As the media is evolving, including how consumers are enjoying their digital content, so is the coverage of what is available. Fans aren’t just reading up on new movies, shows, books and music, they’ve begun to listen to podcasts on their favorite topics. The emergence of Podcasts, or Audio On Demand, is a nice compliment to Video On Demand as both formats allow us to determine when and where we want to enjoy our selections.
Podcasts may have gotten a reputation initially for the guy in his basement talking about a niche subject, but the medium is breaking out. From comedians (ex: Marc Maron) and talk show talent (ex: Adam Carolla) reaching larger audiences to the hottest show’s (“Breaking Bad”) producers having their own shows, podcasts have really came into their own in 2013.
One of the more popular hosts and ambassador of the podcast platform is ESPN’s well known sports writer, Bill Simmons (The B.S. Report). In 2011, he launched Grantland, a website dedicated to sports and pop culture. In addition his staff writing for the website, they also have podcast shows and video segments for the Grantland Network.
The podcast that caught our attention the most was The Hollywood Prospectus with Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald. And we're not alone. “Increasingly podcasts, and especially targeted ones such as The Hollywood Prospectus, are becoming an important medium for awareness in the on demand world,” Eamonn Bowles, President, Magnolia Pictures.
On Demand Weekly’s Britt Bensen spoke with Chris and Andy about how The Hollywood Prospectus came to be, why their chemistry works so well and their thoughts on the VOD industry.
On Demand Weekly (ODW): What were your first jobs in media?
Andy Greenwald (AG): My first job was interning at SPIN the summer of ’98 and then I got hired to be an editorial assistant the following summer and then switched to the website in ’99. It was so misunderstood, they allowed me at the age of 23 to be the Director of New Media at Vibe and Spin. Chris and I had been good friends since ’96 and he came to New York and started contributing to Spin.com.
Chris Ryan (CR): My first job in the media was working for Andy. I worked regional jobs. In ’99 I started writing music record reviews and working for really small publications, zines, back when they used to have zines. Andy was moving to New York to work at Spin and I joined him down there for a brief, but glorious run at Spin.com.
AG: We had actually become friends for our shared love of music magazines and thinking about them and wanting to write our own reviews and pretending to make our zine, which we never actually did, but we talked a lot about.
ODW: It’s easy to tell from the podcast you know each other well. When did you first meet?
CR: Andy and I went to rival Quaker schools in Philadelphia. We ended meeting each other through some people I went to high school with…
AG: …who I went to college with. Chris was in Boston for college and I was at Providence. I was going to college with one of his friends, and she said you like Pavement, I have a friend who likes Pavement and it was love ever since.
ODW: Alan Sepinwall (Hitfix.com) went to college in Philly. What is in the water there that is turning out TV critics?
CR: There’s definitely something in the water.
AG: You should not drink the water.
ODW: ESPN sportswriter Bill Simmons had been crossing over into pop culture from his start. He then founded Grantland two years ago. When did you first become aware of Bill and Grantland and when were each of you hired?
AG: I think we both read Bill’s first column. The minute he started writing for Page 2 (ESPN’s former sports blog), it was a revelation for everyone more or less our age to see someone write that way and...
...making it seem effortless and
natural to care about different types of things.
To really want to joke about the movie ANCHORMAN
and talk the World Series.
To bring all of those worlds together was really remarkable. If the Spin.com email addresses still existed I could find us emailing his column back and forth.
CR: When Bill was writing for Page 2 in the late 90’s, reading Bill was sort of the highlight of the internet. I don’t mean to say that because he’s our boss. He captured the imagination of a certain generation of readers where sports influenced pop culture and pop culture influenced sports and you could be a fan of both things.
As for starting at Grantland, I came to it through Chuck Klosterman, who was a friend of mine back in New York. He came to me the summer before and said Bill was looking for a soccer writer and I had been doing some writing about the World Cup and English Premier League. I wound up meeting Bill in New York and it went from there. I moved to LA to work as an editor.
AG: I knew about it in advance of it launching due to my friendship with Chris and Chuck, but I didn’t have any in on it. I was looking to get out of freelance writing about music and get in to writing for TV. I went to get a beer with Chuck and he mentioned there might be a place to contribute something for this site that didn’t have a name yet. And I was like, no thanks, I’m good.
