2014: The Year in Stories

2014: The year in storytelling

I’m a writer. I tell stories. So, much of my perspective of the world is through a lens focused on how we mere human beings reach for the divine through our fiction, the stories we tell of what might be instead of what is. While a popular thing to do this week is lament all the political and social strife that have left their mark on our minds and hearts, I want to take a moment to be a bit contrarian and talk about how 2014 was a great year for the art of storytelling.

Movies fell in love with science, and scientists

Interstellar, The Theory of Everything, and The Imitation Game sold audiences on hard science and engineering, and the very human stories behind the people who make it all happen. In a time when so many people feel that America is falling into an age of anti-intellectualism, this was a huge and welcome trend.

Comic book stories on the big and small screens aren’t as much about superheroes; un-super heroes shone too

The comic book industry has long provided a treasure trove for the movie industry, but this year so a little departure from focus on the guys with crazy powers and focused on the heroes who can’t fly, don’t have super strength, and don’t have healing factors. Gotham took Batman out of the Batman story and mostly focused on the crazy but fascinating crime drama of Gotham city, sticking to a simple formula of cops vs. robbers. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D Season 2 mostly did away with the superhero stories from season 1 and focused on the human team and how they had to use tech, smarts, and guts to win the day. And the blockbuster comic movie of the year, Guardians of the Galaxy, stars a guy who is pretty much your average bro (despite being half alien).

The book industry didn’t change much, which is maybe a good thing

Although we did see some big battles among publishers over digital distribution, and there were some experiments that may change the future of how people pay for books and how authors get paid, for the most part the year in fiction books was pretty similar to previous years, with young adult stories selling well but also big names like King, Grisham, and Murakami topping the charts. And we also saw the continuation of a trend that should surprise no one: movies sell books more than anything else.

As Variety notes:

Nine of the 10 top selling books of the year were tied into a film adaptation or film franchise of some kind, with various publications of John Green’s “The Fault in Our Stars,” first published in 2012, occupying three of the 10 slots. The success of Green’s novel and its film adaptation, which earned more than $300 million in global box office this year, propelled his 2007 title “Looking for Alaska” into the tenth spot, marking the only standalone, non-film-related novel on the book list.

2014 saw some changes in the storytelling industry, and trends are starting to shift. But most important of all is the recognition that we DO still have a thriving storytelling industry that uses fiction to help us gain perspective on reality.


TV Cancellation Logic

It’s that time of year again: time for the TV networks to decide what stays and what goes, while they introduce their upcoming shows. It’s often a tough period for die-hard TV fans, who oftentimes feel their favorite series was treated unfairly or mismanaged, but a lot of different factors go into the decisions. Contrary to popular belief, there aren’t vindictive TV executives out there that love to crush the spirits of TV fans.

First, let me plug IGN’s 2001 TV Show Obituary List. It’s a comprehensive list of all the network shows that are dead, Jim. If you haven’t been following all the cancellation news, that’s the place to go.

This year, FOX once again cut a lot of shows from their catalog. As usual, some fan favorites got the axe, including Lie to Me and Breaking In. IGN TV Editor Eric Goldman has a great blog post on how FOX shouldn’t be blamed for canceling shows, but praised for taking chances on them in the first place. As Goldman wrote:

I see some people inferring that FOX has some bizarre, specific agenda to greenlight interesting/cool series and then quickly cancel them, which is pretty silly. Instead, it’s notable that FOX continues to greenlight interesting/cool series.

I have to agree with him – FOX pushes the edge a lot more than most networks, but sometimes the shows just don’t pull in enough money.

And that’s where the ratings come in. The common outcry these days is something like, “The rating system is outdated! They don’t factor in online views or DVRs!” But actually they do (as best they can, at least). The problem is, the advertising revenue isn’t the same for all those platforms. I highly recommend this very informative blog post (“The Truth About TV Ratings) by Craig Engler, VP of Digital at the SyFy network. Here’s a great excerpt:

If you add up all the money you get selling ads in live and DVR viewing and stack that against all the money you bring in through every other kind of viewing method, you’d probably be lucky to get $1 in online revenue for the same number of views that would bring in $10 on TV. […] To look at it another way, if you add the income from 1 million TV viewers and 1 million online viewers, it gives you the same income as 1.1 million TV viewers would.

Despite the Netizens feeling like online viewing should weigh in heavily in a network’s decision to cancel a show, the money is still coming from TV, and if those numbers aren’t up to snuff, a series can’t survive. It will be interesting to see how advertisers change their pricing structures as online and mobile viewing continues to become more popular.