Our world: the Beatles can get $250k for the use of an original recording on a TV show

I’ve seen/heard several discussions of the use of the Beatles song “Tomorrow Never Knows” to close the most recent episode of Mad Men. Here is some of the story behind how the show was able to get permission to use the song – for $250,000:

 “It was always my feeling that the show lacked a certain authenticity because we never could have an actual master recording of the Beatles performing,” Matthew Weiner, the creator and show runner of “Mad Men,” said in a telephone interview on Monday. “Not just someone singing their song or a version of their song, but them, doing a song in the show. It always felt to me like a flaw. Because they are the band, probably, of the 20th century.”…

Near the end of the “Mad Men” episode, titled “Lady Lazarus” and written by Mr. Weiner, the advertising executive Don Draper (played by Jon Hamm) finds himself struggling to understand youth culture and is given a copy of the Beatles album “Revolver,” a new release in the summer of 1966.

But instead of starting his listening experience with the album’s acerbic lead-off track, “Taxman,” Draper instead skips to its final — and, shall we say, more experimental — song, “Tomorrow Never Knows,” contemplating it for a few puzzled moments before he shuts it off. (That psychedelic song, with its signature percussion loops and distorted John Lennon vocals, also plays over the closing credits of the episode.)…

To win the company’s approval in this case, Mr. Weiner said, “I had to do a couple things that I don’t like doing, which is share my story line and share my pages.” He added that he received the approval from Apple Corps last fall, about a month before filming started on the episode.

Several thoughts:

1. Does this show that the Beatles still matter? On one hand, yes: the creator said he wanted to have an authentic Beatles song on his show. On the other hand, this is a show about the 1960s – it is a period piece, a “retro cool” show, not a show about the modern day that would show the current relevance of the Beatles. The creator suggests they are the band of the 20th century, inviting questions about who might be the artist of the 21st century.

2. Contra #1 above, the Beatles can still get $250k for the use of their song. Is this about the greatness of their work or because they have been so tight in who is able to license their music? Are the copyright holders of the Beatles music (some combo of Michael Jackson’s estate and Sony?) simply waiting for McCartney and Starr to die so they can reap a windfall from licensing?

3. The article doesn’t discuss this but the selection of “Tomorrow Never Knows” is particularly interesting. This song would never make it on a Beatles “greatest hits” album (it is not on the 1 album or the Red or Blue albums of the 1970s). It is buried at the end of the Revolver album. At the same time, many books and critics acknowledge that this song is a turning point in the group’s career. It was actually the first recorded song for Revolver, an album noted by many critics as the greatest album (or one of the top 3) of all time. It was a sharp departure from earlier Beatles music: in a few short years, the group had moved from “I Want To Hold Your Hand” to Lennon singing about ideas from The Tibetan Book of the Dead with all sorts of studio effects like backward guitar around him. My guess is that the playing of song means that Don Draper’s is about to take an interesting turn (along with the rest of the 1960s).

4. A question about copyright: will the Beatles music ever become part of the public domain? It would be a shame if it does not.

5. How long until we live in a world when nobody knows about or cares about the Beatles? I’m particularly interested in the changes that will happen when the Baby Boomer generation fades away…

College courses created by students include looks at Mad Men and Seinfeld

The University of California-Berkeley has a program called DeCal. In the program, college students teach other college students for college credit. One recent article about the program highlights how some of the courses take a longer look at television shows:

That’s because the popular show based in the 1960 is the subject of a fall course.

It’s a two-unit class that meets once a week in the school’s DeCal program. It focuses on the “thematically, symbolically and historically rich television series.” DeCal classes give a platform to students who want to dig into atypical subjects, according to the university.  This fall’s topics range from a class on the “Sociology of Seinfeld” to longboarding. DeCal is run by the students themselves, but the classes give real college credits…

The teachers…say they are covering the following themes:

  • contemporary culture
  • politics of the 1960s
  • the role of women, class and society
  • the family unit

Students have more than just a television show to watch as homework, they are also given supplemental reading assignments.

I can imagine one category of reactions to the article: “of course, when you let students teach their own courses for credit, you will end up studying television shows.”

On the other hand, there are courses like this at other schools where media content, film, movies, and other cultural products, are analyzed. As one of the student teachers suggests, Mad Men could be read/watched as saying important things about our culture. Not only does it offer some reflection on early 1960s life, it also could be read as how people in 2010 view that era.

Overall, teenagers (8-18 years old) and emerging adults (18-25) consume a lot of media-produced stories like Mad Men. Courses like this might help them better understand what they are viewing and how it lines up with the real world.

(I would be curious to know what kind of evaluations these kinds of courses receive. Do students perceive that they learned more or less in a student taught course? And then, did they actually learn more or less?)

Show about upper income workers draws upper income watchers

Season Four of Mad Men kicked off this past weekend. Ratings were good (2.92 million viewers) and the show attracted a large proportion of wealthy viewers. Mediaweek reports:

If Mad Men’s numbers can’t compete with high performing cable fare like TNT’s The Closer and Rizzoli & Isles––both of which are averaging around 7.4 million viewers through two episodes each––or USA’s Burn Notice (5.67 million) and Royal Pains (5.46 million), the show does attract a disproportionate spread of high-income supporters. Per Nielsen, approximately 48 percent of Mad Men’s audience is comprised of people who boast annual household income of $100,000 or more.

While it’s not a perfect comparison, USA’s entire suite of original series draws nearly a third (32 percent) of its deliveries from viewers in the 18-49 demo with annual incomes of $100,000 and up.

After seeing this report, I would be curious to see the income figures for other popular television shows. Compared to many television dramas and comedies which seem to aim for a broader audience and so often include more average families and workplaces, Mad Men presents a more upper-class setting. I would assume there are splits between social classes in regards to what television shows are popular.

Even if Mad Men does present compelling and worthy story lines examining the complicated world of the 1960s (and critics do seem to like it), is it just making a presentation for mainly upper class viewers? At the same time, the show also presents an image of “the good life” (and the downsides of it) which could appeal to many.

I’m guessing these income figures appeal to advertisers.

(Full disclosure: I have only seen a few minutes of the show though I have read several appraisals by critics.)