Then in April, 2011, another friend from Spin, Lane Brown, who was the founding cultural editor of the site and had edited my first TV recaps for Vulture, reached out to me saying he had permission to being on someone on a part time contract to help with the cultural coverage. And I thought, that was too good to pass up. I went from a part time contract to a full time TV writer.
ODW: What are you exact roles at Grantland?
CR: I’m a Deputy Editor and I am in charge of the Triangle Sports Blog. I oversee the editing and assigning and writing on that side.
AG: My title is Staff Writer, but I am essentially the TV Critic, although the last couple of weeks, Bill has decided he doesn’t like the word critic, so he’s trying to come up with a different title. One of the great things about Grantland is if I get agitated about the Phillies, Chris will let me write something or I have written about books and movies, but TV is my primary beat.
ODW: The Hollywood Prospectus podcast is a must listen every week for me. Whose idea was it?
CR: Once Jacoby met Andy & I, and saw our dynamic and said we should give these guys a podcast. It wasn’t called the Hollywood Prospectus in the beginning. We called it on the first show out of not knowing what else to call it and it stuck.
It was going to be Chris and Andy talking about all sorts of things, but we were lucky enough to start the podcast at the height of people becoming fervent fans of the Golden Age of television with shows like “Mad Men”, “Breaking Bad”, “Game of Thrones”. And that gave us a focus.
AG: Jacoby wanted to launch culture podcasts in the beginning and they couldn’t do it right away. Before I even met him, we did a podcast where we argued about “The Walking Dead”. That’s the first time we ever spoke. We did the first podcast in January 2012. Chris was still in New York at the time. We recorded the first 7 or 8 in the studio here, which was nice so we could get more comfortable and figure it out. It wasn’t weekly at first, but we got the go ahead pretty quickly.
Jacoby’s thinking was from his experience in working with Erik Rydholm at ESPN / PTI, the best listening and watching comes from people who actually like each other. We’re obviously not in their league, but I think they thought that our 15 years of friendship would translate well.
ODW: I recall the origin of PTI being based on good friends and colleagues Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon talking all day in the Washington Post newsroom and calling each other at night to talk sports. PTI decided to capture their conversation. Your podcast reminds me of that friendly rapport and is a new way for consumers to engage with the latest TV series, films and music in a commercial-free, uninterrupted, longer format that can’t be found on TV or radio. What’s been the response to the Hollywood Prospectus podcast?
CR: I’ve had times when people have recognized my voice, which is surreal. I can’t even comprehend thinking about us in the same terms as PTI, because it’s a show I’ve been such a big fan of for most of my life. I do think the suggestion you’re making is the right one in that it’s been popular for people to be polar opposites or pre-disposed to disagree with one another may be exciting for a short term, but sometimes has diminishing returns.
Andy and I are flattered that people want to spend time with us in a way and we’re glad to project our friendship. Because that’s what it is...
...just us being friends.
It’s nice not to have to disagree with each
for the sake of doing so.
AG: The fact that part of my job is talking to my best friend does not seem real. The reaction has been bizarrely nice. It does still feel like the conversations we’d be having any way. And so then to be broadcasting them and people to be looking forward to them.
It’s a funny thing to be recognized for something that is effortless, because we’d be doing it any way. It’s extremely flattering. We’ve been serious about liking stuff and being enthusiastic. Whether it is a TV show like “Breaking Bad” or the crime novels we were trying to get people to read.
One of the things we like best when we were reviewing records, was not the desire to criticize someone, but to...
basically barge into someone’s house
and press play on someone’s CD player
to something we thought was really good.
To be able to continue that enthusiasm and advocacy for things we really care about like the novels of James Crumley or the music Superchunk and get people to give it a shot and respond to is really rewarding.
ODW: It’s better to give than to get, right.
ODW: The Hollywood Prospectus podcast typically records early in the week and is available to listen to by Tuesday / Wednesday. How do you determine what you will discuss each week and are you getting pitched by media marketing & PR departments specifically for podcast coverage?
CR: We usually talk about the tent pole of the podcast, which is Sunday night television. Whether it is “Mad Men”, “Breaking Bad”, “Game of Thrones” or “Homeland”. Those are our huge topics to focus on the beginning of the podcast. And then we talk about whatever is timely. Whether it is a new album release, or a movie we saw over the weekend.
