It was revealed this week that a revival by Apple of Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories would be its first signature move into premium scripted video content. This appears indicative of the lack of innovation that continues to mark Apple’s forays into “television” (however you wish to define TV) over the past several years.
I remember as a young adult, 30 years ago, when Amazing Stories first came out. It was good, but not great. Even with Spielberg at the top of his popcorn-movie form in the mid-’80s, the series likely only survived as long as it did because of the two-year commitment his name elicited from NBC rather than its ratings. And his second series, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, following in the early 1990s, wasn’t a smash hit either.
Not Everything is Meant to be Recycled
Many of us despair over the fact that recycling old concepts seems to have become the heart of Hollywood in recent years – a result of wanting to reduce risk by using “proven” IP, creative impotence, or a combination of both. But it’s original ideas and content that drive the buzz-worthy, water-cooler, subscription-driving successes of which all premium video providers want a piece. Game of Thrones, Orange is the New Black, The Handmaid’s Tale, and Stranger Things were all new – or new to the TV series format – and drove lots of interest in their respective video services. I know Netflix has its algorithms, but did its revivals of Full House or One Day at a Time really drive widespread interest outside their niche audiences?
Of course, there are the exceptions and Amazing Stories, being an anthology, probably has more leeway than a series with a continuous narrative across episodes. But being linked to a nearly forgotten 1980s series, even just by name, is baggage that is unneeded. Black Mirror seems to always be compared with the Twilight Zone but it still has an identity independent of that superlative series (which itself was the victim of a 1980s revival).
Apple & TV
This me-too (or me-later) attitude seems to have marked Apple’s forays into the device side as well. Despite Apple being the top brand in premium consumer tech, AppleTV has languished in the streaming device space, watching Roku set the standard and newcomers like Chromecast and FireTV quickly pass it in terms of ownership levels. As someone who has followed media technology in the home for over 20 years, it was always curious that Apple seemed to be satisfied with ceding leadership over the biggest, most-used screen to others. Steve Jobs was quoted by his biographer Walter Isaacson that he “had cracked the secret” to TV – but clearly that has not come to pass in the five years hence.
In many ways, as things stand, a breakout by Apple in television – either in content or device – seems like it would be an amazing story in and of itself.
David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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