Executive: ‘This statistic is staggering and almost unimaginable’
James Gibbered writes: If you feel like there’s an overwhelming number of TV series options, there’s a very good reason for that.
“The unprecedented increase in the number of scripted series has reached a new milestone in 2015 with a record 409, nearly doubling the total in just the past six years.”
FX has calculated that in 2015 networks and streaming services had a record 409 dramas, comedies and limited series — and that’s not even including unscripted shows or TV movies. Digging into the data, the number of scripted series this year was up 9 percent over 2014, and has doubled since 2009 — while network ratings have, on average, declined.
“This was the third consecutive year that scripted series count has grown across each distribution platform – broadcast, basic and pay cable, streaming — led by significant gains in basic cable and digital services.”
“The unprecedented increase in the number of scripted series has reached a new milestone in 2015 with a record 409, nearly doubling the total in just the past six years,” said Julie Piepenkotter, executive vice president of research for FX Networks.
“This statistic is staggering and almost unimaginable from where they were a decade ago.”
“This was the third consecutive year that scripted series count has grown across each distribution platform – broadcast, basic and pay cable, streaming — led by significant gains in basic cable and digital services. This statistic is staggering and almost unimaginable from where they were a decade ago.”
If you assume each show is 13 hours (which is really conservative given that many hour-long broadcast dramas have 22-episode seasons), that would mean there were 5,317 hours of potential scripted TV to watch this year. Read the rest of this entry »
Daniel Nussbaum writes:
“I want to believe that the American people are holding up Donald Trump as they might their middle finger and they’re giving the middle finger to the establishment, to all of us – left and right – because they are badly served by the establishment…”
“At least he’s shaken up the conversation. He’s made everybody stop talking and stop accepting the idea that they can talk in these canned messages, yes?” Wolf pressed.
“…We are a culture of excess. That’s our biggest product: excess. In everything. He is excessively assholian. I think the American people understand that and this is their way of saying, ‘This is how you’re taking care of us? You leaders? Take this.’ Then they give us Donald Trump.”
— Television producer Norman Lear
…At the Television Critics Association press tour in August, the 93-year-old creator of hit shows like The Jeffersons and Good Times told reporters that he thinks of himself as a “bleeding-heart conservative,” despite decades of advocacy for progressive causes. Read the rest of this entry »
The car, driven by Adam West in the 1960s television show, is back on the market after it fetched $4.2m at auction in 2013.
Holy cats, Batman fans – find your wallets because the Batmobile is for sale.
George Barris, a car customizer, purchased the Futura for $1 in 1965 and built the Batmobile within three weeks, so the car was ready in time for the show’s production. Barris kept the chassis and basic shape of the car but redesigned the nose and tail with bat-inspired shapes and designs. He later made three more replica Batmobiles. Read the rest of this entry »
Erik Pedersen writes: “A good family business is not the same thing as a good family.” Here’s the first trailer for Season 3 of Showtime’s hit drama Ray Donovan, which sees Liev Schreiber as the Boston tough-turned-Hollywood fixer trying to rebuild his empire. Enter Mr. Andrew Finney (Ian McShane), a billionaire movie producer who brings Donovan in to keep an eye on his kids while he settles his affairs before retiring. That includes daughter Paige (Katie Holmes), a shrewd and chic businesswoman who Dad says “no longer sees me as her father, she sees me as an opponent — something in the way of her ascension.” Mogul and problem solver eventually form a very powerful relationship, but can Paige make Donovan an offer he can’t refuse?…(read more)
This Rashida-Jones produced documentary looks at the amateur porn industry. Directed by Jill Bauer and Ronna Gradus, Hot Girls Wanted follows the several 18- and 19-year old pornographic actresses. The picture debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival where it was picked up by Netflix….(read more)
The “Mad Men” finale will be analyzed and rated, debated and recapped. Meaning will be ascribed to it that the writers likely never intended, and much of fans’ pleasure and disappointment will be expressed in real time…(read more)
The falling men on a 1967 LIFE cover seem to presage the falling man in the AMC show’s opening credits
Eliza Berman writes: Analyzing the title sequence to Mad Men has become something of a sport for the show’s fans. Does the suited man hurtling toward earth foreshadow protagonist/anti-hero Don Draper’s literal death or his figurative demise? Does it echo the chilling photograph of a man who jumped from a burning World Trade Center tower? (Showrunner Matthew Weiner has said emphatically that it does not.) Whatever it represents, where did Imaginary Forces, the agency that produced the sequence, get the idea?