As far as PR, yes, where it syncs up when Comedy Central asking one of us if we want to talk to “Workaholics.” Andy does his side podcast where he interviews show-runners and personalities in the TV industry.
AG: The funny thing about it is, is how totally DIY it still is. Chris and I will trade texts or emails over the weekend about what we might want to talk about on Monday. We wish we had more time to plan stuff out and bring in guests, but we’re working full time in addition to it. It comes together much more casually, but some of the best shows come out of things we didn’t expect. We were in the middle of TV shows and Chris all of a sudden… what made you want to do the ‘90s one?
CR: … Cause Pearl Jam was playing at Wrigley.
AG: Oh right. So then Chris was like we should one on ‘90s music. We didn’t prepare and turned out to be one of the more fun ones we’ve ever done. That’s good for us sometimes. Pick a topic and just go. We’re still learning as we’re doing it. It’s very much a work in a progress. I guess we need a “Stat Boy” (laughing).
ODW: Is there a natural rivalry with other Grantland podcasts “Do You Like Prince Movies”, “Girls In Hoodies”, “Men In Blazers?
AG: The rivalry is similar to Kendrick Lamar’s verse from the song Control about how he loves everyone, but wants to destroy them. (Chis Ryan is howling with laughter). No. I love working at Grantland. Everyone has such different points of view.
CR: One thing Jacoby has done that has been a huge help to us, in the beginning, people who listened to the Jalen Rose Show (another Grantlad podcast) were getting our podcast too.
ODW: Bill has been a proponent of The Battle of the Network Stars and current challenge shows. Do you have any fodder for other podcasts like Hitfix, etc?
AG: The spirit of competition (they’re both laughing).
ODW: Is Jalen Rose and his bat auditioning for a walk on role on “Boardwalk Empire”?
AG: I think it’s possible. I’d be happy for Jalen and his bat.
CR: I’d like to see him on a more contemporary show like “Scandal”.
ODW: As you both write for Grantland too, is there different preparation for a column vs a podcast? Do you save anything for one format vs the other?
AG: Columns involve preparation and podcasts don’t (laughs). The benefit of knowing each other for so long comes into play. It’s our most regular way of speaking as Chris did something horrible and moved across the country.
The worst thing about being a writer, is writing. So anything I can do professionally that doesn’t involve the thing I’m supposed to be doing, I’m all for it. Another reason why I like podcasts.
ODW: You’re in different cities, right?
ODW: You recently covered Joe Swanberg’s DRINKING BUDDIES, starring Olivia Wilde, Anna Kendrick, Jake Johnson and Ron Livingston that’s been available on demand the same time while in theaters? When you consider a film for conversation, does its distribution strategy determine when you would cover it?
AG: This summer it did. Due to a recent addition to my home life, I have not been able to go to a movie theater to see a movie. The fact that DRINKING BUDDIES was actually available on VOD was a god send. Having seen it and loved it, we would have talked about it any way, but I was keyed up to see a movie we could actually talk about and be relevant.
CR: I remember telling Andy about this movie and the best part about it is you don’t have to leave your house.
AG: I was sold. I thought it really helpful not just for us, but for our listeners. It was really nice to talk about something knowing that most everyone in the country could watch it, that night. We got a lot of feedback for it. People were tweeting us that they really saw the movie because it was available to them.
CR: I’m always looking for things on iTunes or Netflix. Pretty much every major on demand movie ot television show comes across our radar.
ODW: On demand provides an opportunity for discovery.
CR: It’s very democratic. It’s nice to say, ‘go watch this, right now’.
AG: It’s very communal. We talked about it on our podcast and Jake Johnson tweeted about it. Joe Swanberg retweeted about our podcast...
You’re part of the conversation
with the artists and the audience.
ODW: Stephen Colbert refers to anyone appearing on The Colbert Report as getting the Colbert Bump. Has anything received the Hollywood Prospectus Bump?
AG: More like an ant hill.
CR: I think we’re definitely responsible for the fact they’re going to make another Bourne movie.
AG: It’s anecdotal, but people have bought some of the books we discussed. That’s been gratifying for us. Publishers reached out more so than film or TV people. I think people who work in publishing our excited anytime people talk about books.
CR: Probably the thing people got the most excited about that they didn’t know about before was “Top of the Lake”. It got a lot of reaction from people saying they had no idea it existed and it’s amazing.
