Virtual worlds and big tobacco hold one strategy in common: hook 'em young. It's estimated some 20 million kids will congregate in virtual playgrounds by 2011. To capitalize on their addiction, a growing percentage of virtual architects are focusing on kiddie fare modeled after Webkinz and Club Penguin. Disney, Warner Bros., Viacom's Nickelodeon, as well as Lego, Mattel, and Hasbro are milking cartoon and toy franchises for the stuff of kids' virtual dreams. Disney's launching Pixie Hollow, a fairy-themed world, in time for the release of Tinker Bell this fall. Disney, we have the perfect beta tester for you.
Faced with perhaps their trickiest PR dilemma since it was discovered that Jimmy Neutron's true boy genius was for producing some of the most potent meth in the western United States, Nickelodeon now has a star of Zoey 101 on their hands who was apparently absent for the lecture on how to not to be impregnated by your older boyfriend. To their credit, the network has opted not to put Zoey in a variety of ever-expanding smock-tops and pretend the pregnancy never happened, perhaps addressing her dramatic weight gain with a PSA on the dangers of Oreo addiction. Instead, they have a teen pregnancy special in the works, hosted by touchy-subject expert Linda Ellerbee:
MTV Networks employees are planning a walkout for Monday afternoon, and are spreading the word: "What do we do? Suck it up and deal? Leave the company? There is a third option—50% of the company stands up and says 'WE DO NOT ACCEPT THESE TERMS.'" Walking out is generally associated with student protest groups, like the East Los Angeles students who attracted attention to their cause in 1968 by leaving school grounds en masse. It's a more than telling association—freelance workers have so little leverage within their companies that they're forced to resort to dissent tactics employed by groups whose only bargaining chip is attendance.
David Puttnam, a member of Britain's House of Lords, said virtual worlds targeted at children are doing little more than to make them "think of themselves as not that much more than consumers," during his keynote at the Virtual Worlds Forum. Too many of them are backed by product-hawking companies like Viacom's Nickelodeon or Time Warner's Warner Bros. Instead of being fantasy playscapes that also instill an overwhelming urge to run out and buy Teletubbies plushies, they should be encouraging children to "exercise those same values and skills we wish to see them exercise in the real world." No more orgies in Club Penguin, then. We can top Puttnam's suggestion: How about encouraging them to stay in the real world and exercise, period?
In today's Variety Youth Impact Report, a special section in which the trade publication spotlights the precocious performers who will one day either rise to Fanningesque domination of the industry or challenge Lindsay Lohan's Herbie: Fully Loaded record for most hangover-induced missed call times, experts from Hollywood's various child-exploitation vocations suggest that their cherubic moneymaking machines might more effectively generate commissions if kept tuned-up with some preventative maintenance. Call it "prehab":
Here at Gawker, we don't do much celebrating. It's always "Joe Morgenstern is a lazy piggy" or "Man, whoever made this slideshow on the T website is so lame." Never a kind word to be heard around here—see below, generally speaking—the posts never not poker-faced and always possibly reactionary to the point where it might be considered harmful.
This just in: Network executives are impatient, either cancelling or giving full-season orders to shows based only on a couple of weeks of ratings data. [Variety]
It's nice to see Mira Sorvino breaking out of TV movie jail and getting a part in an Actual Feature Film, joining Mark Ruffalo, Joaquin Phoenix, and Jennifer Connelly in Reservation Road. (And we're so proud of ourselves for not ruining the moment by perving on Connelly, which would be completely inappropriate on Sorvino's big day.) [THR]
New MTV FIlms/Nickelodeon Movies president Scott Aversano's bloody housecleaning claims 16, with "several" others getting reshuffled elsewhere within the MTV family. [Variety]
ABC signs Bonnie Somerville to a talent-holding deal. Yeah, we had no idea who she was until we ran her through IMDb either, but we're sure it's money well spent. [THR]
Warner Bros. TV's "low-cost" Horizon Television unit signs American Idol judge Randy Jackson's production company to a multiyear deal, hoping that Jackson's ability to discern amateur singing performance that he's "totally feeling, bro," from ones he's "not feeling, dawg" translates into a knack for developing TV shows. [Variety]
It wasn't that long ago that Paramount announced that it was "restructuring" and "upgrading" its MTV Films and Nickelodeon Movies production companies inside The Happiest Studio on Earth and handing them over to producer Scott Aversano. This morning, though, we're hearing that new president Aversano's "upgrade" involved the shitcanning of everyone in those two divisions who was hired before he took over (except MTV's director of development). In the interest of making this latest ritualistic sacrifice on the Melrose lot sound a little less gruesome, we're told that most people knew it was coming (really, who doesn't see the bloody writing on the wall after "restructuring" news) and that many have been reassimilated into the corporate Borg. More information/press releases/official updates as they become available, but in the meantime, Happy Paramount Layoff Friday!