Here’s another idea: it’s now been pointed out that the design has many similarities to a 1967 LIFE Magazine cover, the first in a four-part series on “The Struggle To Be an Individual.” The cover, like Mad Men’s credits, features silhouetted men against the backdrop of a 1960s-era skyscraper. Both suggest a sense of helplessness, of ceding control to powerful forces beyond one’s self.
“The cover, like Mad Men’s credits, features silhouetted men against the backdrop of a 1960s-era skyscraper. Both suggest a sense of helplessness, of ceding control to powerful forces beyond one’s self.”
The Imaginary Forces team that produced the credits has spoken about some of the inspiration behind the design. Weiner initially approached them with the skeleton of an idea — a man walks into an office building, takes the elevator to the top and jumps — and they began developing storyboards. Those boards included a Volkswagen ad, movie stills and, as designer Steve Fuller told Print, “the design stew that’s been swirling around in our head over the last 15 years since we left college.”
Though AMC could not confirm, as of publication time, whether this particular LIFE cover ever made it onto those storyboards, the photo essay the cover advertises in many ways articulates the existential crises Draper faces in Mad Men. As an ad man, Draper sells access to an American dream he himself hasn’t entirely bought into. Even as he accumulates successes in the boardroom and the bedroom, the satisfaction never lasts longer than a few drags of a cigarette that might kill him anyway.
The ethos of the 1960s is, of course, omnipresent in Mad Men — and not just in its fastidious commitment to the furniture and fashions of the time. In post-WWII America, many Americans had settled into the comfort of corporate jobs that afforded them the same white picket fence and station wagon their neighbors boasted. Responding to that phenomenon, books like William H. Whyte’s The Organization Man, published in the mid-1950s, lamented how modern workers’ collectivist group-think ran in opposition to creativity and innovation. Read the rest of this entry »
And mirroring Louie, C.K. will perform triple-duties for the film — writing, directing and starring in the indie I’m a Cop, which is being produced by heavyweight producer Scott Rudin.
“I don’t feel like I need anyone to tell me anything with a TV show because I know exactly what I’m doing, but I’d be arrogant to think that I can take someone’s $8 million and just turn in a movie. Movies are different. There’s a permanency to them.”
Rudin is producing with Dave Becky and Blair Breard, the latter an exec producer on C.K.’s Louie as well as a couple of the comedian’s specials, including the upcoming Louis C.K. Live From the Comedy Store.
“I was dealing with people every day whose pressures I didn’t understand, and I wasn’t very nice about how I said no to them. I put myself in a position I didn’t have to be in. A lot of what makes this kind of stuff work is empathy.”
The script tells of a depressed middle-aged man who is a volunteer police officer living in the shadow of his mother, a highly decorated retired officer. Read the rest of this entry »
Eric Thurm writes: TV is an odd mishmash of a medium. It shares enough qualities with film that we can use the word “cinematic” as a blanket compliment, yet its traditional broadcast model more closely resembles radio. In fact, with the advent of original programming from online-only platforms, it’s increasingly difficult to tell what, exactly, TV is.
“At its core, that self-reflexivity is rooted in anxiety for the future—as well it should be. Because as it turns out, the end of Mad Men is not the end of TV, but rather the end of a particular era for the medium, one that has been repeatedly canonized in books like Brett Martin’s ‘Difficult Men’ and Alan Sepinwall’s ‘The Revolution was Televised’.”