AG: That fits into the VOD question. It’s one to celebrate obscure things from our past, but to celebrate another thing that was slightly obscure, recent, but also completely available. When we talked about it, it was streaming on Netflix, where it is to this day. That was a really nice synergy.
ODW: What do you think of the state of VOD for movies or TV?
AG: I wish there more, since I can’t get out of the house.
CR: I really hope VOD becomes the platform where the middle class movies goes. Films that are adult thriller. From THE LINCOLN LAWYER to DRINKING BUDDIES. Films that are not finding a place. I look forward to more and more interesting, yet entertaining films on VOD.
I’ve been thinking about what Stephen Soderbergh said at a film festival (the San Francisco International Film Festival) recently. He talked about moving to television and on demand as a platform. I really hope VOD does provide a great platform for the movie business.
State of Cinema: Steven Soderbergh from San Francisco Film Society on Vimeo.
ODW: Most TV recaps and podcast focus on the best TV series and films with recognizable casts. What about the smaller TV series and/or movies? Do you feel “Hollywood Prospectus” could also serve as a place of discovery of new content?
AG: Yeah. I would hope so. Certainly with movies. It’s hard in TV to discover something that is unknown. There’s more opportunity in film.
CR: With film, people can make time to see one movie, like a DRINKING BUDDIES on a Friday Night. With TV, when you’re asking them to invest in a “Broadchurch”, “Top of the Lake”, or “Terriers”, it’s more difficult because it’s a much bigger time demand.
One of the pleasures of the podcast is to get people excited about things they wouldn’t ordinarily get a chance to see.
ODW: “Top of the Lake” premiered as a miniseries on Sundance Channel in the U.S. the format seems to be a sweet spot for the network.
AG: I think that is incredibly smart. That is where TV is going and getting ahead of that and making a name for themselves is really smart.
ODW: Chris mentioned the “Post Golden Age TV era” in last week’s podcast. What is your vision of the TV landscape once “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men” conclude?
CR: I think you’re going to see a lot more channels. Whether that is online channels like Amazon or Netflix, or more channels like what FX is doing. It’s going to be a rush and they’re not going to have that Sunday night prestige. And we’ll probably go through that for a while and the cream will rise to the top.
I don’t see a show to take over for the role “Breaking Bad” and “Mad Men” serve. Nothing feels momentous like them.
AG: It’s going to be dire. If we’re talking about the recent Golden Age of TV, it’s going to be over after “Mad Men” goes dark. The circumstances that led to the shows we’re talking about being broadcast is over. Vince Gilligan had this passion project. “Mad Men” was Matthew Weiner’s passion project. And there were networks desperate for content that were willing to empower show-runners and take chances on strange material. Since then, the entire has changed completely and the finances have changed. Networks are no longer interested in being bent over the barrel by the creative demands of show-runners. We’re in for a different landscape.
ODW: Are there any plans to expand to more than once a week or to video (Grantland’s YouTube channel)?
CR: We’d like to get bigger and expand, but given what we talk about, once a week feels right.
AG: Jalen says give the people what they want and I think what they’re saying is once a week is enough from us.
ODW: Bill Simmon’s BS Report opens with a disclaimer that “it is a free flowing conversation that occasionally touches upon mature subjects.” Any plans for the “Hollywood Prospectus” to go blue and get your own disclaimer?
AG: We talked about Hollywood Prospectus After Dark. For good reason, no one has listened to us. There was one podcast Jacoby produced and had to clean up after we said some stuff.. We’ve learned since then.
ODW: Lastly, name the TV Series, movie and album you’re each looking forward to the most?
CR: The TV series I’m looking forward to is “True Detective” (HBO) with Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. The movie is GRAVITY. Music is tough. I guess Drake.
AG: The Haim album (Days Are Gone) is great. And a Scottish band called Churches has an amazing debut album. AMERICAN HUSTLE (the new David O. Russell movie). “Trophy Wife” (ABC) is a great pilot with Malin Ackerman.
- Britt Bensen
Britt is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-founder of On Demand Weekly. He is currently at Intel Media. Previously, Britt worked for Miramax Films and Sundance Channel. He also on the Advisory Board of the Palo Alto Intl Film Festival.
You can find The Hollywood Prospectus, The Triangle and Chis Ryan & Andy Greenwald’s columns on Grantland.
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