Viacom’s Creative Renaissance Ignites With “Jersey Shore Family Vacation” and “A Quiet Place”

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

In the last week, Paramount Pictures’ A Quiet Place won the domestic box office and MTV’s Jersey Shore Family Vacation rolled to the strongest unscripted cable debut in six years. The efforts provide commercial evidence of Viacom’s ongoing transformation – fueled by wide-ranging creative investments in talent, programming, and marketing.

The chart-topping numbers are especially encouraging in a media environment of ever-more-elusive audiences. The divergent paths to success of these two properties – A Quiet Place delivering something novel by elevating a horror story to a genre-busting blockbuster that appeals to all audiences, Jersey Shore Family Vacation building on MTV’s deep well of intellectual property to connect with its core demographic – underscore the way in which a creative renaissance is driving Viacom’s growth.

Marketing a near-silent film in an era of loud

Making a bet on the film’s potential playability, Paramount unveiled A Quiet Place at SXSW to great response. The highly original film immediately started compiling incredibly strong reviews. A clever marketing campaign then helped launch A Quiet Place to a $50.3 million opening weekend, good for the second-best domestic opening of 2018 (behind Black Panther). With a $17 million budget, the Platinum Dunes-produced and John Krasinski-directed film is a validation of Paramount’s reoriented slate and refreshed marketing approach under CEO Jim Gianopulos, who joined the studio last year.

“An innovative concept, with great talent both behind the camera and in front, and a savvy distribution and marketing plan led to Paramount’s biggest opening since 2016,” wrote Viacom CEO Bob Bakish in a staff memo about the film’s success.

Building strong relationships with talent has become a particular focus for Viacom under Bakish, and Krasinski, who will produce and star in the Paramount Television-produced Jack Ryan for Amazon and co-created Paramount Network’s hit show Lip Sync Battle, demonstrates the enormous cross-brand potential that forming such deep relationships can yield.  

A Quiet Place’s unique storyline – featuring a family tiptoeing through a post-apocalyptic world infested with insectoid monsters that will devour anyone who makes a sound – created an opportunity for Paramount to execute an equally original pre-release marketing plan. They delivered: moviegoers in nearly 100 theater chains caught the sonically attuned monsters devouring noisy spectators in pre-show spots, with the stern warning that “the movie theater should be A Quiet Place.” A pre-Super Bowl ad, a launch of the second trailer on Ellen, and a kick-off spot and accompanying stunts at the SXSW Film Festival primed diverse audiences for the film’s release.

“Paramount’s reconstituted management team is focused on allowing great filmmakers to make great movies, and then doing everything we can to support those movies,” said Paramount Pictures Chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos. “In A Quiet Place, we did exactly that: We gave a talented young director license to put together something unlike anything else out there, and then threw our marketing and distribution expertise behind the project.”

Tapping an iconic property to connect with a core audience

Jersey Shore Family Vacation had less work to do in the name-recognition department, as its iconic predecessor, Jersey Shore, had long ago etched its cast into the cultural conversation. The unknown was whether this fist-pumping bunch, six years older and reunited in the beaches and bars of Miami, would still connect with audiences.

It did. The show’s nearly 10 million total viewers and 4.2 average rating in the core 18-34 demo on live-plus-three-days metrics made Jersey Shore Family Vacation the most-watched unscripted debut on U.S. cable since 2012. The original Jersey Shore had ignited a global franchise – with spin-offs in the UK, Spain, Poland and Mexico, plus the recently launched hit Floribama Shore in the U.S – and the cast’s return resonated globally, with the premiere airing in nearly 180 countries and territories.

The strong ratings complemented a seven-hour trending run on Twitter and acted as an emphatic endorsement of MTV’s revamped creative direction under President Chris McCarthy. Under his leadership, the network has grown ratings for three consecutive quarters for the first time in seven years behind a blend of revitalized franchises, returning classics and original programs.  

“MTV is about celebrating youth culture and music where talent and creativity unite to produce content that resonates across generations,” said McCarthy, who also oversees VH1 and Logo. “Jersey Shore Family Vacation and the new Floribama Shore demonstrate how MTV can harness our heritage to create programming that appeals to a mass audience while serving as a great launching pad for our new series.”

Critics Rave Over Paramount’s Annihilation, “The Finest Sci-Fi in Years”

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Anchored by a visually stunning fantasyland setting, a cerebral cocktail of plot and theme, and a fierce cast of women warrior-scientists, Paramount Pictures’ Annihilation hits U.S. theaters today to a flood of positive critical reaction.

“In just about every respect, it’s the finest cinematic sci-fi in years—or, at least, since [director Alex] Garland’s prior Ex Machina,” wrote The Daily Beast’s Nick Schager, echoing the popular sentiment for this adaptation of  Jeff VanderMeer’s novel of the same name.