Maybe that’s why, dating back to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, TV is so often about itself. There’s a long history of scripted TV that’s about making TV. Yet, for all the literal examples of it—Sports Night, 30 Rock—Mad Men, which returns for its final seven episodes on Sunday, is the most self-reflexive series of them all.
[Order Brett Martin’s book “Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad“ from Amazon.com]
Mad Men‘s ad firm Sterling Cooper & Partners (né Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, né the Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency) is itself a representation of the process of making television. The writers’ room pitches, the long nights, the fights with executives over the creative integrity of material that, with varying degrees of explicitness, is ultimately about selling products. Many of the show’s most triumphant moments come not from interpersonal dynamics, but the act of intellectual conception—being struck by writerly inspiration, often in a room full of people trying to come up with their own perfect idea.
And the show’s behind-the-scenes dynamics become manifest in its characters. Critic Todd VanDerWerff has described episodes as “fan fiction Matt Weiner is writing about his own writers’ room,” something that’s especially apparent in the relationship between Don Draper and his protege-turned-peer, Peggy Olson.
“The writers’ room pitches, the long nights, the fights with executives over the creative integrity of material that, with varying degrees of explicitness, is ultimately about selling products.”
Their tempestuous creative partnership prompts fights over the ownership of everything from ad campaigns to each other’s careers, culminating in the infamous “That’s what the money is for!” scene from “The Suitcase”—an episode in which they argue over what you can and cannot do on TV.
In later seasons of the show, even that layer of metaphor has fallen away; the show has become much more explicit in enacting its own struggle to surpass the limitations of TV storytelling. In particular, the merger between Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce and onetime rival agency Cutler, Gleason, and Chaough is a self-conscious solution to the problem of keeping Peggy on the show once she had naturally grown past the point of needing Don as a mentor and professional champion.
“Many of the show’s most triumphant moments come not from interpersonal dynamics, but the act of intellectual conception—being struck by writerly inspiration, often in a room full of people trying to come up with their own perfect idea.”
Don and Betty may have gotten divorced, but their relationship is effectively unchanged from what it was in Season 1—because to send her offstage is to deny Don his true moral foil. Will any of these characters ever change?
Maybe not, but they’ll certainly keep trying, and stay painfully aware of their failures. Matthew Weiner and his staff threaten change, but it’s never real; they’re just daring us to confront what would happen if the status quo ever seriously shifted. And it’s all so artfully done that Mad Men more than justifies the level of Talmudic recap coverage it has historically received.
“Indeed, many of today’s prestige shows feel like the creative efforts of people who watched ‘Mad Men’, ‘The Sopranos’, and ‘Breaking Bad’ and then tried to replicate them without understanding what actually made them so good.”
But at its core, that self-reflexivity is rooted in anxiety for the future—as well it should be. Because as it turns out, the end of Mad Men is not the end of TV, but rather the end of a particular era for the medium, one that has been repeatedly canonized in books like Brett Martin’s Difficult Men and Alan Sepinwall’s The Revolution was Televised. The Difficult Men narrative of “visionary” showrunners provides a picture of what Good TV is supposed to look like, and how it’s supposed to be made: by exacting geniuses like Don Draper. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s Not About Substance. It’s All About Signaling
Jonathan V. Last writes: In economic theory, “signaling” is an action one party takes that has, superficially, no plausible economic explanation. The reason the action is undertaken isn’t because the action itself is helpful, but because the action transmits important information to a second actor.
“Why do reporters ask politicians what they think about evolution? Practically speaking, no one really cares what a senator or a congressman-or even a president-thinks about evolution. But what a politician says about evolution is a handy signal to certain types of voters telling them what they’re supposed to think.”
