Thursday, October 18, 2007

Star Wars TV Series Coming Soon

The head Jedi confirmed to the Los Angeles Times that Lucasfilm has "just begun work" on a new live-action spinoff that will bring the Star Wars mythology to the small screen. Additionally, Lucas Animation is deep in production on a weekly computer-animated 3-D series dubbed Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which the filmmaker expects to shop to various networks when finished.

Lucas considers the live-action program to be the more ambitious of the two, because it will be completely Skywalker free and instead center on supporting characters.

He admitted he was taking a risk that viewers—save the die-hard geeks who turn up at the Star Wars Celebration conventions in Greedo and Princess Leia getups—might not warm to Jedis, Sith and droids largely unfamiliar to them.

"The Skywalkers aren't in it—it's about minor characters," the 63-year-old Lucas told the newspaper. "It has nothing to do with Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader or any of those people. It's completely different."

Nevertheless, the Star Wars mastermind maintained that "it's a good idea, and it's going to be a lot of fun to do."

Lucas characteristically refused to divulge details about the storylines or even which minor characters might turn up in either starring or cameos. (We're lookin' at you, Boba Fett.)

Star Wars prequel producer Rick McCallum is currently auditioning writers for the live-action series, which Lucas envisions running for at least 100 episodes.

As for the new Star Wars CGI series, this is not your average Saturday-morning cartoon.

Unlike its 2-D forerunner Clone Wars, an Emmy-winning series of shorts that aired on the Cartoon Network, Lucas says the 3-D Clone Wars will break new technological ground.

As a result, Lucas acknowledged that some network suits have been a little skittish about the projects—perhaps recalling the so-so ratings of Lucas' Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, which eschewed the thrills of its big-screen progenitors in favor of history lessons. (At Celebration III two years ago, Lucas said the live-action series will be similar in tone to those tube adventures.)

"They are having a hard time," Lucas said. "They're saying, 'This doesn't fit into our little square boxes,' and I say, 'Well, yeah, but it's Star Wars. And Star Wars doesn't fit into that box.'"

If old-school Stars Wars and high-octane action is what you're looking for, fear not, young Padawans.

Anthony Daniels, who played C-3P0 in the original trilogy and its prequels, has signed on to voice the protocol droid in Clone Wars, alongside animated versions of R2-D2, Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Mace Windu, Anakin Skywalker, General Grievous, Princess Amidala and Count Dookoo. A trailer is now up at the official Star Wars Website.

In an interview with TV Guide last month, Lucas said his team of animators has completed more than 40 episodes and that he believed the CGI series needs "to go after 9 o'clock, and it can't be a kiddie channel."

These aren't the first Star Wars TV spinoffs. There were the animated Ewoks and Droids Saturday-morning cartoons, two live-action made-for-TV Ewok movies and, most infamously, the universally ridiculed 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special.

For fans of the big screen, Lucas is also planning to tweak his Star Wars movies yet again and release all six episodes in a 3-D digital format. No word yet on a release date.

Madonna deal more about money than music

The deal confirmed Tuesday between Madonna and Live Nation tells us a lot about the future of the corporate music world. But it has very little to do with ensuring the future of great music or serving the dedicated music fan.

It's a deal for the few, the rich, the branded.

Unlike Radiohead's recent end-run around the music industry, which was about using the Internet to get music from band to fan as directly and inexpensively as possible, Madonna's global megadeal with the nation's largest concert promoter is all about maximizing revenue streams.As the first performer signed to the Artist Nation imprint, her agreement with Live Nation is built on the idea that an aggressive entertainment company can sell Madonna in more ways than ever.

It points the way toward a major-label system that will be even less about innovative music, and even more about innovative marketing.

Executives valued for their ability to find talented bands and artists who excel only at music, and not glamour, will become extinct at this mega-corporation level. Their future will be in smaller niche markets, on smaller labels, which cater to hardcore music fans. Those fans are still out there by the tens of millions, as peer-to-peer file sharing has demonstrated, but the Artist Nation model isn't for them. It's for and about celebrities, and the people who can't get enough of them.

No one can begrudge Madonna's business smarts. She saw this as a way to get even more rich and more famous, if that's possible. Live Nation is taking a huge risk investing so heavily in an icon who will turn 50 next year. It's betting on the idea that it can sell Madonna not just through concert tickets, where the two shared $86 million in revenue last year, but also through record sales, merchandising, fan clubs, Web sites, DVDs, music-related television and film projects, and sponsorship deals.

The deal likely means the rich will get richer if the music industry adopts the Artist Nation model. Multimedia stars such as Justin Timberlake, Jay-Z, Eminem, Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Lopez, U2's Bono and a handful of other established performers for whom music is just one part of what they do, and how they sell, should be smacking their lips.

Meanwhile, it's more bad news for the established major labels. Live Nation presents a threat to the near monopoly once enjoyed by Warner Brothers, with whom Madonna has been contracted for 25 years, as well as Sony BMG, Universal and Capitol/EMI.

In the past, the majors have worked out Madonna-style partnerships with artists such as Robbie Williams and Korn to share not just in their record sales but in all their music-related income. But they have been slow to remake their business model, and some artists -- such as Radiohead -- are beginning to abandon the majors as a 20th Century relic and set off on their own. Last week, Radiohead started selling its new album as a digital download through its own Web site at a price determined by each consumer.

Madonna's decision strongly suggests that even the artists who benefited most from the majors' business-as-usual approach are no longer interested in living in the past.

Now the nation's dominant concert promoter has set itself up as a new breed of record company, gunning to sign the same big-name artists that have been the majors' meal ticket for a half-century and offering them one-stop shopping benefits. With Starbucks and Live Nation now in the music-label business, can other powerful corporations with music-related product -- such as Steve Jobs' Apple or Paul Allen's Microsoft -- be far from establishing their own labels?

But these multifaceted deals only make sense for a few artists. For a new or midsize band with a niche audience, the Live Nation-Madonna model has nothing to do with their reality, and probably never will. Artist Nation points the way toward a future where the biggest corporations will be about only the biggest stars and the most revenue streams. Smaller artists will likely gravitate toward some variation of the Radiohead model, a combination of touring, niche marketing and direct-to-fan sales that doesn't require the involvement of multinational conglomerate.

As for Artist Nation, celebrities only need apply. Hello, Madonna -- a celebrity with a profound understanding of who she is at this stage in her career. She no longer needs a record company. She needs a marketing machine that can help her cash in on all the business opportunities that her music made possible.