wasting her life. Girl needs some diiiick!” The holograms all laugh with each other and slap hologram high-fives. Maybe there’s a Nielsen office jokester. I like to think his name is Brian, and he sometimes gets the numbers wrong, but he sends out hilarious videos and he’s got a cute kid and everyone likes him.

The numbers are then reported to websites and agencies and networks. I get them from the producer of my show, who gets them from a woman named Vivian, who I think works at Fox. It always says: “FW: Blackberry Fast Nationals – Tuesday [the date].” I see that subject heading, and a cold shiver runs up my spine. I have no idea what the “blackberry” means. Maybe it’s from someone’s Blackberry? Does Vivian stay up all night on her Blackberry sending out emails? Go to sleep, Vivian! I usually get the numbers email on Wednesday morning around 8 a.m. Sometimes I open it and look. Sometimes I’m just not feeling emotionally strong enough, and I read articles about the Middle East until other producers on the email thread start writing in. “Oof.” “Ouch.” “Woof.” “Okay.” Sometimes “Good.” Or “Yes!” Then I kind of break down and open the email. The easy metaphor to describe reading the numbers email is “ripping off a Band-Aid,” but I’m not a writer who uses easy metaphors, so I’ll say that it feels like “running naked through the Whole Foods parking lot at 4 p.m. on a Sunday, screaming, ‘Where’s the barbecue sauce?’”    

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Dec. 1 2015 7:32 AM

The Best Movies and TV Shows Coming This Month to Netflix, Hulu, HBO NOW, and Amazon Prime

Every month, tons of new movies and TV shows become available to stream for free for subscribers to Netflix Instant, Hulu, HBO NOW, and Amazon Prime. With so many different streaming services, it can be hard to keep track of them all—especially if you belong to more than one service. Below, we present to you the ultimate streaming guide. We’ll let you decide which service has the best new titles.

Nov. 30 2015 11:12 PM

Spotlight and Tangerine Are Big Winners at the Gotham Independent Film Awards

As I wrote when nominations were announced in October, the Gotham Awards can’t be viewed as a reliable predictor of what the rest of the awards season will look like—films that didn’t already have some hefty Oscar buzz aren’t likely to get a boost from a nomination or a win. But to win certainly doesn’t hurt a film’s chances, either, especially if you’re one like Spotlight (which is currently the frontrunner in the Best Picture Oscar race and won Gotham’s best picture, screenplay, and—the previously announced—ensemble awards) or Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence. With regards to the former, consider it the kick off to a long (and likely fruitful) awards season run—though I still wouldn’t bet on it taking Best Picture at the Oscars just yet.

Fans of Tangerine, a film that follows two transgender best friends on a particularly eventful Christmas Eve, will be happy to learn that it got some big love this evening: Mya Taylor won the Breakthrough Actress award, and the film won the Audience Award. It still seems like a long shot for other major awards nominations being announced over the next couple of weeks, but at the very least, it still appears to resonate with audiences and voters since its world premiere at Sundance earlier this year.

And in recognition of television’s continued dominance as a creative force, the awards this year featured an inaugural category for Breakthrough Series, long-form and short-form: The former went to Mr. Robot, and the latter went to the webseries Shugs and Fats.

The rest of the winners are in bold below.

Nov. 30 2015 9:24 PM

Coldplay’s New Single With Beyoncé Continues the Band’s “Free and Happy” Phase

Coldplay’s latest album, A Head Full of Dreams, has been described by Chris Martin as a “free and happy” record. That description bore out in the album’s first single, and it’s even more applicable to its second one, a Beyoncé collaboration called “Hymn for the Weekend” that was recently shared on Annie Mac’s BBC Radio 1 show.

Honestly, the best description for the track is its title: It’s a prayer-like party tune that melds a tinkling piano riff, a full-force symphony, and Jonny Buckland’s chiming guitar into a peppy slice of club pop. Queen Bey’s involvement is limited to some sublime backing, but bassist Guy Berryman notes that the singer came into the studio and “did her thing” in a mere five minutes. Praise be.

Nov. 30 2015 8:07 PM

The First and Final Shots of Game of Thrones Characters, Side by Side

As is well known by now, Game of Thrones is not a sentimental show. Your favorite lord, kind and noble and true? He’ll die. That smart, sequestered princess? She will also die. Most painfully, these (often literal) stabs of fate usually come when one is most attached to a character.