So, for instance, the entire field of higher education is essentially a big production in signaling, with students paying lots of money to achieve-not because a college education is worth anything as a good, but because the students hope that the the credential will signal value to potential employers. You don’t pay $200K for a bachelor’s in history from Williams because the class on colonial oppression in West Africa is worth the price of a house. You pay it because you hope that Goldman Sachs sees a Williams diploma as proof of intelligence and will want to hire you.
“The president of the United States-who’s also a constitutional law scholar!-decided that in order to get his arms around reforming the criminal justice system he had to consult with the producer of a fictional TV show that went off the air seven years ago.”
Political life is full of signal theory, too. Why do reporters ask politicians what they think about evolution? Practically speaking, no one really cares what a senator or a congressman-or even a president-thinks about evolution. But what a politician says about evolution is a handy signal to certain types of voters telling them what they’re supposed to think.
“President Obama has always been skilled at sending out very precise, targeted signals, whether it’s to mainstream swing voters or to his liberal base. But the group Obama works hardest at signaling to is the young, Millennial hipsters who were so vital to his 2008 victory over Hillary Clinton.”
So if you’re a nice, well-educated cog in the Goldman Sachs machine who thinks that, generally speaking, public-sector unions are harmful, that the federal government is operating in a suboptimal manner, and that the mullahs of Iran probably shouldn’t be allowed to have nuclear weapons, you might consider voting for someone like that tough, can-do governor from Wisconsin.
But then someone asks the governor whether or not he “believes in evolution” and he doesn’t answer by jumping up and down chanting and “Darwin! Darwin! Darwin!” And suddenly you understand: This guy isn’t really like you. Better to let Iran have nukes.
You got the signal loud and clear.
“As a substantive matter, Obama’s presidency has been terrible for these people. High unemployment numbers for recent graduates. No bending of the curve on college tuition prices….Yet Obama has made sure to signal that, despite everything, he’s really on their side.”
Marc Myers writes: When “Mad Men” returns to AMC on Sunday with the first of its final seven episodes, viewers will be wondering how ad-agency executive Don Draper ends the series—emotionally awakened or drifting down from his office window, as hinted by a falling silhouette in the show’s opening credits. For fans of the series’ 1960s wardrobe and sets, the more pressing question is how the show’s fashion and furnishings will evolve as its timeline inches past the moon landing and enters the shaggy, burnt-orange decay of 1970.
“Through the lens of series creator, producer and writer Matthew Weiner, the adult world of the 1960s is much more jaded and complex than the rosy, adolescent one recalled by many baby boomers who grew up then.”
The runaway popularity of “Mad Men” owes much to its dark story lines of personal demons, office power struggles and noirish character interactions with historical events. But from the start, in 2007, the series’ appeal has also been rooted in its richly detailed look that transports viewers back to an age of sleek office furniture, space-age design, meticulous grooming and colorful clothes. All are represented in “Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men” at the Museum of the Moving Image, an exhibit that celebrates both the show’s vision and visuals.
“The show is not a history lesson or intellectual exploration. It is entertainment based on tension, irony and storytelling that is closely related to today’s life.”
— Matthew Weiner, summarizing the show’s guiding principle
Through the lens of series creator, producer and writer Matthew Weiner, the adult world of the 1960s is much more jaded and complex than the rosy, adolescent one recalled by many baby boomers who grew up then. As the decade unfolds beginning in 1960, the show’s characters find themselves caught in a cultural riptide, with rock, civil rights and feminism changing the balance of power faster than they can adapt. Many turn to alcohol, drugs and serial affairs to ease the stress and hold on to the world they once knew.