The premise is simple enough: a meteorite crashes into a Florida lighthouse, unleashing a mysterious rippling force field dubbed the Shimmer. This dancing wall of color and motion slowly expands, and the zone within changes, like a puncture in reality, filling with enormous genetically mutated animals, overgrown plants sized and shaped like humans, and other oddities alternately novel and terrifying. Eleven expeditions have entered – only one person has returned: Kane (Oscar Isaac), the husband of ex-soldier/biologist Lena (Natalie Portman). He is diseased and dying and has been reduced to a sub-human state of mumbling and fear.

Partly in hopes of saving him, Lena joins an all-woman expeditionary force – led by psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and also including another doctor, Anya (Gina Rodriguez), physicist Josie (Tessa Thompson), and anthropologist Cass (Tuva Novotny) – on an exploration and recovery mission. Within the Shimmer, they lose communication with the outside world. Their compasses and other instruments fail. As they trek through the increasingly wild landscape, the DNA mutations transforming the forest creatures infest their bodies, their memories fail, they lose their sense of space and time.

What happens between there and the final wrenching scenes has critics elated. “Annihilation is a ferocious, feral, female-centric update of fearsome monster classics like The Thing and Alien,” writes Todd McCarthy in the Hollywood Reporter.

Here’s a deeper look at what the critics love most about Annihilation:

It’s smart

“This is a serious, considered film,” writes Richard Lawson in Vanity Fair.

And it is. At once a thriller, a science fiction thought piece, a horror flick, and a tale of environmental catastrophe – while hinting at humanity’s ultimate helplessness against a huge and ruthless universe – Annihilation manages to accomplish many things at once with an expansive and intricate plot.

“For those willing to put in the effort, Annihilation achieves that rare feat of great genre cinema, where audiences are not merely thrilled … but also feel as if their minds have been expanded along the way,” writes Peter Debruge in Variety.

It’s beautiful

Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Natalie Portman and Jennifer Jason Leigh in Annihilation from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

Wandering this other-Earth burbling dreamlike within the Shimmer, the explorers amble over a landscape that resembles some videogame fantasy world, where predators roar with the screams of past victims and the intensifying light elides the distinction between illusion and reality.

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“The Fallout of All Your Good Intentions Is Coming” in Paramount’s Mission: Impossible – Fallout

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

The message is cryptic, the voice scratchy and resigned to whatever befalls him – the man in captivity has a message for Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise).

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it. I wonder, did you ever choose not to? The end you always feared is coming, and the blood will be on your hands – the fallout of all your good intentions.”

This is the first full trailer for Paramount Pictures’ Mission: Impossible – Fallout, the sixth installment in the studio’s leaping, punching, gun-fighting, vehicle-chasing adventure saga.

This time, there will be: betrayal, Paris, packed dance clubs, remote armed outposts, boats cascading through sewers, a man thrown through a bathroom mirror, and at least one game of chicken between a Hunt-driven helicopter and a semi. And plenty more.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout, directed by Christopher McQuarrie and starring Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Sean Harris, Angela Bassett, Vanessa Kirby, Michelle Monaghan, Alec Baldwin, Wes Bentley and Frederick Schmidt, will be in theaters July 27.

If They Can’t Hear You, They Can’t Hunt You – Paramount’s Terrifying “A Quiet Place”

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

They survive by speaking in signs, by padding their footsteps with painted and powdered trails, by rolling dice on folded blankets. They survive by never making a sound.

In the floodlit dystopia of A Quiet Place, John Krasinski and Emily Blunt cautiously guide their family through a terrifying landscape where something vicious stalks them. And everything will be OK – if they can just keep quiet.

Directed by Krasinski, the film also stars Noah Jupe and Millicent Simmonds. A Quiet Place will be in theaters April 6, 2018.

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Paramount Releases First Trailer for Animated “Sherlock Gnomes”

by Stuart Winchester, Viacom

Gnomes, those kitschy ceramic ornaments dotted about the suburban lawnscape, are seldom associated with anything more exciting than neighborhood battles over lowered property values. “…the humble garden gnome can … deter many buyers,” warns The Telegraph.

And then along comes Paramount Pictures’ Sherlock Gnomes, a rollicking animated mystery threading through the parks, sewers, waterways and rowhouses of sprawling London. When a backyard’s worth of spunky gnomes vanishes, Gnomeo and Juliet – returning from their eponymous 2011 film – enlist the services of Sherlock Gnomes (Johnny Depp) to track them down.

Directed by John Stevenson, the film stars James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Maggie Smith, Michael Caine, Ashley Jensen, Matt Lucas, Stephen Merchant and Mary J. Blige. Sherlock Gnomes will hit theaters on March 23, 2018.

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