BROOKE GLADSTONE: We're back with On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. NBC has announced its fall lineup! Some of the new programming includes a documentary about an 8 year old prodigy who's also a bully, TV celebrities playing a late night party game, and claymation, featuring the voices of Tom Arnold and Michael Richards. If you want to watch, just tune in weeknights -- during the commercials. In an apparent pander to the short-attention-span lobby, NBC is running minute-long mini-movies in the midst of its ads. Each of the ten mini-movies will be split into 30 second halves which will appear separately during any given commercial break. The mini-movies are the brain child of Paris Barclay who also co-produced all the shorts and wrote and directed the one about the celebrity game. He joins me now. Paris, welcome to On the Media!
PARIS BARCLAY: Hey -- there's nothing I would rather do right now than being On the Media.
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] You say that to all of the-- [LAUGHTER] magazine shows. So describe some of the mini-movies for me.
PARIS BARCLAY: The idea structurally is that there would be a one-minute film, and that it would have 30 seconds that would build up to some suspenseful conclusion, and then later on there'd be 30 seconds that would resolve it. So essentially they're all different kinds of cliffhangers. But within that structure, we went out to all kinds of writers and all kinds of directors, so in this group of ten there are game shows and musicals and claymation pieces and dramas and mockumentaries and reality programs. One of the minute movies that was written and directed by Ivan Sergei tells its murder mystery story in Memento-type fashion where the murder happens in the first half and then the unraveling in reverse of why the killer did what he did happens at lightning quick speed and in reverse!
BOB GARFIELD: Did you go to NBC with this idea or did NBC come to you looking for help?
PARIS BARCLAY:Actually the idea was created 13 years ago when I was in advertising. I used to be an advertising copywriter, and just as I began to direct commercials it occurred to me that people weren't watching them as much as the advertisers would like. So I said "Well you know what they need to do -- they need to just do some films that aren't commercials that are interesting and that keep you holding."
BOB GARFIELD:So many questions spring to mind. First of all does the one minute in the middle of any given broadcast hour come from the time devoted to programming or does it come from the time devoted to ads?
PARIS BARCLAY: [LAUGHS] Do you really think NBC would give up money to do something new?!
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] I apologize for the foolish question. [LAUGHTER] So it's coming from the programming.
PARIS BARCLAY: Yeah-ah!
BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] Okay.
PARIS BARCLAY: Well actually the, the serious answer to that is by the time we will be on the air, NBC will have sold out all of its advertising time. But a lot of times shows do come in short! I mean I've directed the West Wing -- hardly ever are they to the length that they traditionally should be. And so when shows are delivered short, Jeff Zucker and company will be able to play these one-minute movies!
BOB GARFIELD:All right, now on some level this has to be seen as an indictment either of advertising's ability to keep an audience all by itself, and programming's ability to maintain an audience all by itself. If seeing the, the next act of the West Wing isn't sufficient to keep you from-- I don't know -- running an errand --what good will one-minute mini-movies do?
PARIS BARCLAY: When -- in between the time when those acts of the West Wing happen, there are a few minutes, and advertisers are getting concerned that they feel that people aren't necessarily paying attention. It's not that the commercials aren't of good quality. It's that as soon as that act resolves, people say "Oh! I gotta put the kids to bed." "Oop! I gotta go the bathroom." They don't even look at the commercials.
BOB GARFIELD:So you begin a 3 minute pod of commercials with a 30 second mini-movie or half of one --leave it ending suspensefully, and then at the end of the pod you get the denouement?
PARIS BARCLAY: Maybe at the end; maybe not. Maybe in the middle of the pod. You don't know when it's going to be resolved, and it's so short -- the resolution -- that you don't even have time to go away and look for someone else or something else. So that's one of the great things about it only being a minute long; and if we do our job right -- let's say 5 or 10 percent of the people actually hang out to see the conclusion of a minute-movie. That is substantial to the advertisers and to NBC.
BOB GARFIELD:Which brings me to the next question about inevitability. Paris, isn't it inevitable that if this takes off [LAUGHTER] eventually there will be product placements within the one-minute mini-movies that are attempting merely to get you to watch the actual commercials? [LAUGHTER] How long before you actually sell out the entire new genre?
PARIS BARCLAY: Yeah. That's a good point. Well, we're going to try to resist it. Of course people thought "You know, let's get Coke to sponsor this. Let's just let them pick up the tab." And we resisted. I mean we haven't even finally delivered them to the network, and they're already interested in developing them into actual shows, [LAUGHTER] which I, I mean this is only the first ten! And one of the-- [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
BOB GARFIELD:[LAUGHS] Which gets to my first question about the inability of the actual programming to sustain viewers -- [LAUGHS] it certainly bespeaks a certain desperation, doesn't it?
PARIS BARCLAY: [LAUGHS] Well, I don't know if it's desperation as if -- sometimes when you do things and you're not doing them for the intended purpose like we weren't intending to make these little pilots -- and then Hank Perlman, this New York commercial director, created this little prodigy/bully character, and I kind of knew when I was watching them shoot it in New York -- I said "Oh, when NBC sees this, we're going to be making a show." Now, they haven't officially said that yet, but we've gotten all the rumblings down the line that it's that kind of interesting thing. So we've made one of the least expensive pilots potentially in history!
BOB GARFIELD: Well listen, I wish you all the best of luck in 60 second intervals!
PARIS BARCLAY: Oh, [LAUGHS] thank you very much.
BOB GARFIELD:Paris Barclay is the genius behind the one-minute mini-films which will be appearing sometimes when you least expect it in this fall's season on NBC. [MUSIC]