Staged in a winding series of rooms, the new exhibit sheds light on how ”Mad Men” was developed by Mr. Weiner and his writers and designers. The exhibit begins with a glass case of books that most influenced Mr. Weiner’s approach, including Helen Gurley Brown’s “Sex and the Single Girl,” the “Journals of John Cheever” and David Ogilvy’s “Ogilvy on Advertising.” The book display is followed by a full-blown re-creation of the room used by the “Mad Men” writing team, complete with their 1960s Danish modern teak conference table, 10 black leather executive chairs, and character-development cards on a wall board. Read the rest of this entry »
The spat began earlier this month, when director Feng Xiaogang lambasted the popularity of a spate of recent Chinese movies based on popular reality television shows
Lilian Lin reports: An unusual public spat between a famous director and the Communist party’s main propaganda arm is shining a light on the state of pop culture in China.
The spat began earlier this month, when director Feng Xiaogang lambasted the popularity of a spate of recent Chinese movies based on popular reality television shows. Such movies, he said on a local television program, are “shot in five or six days” yet make quick money. That hurts genuine filmmaking, he argued, because it draws investor money away from more serious movies.
The apparent target of his criticism was a new film called “Running Man,” which is based on a popular reality show of the same name. The TV show, which is based on a South Korean program and is similar to “The Amazing Race” series in the U.S., pits celebrities against each other in random tasks. (The losers face indignities such as being flung into a swimming pool.) The movie, which has a similar plot, has taken in over 400 million yuan ($64 million) in ticket sales after only two weeks, according to the local film research company EntGroup.
“Is film censorship really based on rule of law and letting the market call the shots? Of course not.”
— Zou Xiaowu, marketing director of theater chain Dadi Cinema
Another movie based on a hit Chinese reality show, “Dad, Where Are We Going?,” took in nearly 700 million yuan and was the country’s third highest-grossing domestic film last year.
Mr. Feng himself made his name initially with light-hearted comedic films that became major box office successes. But in recent years he has turned to more serious films, including 2010’s “Aftershock,” about a deadly 1976 earthquake, and “Back to 1942,” a 2012 film about a famine that killed up to three million people.
“The films that really should be criticized are those films that put people to sleep. At least ‘Running Man’ is logical.”
— Wang Zhengyu, a producer of “Running Man”
His critique of the new reality TV movies is a familiar one, and not just inside China. (A spokesman said Mr. Feng didn’t have more to add.) But the counterargument came from a surprising source: The People’s Daily newspaper.
In an editorial last week, the Communist party’s main newspaper said the films are “the choice of audiences and the market.” The challenge for filmmakers like Mr. Feng, it said, is to “complain less but make more good films.”
A separate, later editorial on the paper’s Weibo social-media account suggested such criticism is hypocritical. “Directors of commercial films looking down upon variety show film is kind of like a crow accusing a pig of being black,” it said. Read the rest of this entry »
China’s Answer to Hollywood’s ‘Razzies’
Lilian Lin reports: As China’s film industry has grown, so too has the number of lemons it’s produced.
According to the organizers of this year’s Golden Broom Awards – which asks the public to choose the country’s worst film – this year’s contest is taking place amid “the most shameless, uncreative, dreadful” time in China’s film history.
“Many film critics in this country are bribed by film producers and genuine voice is scarce. There should be an award to represent the audience’s voice.”
“Some online users are complaining to me that they can hardly choose the worst because all of the selected are terrible,” said Cheng Qingsong, who first launched the awards, China’s answer to Hollywood’s Razzies, six years ago. Online voting for the country’s worst movie of the year recently began, with the winner to be announced in the middle of next month.
Last year, the contest attracted more than a million votes, up from merely several thousand in 2009.
“The past few years have witnessed the largest number of lousy films in China’s history that care the least about originality.”
China’s film market has mushroomed, with box-office receipts rising 36% last year to a record 29.6 billion yuan ($4.77 billion), according to the country’s film regulator. Mr. Cheng, a screenwriter and editor-in-chief of an independent film magazine, said he hoped the awards could help spur better movies in the future. “Many film critics in this country are bribed by film producers and genuine voice is scarce,” he said. “There should be an award to represent the audience’s voice.”