There are plenty of supercuts of these deaths, but in the above video Fernando Andrés takes a different, more insightful approach, placing characters’ final moments next to their very first close-up appearance in the show. In practice, that means we see a lot of people go from grim and gloomy to grim and gloomy and dead, but watching both kings and commoners expire also highlights Game of Thrones’ unique, equal-opportunity view of death.

Nov. 30 2015 6:13 PM

God Bless the #PopeBars Meme, Because His Holiness Spits Hot Fire

Pope Francis is not your average pope: On top of his (somewhat) progressive stances on certain issues, he has also released his own rock album and inspired pizza likenesses of his image. Now, Twitter has taken his Cool Papa reputation to the next level with a new meme. Prepare thyself, because His Holiness is about to drop some seriously slick #PopeBars.

Nov. 30 2015 4:26 PM

Surprise! Transparent’s Season 2 Premiere Hits Amazon Tonight.

Transparent fans, rejoice! Though it wasn’t expected for another couple of weeks, Deadline reports that the Emmy Award-winning show's Season 2 premiere will hit Amazon at 8 p.m. Eastern time tonight for U.S. Prime users. (The rest of the season will debut on Dec. 11 for the U.S., UK, Germany, and Austria.) Just in time to help you recover from Thanksgiving with your own dysfunctional family.

Read more in Slate about Transparent:


Nov. 30 2015 3:32 PM

The Best (and Only) Nigerien Remake of Purple Rain: “Rain the Color of Blue With a Little Red in It”

Prince fans might doubt that anyone could recapture the theatrics, energy, and distinctively ’80s sexuality of Purple Rain, but director Christopher Kirkley decided to try anyway. Set in Niger, his Purple Rain remake had to get past a couple road blocks—like the fact that the people it follows, a nomadic group called the Tuareg, don’t even have a word for purple. So he ended up with a title that NPR reports translates to “Rain the Color of Blue With a Little Red in It.”

Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai, like Prince’s iconic film, follows a (now Tuareg) musician, as he fights for musical greatness. According to NPR, the struggles he faces along the way “are every bit as resonant in Niger’s desert community as they were in Prince’s Minneapolis.” But because some of the actors held conservative Muslim beliefs, some of the aforementioned ’80s sexiness had to be trimmed from the plot.


From NPR:

“We obviously couldn't do a kiss on the screen,” Kirkley says. “We even had problems with a hug. I thought, ‘Well, maybe we can just end the film with the two of you hugging,’ and they said no.”

As the film makes the film-festival rounds (where it’s getting some great reviews), Kirkley told NPR he hasn’t heard from Prince yet, but “I'm hoping that if and when we do, it’s, uh, it’s a positive experience.”

Read more in Slate:

Nov. 30 2015 3:03 PM

This Is What It Looks Like When 300 Kate Bush Impersonators Re-Enact Her Video for “Wuthering Heights”

No one frolics in a field quite like Kate Bush. In the iconic music video for 1978’s “Wuthering Heights,” Bush dons a red dress and dances solo in a misty field for the song’s entire four minutes and 26 seconds. Bush wrote the song when she was just 18 (after watching the 1967 BBC miniseries based on Emily Brontë’s novel), and it’s still her biggest hit.

Bush’s squeaky soprano and performance-art–style videos gained her a global cult following, and back in May 2013, a U.K.-based performance troupe called Shambush! decided to pay tribute to her “Wuthering Heights” video—and Open Culture just unearthed the result. After the troupe invited resident Kate Bush fans to meet at Stanmer Park in Brighton to recreate it, more than 300 people turned up for the re-enactment, evidently causing a shortage in red gowns. The resulting video of hundreds of Kate Bushes—both tall and small, male and female, bearded and two-year-old—giving “Wuthering Heights” their all is, well, just watch it.

Nov. 30 2015 12:43 PM

Creed Director Ryan Coogler on Reimagining Rocky and Convincing Stallone

This article originally appeared in Vulture

With Creed now in theaters, Rocky fans can finally see how helmer Ryan Coogler, the brain also behind 2013's acclaimed Fruitvale Station, and star Michael B. Jordan, who plays Stallone’s fervent protégé, have shaken up the big-screen boxer's legacy. To shed light on the much-hyped film, our friend John Horn, host of the KPCC radio show and podcast “The Frame,” interviewed Coogler about the shift in direction with the Rocky spinoff, the challenges of pitching the Creed concept to Sylvester Stallone, and his commitment to diversifying today's cinematic landscape.