“The past few years have witnessed the largest number of lousy films in China’s history that care the least about originality,” he said, criticizing the country’s films as shallow, frequently “uncreative remakes of Hong Kong films.” Read the rest of this entry »
John Nolte reports: What was supposed to be Her Year has in fact turned out to be five-alarm disaster for Lena Dunham, the creator of HBO’s “Girls.” A year ago, closing out 2014 had to look pretty exciting to the 28 year-old. No matter how good or bad it was, her memoir would be released to guaranteed critical acclaim (she is Lena Dunham after all), there were two major Golden Globe nominations, and the publicity surrounding the 4th season premiere of “Girls” was going to be bigger than anything anyone could have ever imagined.
2014 was going to be Dunham’s breakthrough; the year she went mainstream. Along with the gushing reviews of her memoir and slavish coverage from The New York Times, there would be countless magazine covers, talk show appearances, and a thousand slathering articles obsessing over her every tweet and utterance. The entertainment media was on board. The mainstream media was on board. And at first it all went according to plan. Read the rest of this entry »
Lisa “Kennedy” Montgomery will be the host of “Kennedy,” which will launch January 26 at 10 p.m., after the conclusion of an episode of the network’s new” Strange Inheritance” reality series that night. “Kennedy” will feature an opening monologue from the host, followed by interviews and discussion segments. Fox Business is billing the program as focused on “big water-cooler discussion topics.”…(read more)
“I don’t know how I got into this. I have no ideas, and I’m not sure where to begin. My guess is that Roy Price will regret this.”
“I don’t know how I got into this. I have no ideas, and I’m not sure where to begin. My guess is that [Amazon Studios Vice President] Roy Price will regret this,” Mr. Allen said in a news release about the project, which is still unnamed.
[An outbreak of mockery ensues at Twitter #WoodyAllenTVShowNames]
Amazon has commissioned a full season, with half-hour episodes available on its Prime Instant Video. The will be the first television project by Mr. Allen, who has worked on films such as “Annie Hall” and “Midnight in Paris.” He has won four Oscars.
On Sunday, Amazon’s “Transparent”—about a California family whose father comes out as transgender—took home two Golden Globes at the 72nd annual awards: best musical or comedy TV series, and best actor in a musical or comedy series for actor Jeffrey Tambor. This is the first Golden Globe win for an Amazon show. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve written about network notes on this blog before, specifically that I don’t find them to be as evil as they are made out to be. But what I have noticed, having gone through the development process a few times now, is that most of the notes you get on a pilot are about exposition and a crazy amount of detail that almost no one will notice. And while I agree that it’s important for the audience to understand who your characters are and why they’re doing what they’re doing, I feel as though audiences these days are really intelligent, and you don’t need to spoon feed them. You just have to make sure you get to compelling stuff as quickly as possible. It’s sort of like the structure of porn. Read the rest of this entry »
RIP James Garner 1928-2014
Publicity still, circa 1965
via Roger Wilkerson
In the FX TV series Louie, comic Louis C.K. plays a divorced father of two struggling to balance his comedy career with being a single dad. The show, which has just been picked up for a third season, is often based on events that have happened to C.K. in his own life.
C.K.’s boundary-crossing humor has always appealed to other comedians, but in the past year, the stand-up comic has also racked up a series of honors from more mainstream sources. GQ recently called him the “funniest comic alive” and named him their “Comic Genius of the Year.” Rolling Stone said C.K. is currently the “darkest, funniest comedian in America.” And Time called Louie the top show of the year, shortlisting C.K. on the magazine’s list of the most influential people in 2011.
C.K. writes, directs, edits and produces Louie, which has been nominated for several Emmys. He took a similar hands-on approach for his latest comedy special,Live at the Beacon Theater. The hourlong broadcast, filmed in front of a live crowd over two nights in November, was produced with C.K’s own money, edited entirely by him, and then released independently on his website, bypassing network cable and video.
An Unorthodox Way To Release A Comedy Special
C.K. asked his fans to contribute $5 directly to him via PayPal, in exchange for two streams and two downloads of the unencrypted, high-definition show. He explains that he chose the unorthodox method of sharing his special to see if releasing a video himself could potentially make money.
Note: This video contains content some will find offensive.
“I’ve never seen a check from a [TV] comedy special,” he tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross. “It never ends up being that. … This time, I just thought this might be interesting to give this a try. Put it on my website, make it $5, make it really, really easy for people to enjoy. To make it as close to a viral video as possible, instead of having it on TV.”
Note: Some good stuff can be found in IMDB’s Trivia page
Frances Martel reports: 2013 was a banner year for uncalled for expansion of China’s borders, from the Senkaku Islands Air Identification Defense Zone to a state TV show claiming the entirety of the Philippines for China. But on the economic front, China plans an expansion of a completely different kind: the use of robots to make manufacturing even cheaper.
Canada’s Globe and Mail has a feature out this week on China’s increased push to replace human labor with automated work. While China boasts some of the cheapest labor in the world–hence their domination of the manufacture of many simple to make items–salaries are, by necessity, increasing. This, argues author Scott Barlow, is pressuring the Chinese government to stay competitive economically with other nations by suppressing the growing wages. And to do that, he continues, businesses need to hire fewer people.
Who should I hang out with if I want to look the most attractive? And how many of said people must I acquire?
The basic idea of research published this week in the journal Psychological Scienceis that our asymmetries and disproportionalities tend to “average out” amid a group of faces, and our weird little faces are perceived as slightly less weird.
Drew Walker and Edward Vul of the University of California, San Diego, did five experiments wherein subjects rated the attractiveness of people in photographs. Some people were pictured alone, and others were in groups. (Sometimes the “groups” were actually collages of people alone.)
In every case, for men and women, the people in groups got higher attractiveness ratings. Walker reasoned: “Average faces are more attractive, likely due to the averaging out of unattractive idiosyncrasies.” They refer to this as the “cheerleader effect.”
Polyamorist Michael Philpott killed his children in pursuit of welfare benefits.
A recent case in Derby, an industrial city in the English Midlands, has ignited controversy. An unemployed man, Michael Philpott (now 56), fathered 17 children by four women, all of whom he treated violently. For ten years, he lived in one house with two of these women: his wife, Mairead, with whom he had six children; and his concubine, Lisa Willis, with whom he had four. Tired of Philpott’s abuse, Willis left him in 2012 and took her children with her. Philpott, furious at this insubordination, wanted the children back. He, his wife, and a friend hatched a plot: they would set fire to the house in which his six children by his wife were asleep; Philpott would rush in and save them, showing himself to be a heroic and devoted father. He would then blame the departed Willis for setting the fire, which would result in her going to prison and his winning custody of her children. But the plan went catastrophically wrong: the fire got out of hand, and all six children died, five by asphyxiation and one by burns.
The bizarre plot was quickly exposed. It also came to light that all involved had long lived on government subsidies. In the trial that followed, the prosecution alleged that Philpott had wanted custody of Willis’s five children—the four whom he had fathered and one by another man—because of the welfare benefits attached to them. When Philpott lived with the two women, the household was receiving about $80,000 a year in such benefits, as well as money that both women earned in part-time jobs. Willis’s departure, then, meant almost halving the household’s welfare income—which, evidence suggested, Philpott used as much for his own pleasures as for the benefit of his progeny.
The revelations set off a furious debate about the indiscriminate nature of state welfare. The Daily Mail, for example, led with a headline about Philpott that has since become notorious: VILE PRODUCT OF WELFARE UK. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, a Tory, remarked, rather mildly in the circumstances, that the case raised questions about the propriety of subsidizing the lifestyles of Philpott and of people who lived as he did.