Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter Biography

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Beyoncé is the closest someone can get to perfection. She is beautiful, intelligent, can sing, dance, act, and also take care of a business empire. Beyoncé has a massive fan following. She is one of the most successful music artists the industry has ever seen and enjoys the distinction of being the most nominated female in the awards history. She has 22 Grammy and 24 MTV Video Music Awards, the highest for any artist. She was also Forbes’ most powerful woman of 2015. She is an incredible inspiration, who keeps getting better with each year.

Beyoncé’s Early Life

Beyoncé was born to Celestine and Mathew Knowles as Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter on September 4, 1981 in Houston, Texas. While her mother owned a salon, her father was a sales manager with Xerox. Beyoncé has a younger sister, Solange, who is also a singer and used to be a member of the now famous group, Destiny’s Child. In fact, they are the first pair of sisters ever to have No.1 albums to their credit.

Beyoncé enrolled in dance classes at a young age when she was attending Houston’s St. Mary’s Montessori School. Darlette Johnson, her dance instructor, was the first person to recognize the talent in young Beyoncé. The little girl used to complete the songs of her instructors and even touch high notes, which surprised Darlette.

With the new-found encouragement, Beyoncé’s interest in the performing arts only increased. At the age of 7, she sang Imagine by John Lennon at a school competition, and beat other participants more than twice her age. Her parents then shifted Beyoncé to Parker Elementary School in Houston to further hone her music skills, where she was part of the school choir. Later, Beyoncé went to the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, and Alief Elsik High School too. The talented girl was also the soloist for the choir at St. John’s United Methodist Church for two straight years.

Beyoncé’s Early Career

While her schooling was taken care of, Beyoncé had already started working on her music dreams outside of school. When she was 8, Beyoncé and her close friend, Kelly Rowland, appeared to audition for an entertainment group. During these auditions, they met LaTavia Roberson, and these three girls were placed in the 6-member group called Girl’s Tyme. This group became popular in the Houston show circuit for their raps and dance performances. It was here that they caught Arne Frager’s eye, who entered them into the famous talent show, Star Search.

In 1995, Beyoncé’s father left his career as sales manager to manage his daughter’s group. This move put a lot of financial strain on Beyoncé’s family and broke their family. However, by 1996, things started looking up for them as the group started recording their first album with Sony Music and the family came together once again. The very same year, the girls managed to clinch a deal with Columbia Records, and never looked back again.

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Beyoncé’s Career

1996 finally saw the birth of Destiny’s Child, a name they picked out of the Book of Isiah. Their first major song was called Killing Time and featured in the 1997 blockbuster, Men in Black. It was in 1997 that the group decided to release their namesake album and got their first big success with No, No, No. This hit got them three Soul Train Awards for the Best R&B Single, the Best R&B Album of the Year, and the Best R&B New Artist.

This brought some major recognition for the group and they became a brand in themselves. In 1999, Destiny’s Child released their second album, The Writing’s On the Wall. This was the album that featured the group’s first chart-topping single – Bills, Bills, Bills. Say My Name, another single from this album, won two Grammy Awards. The success of the group presented a lot of new opportunities to its members. Beyoncé got an opportunity for a duet with Marc Nelson in The Best Man, a movie released in 1999.

2000 was a tough time for Destiny’s Child because two members of the group, Roberson and LeToya Luckett, started having issues with the way Mathew was managing the group. They were eventually replaced by Michelle Williams and Farrah Franklin. However, Farrah would not last long. The paparazzi blamed Beyoncé for the split and she was also going through a break-up at the time. All the negativity weighed heavily on her and she later confessed that the situation made her slip into depression that would last for years. Her mother was the primary driving force behind her coming out of the dark times in her life.

With only three members remaining in the group, they recorded their next super successful single, Independent Women Part I, which also appeared in the 2000 movie, Charlie’s Angels. After winding up her third album, Beyoncé decided to branch out a little. In 2001, she signed a TV movie, Carmen: A Hip Hopera, opposite Mekhi Phifer.

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The same year, their third album, aptly named Survivor, was also released. With all-time favorites like Bootylicious and of course, Survivor in the playlist, it sold over 650,000 copies in the first week itself. This album also became a bone of contention between Destiny’s Child and the former group members.

The latter sued the group stating that the album was targeting them. With the release of 8 Days of Christmas, later in 2001, the members declared that they were taking a break to focus on their individual careers.

Beyoncé aggressively pursued both her acting and singing career. She was seen in the hit movie Austin Powers in Goldmember playing the part of Foxxy Cleopatra and got the part of Lily in the movie, The Fighting Temptations. She then released two singles, Work It Out and Fighting Temptation, and also contributed to Summertime. She later appeared in JayZ’s 03 Bonnie & Clyde the same year. The song climbed up to No.4 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.

In 2003, Beyoncé finally came out with her first solo album, Dangerously in Love. It was certified platinum five times and also won her 5 Grammy Awards. As a solo artist, Beyoncé garnered a kind of fame that might have been impossible as part of a group. Clearly, pursuing a solo career has been one of her smartest moves. She became a brand unto herself.

The final album from Destiny’s Child was titled Destiny Fulfilled and it came out in 2005. The group formally broke apart the next year. This was also the year that Beyoncé released her second solo album, B’Day that sold over half a million copies in its first week. Incidentally, the release also coincided with her 25th birthday. In 2006, Beyoncé appeared in The Pink Panther with Steve Martin and then later in Dreamgirls. Her acting chops were appreciated by the critics and both the movies were commercial successes too.

I Am….Sasha Fierce came next in 2008. This album became her third straight No.1 solo album in the States. With over 7 million copies sold, it was a huge hit. It was the track, Single Ladies that stole the limelight. The video for the song also won the 2009 MTV Video Music Award for the Video of the Year. Suddenly, Single Ladies was everywhere.

Other artists were releasing their own versions of the song, and it was a big craze for a long time. 2008 was a magical year for Beyoncé. She was doing great on the professional front and took her relationship with JayZ to the next level by marrying him. With six Grammy awards, she became the female artist to win the most Grammy Awards in a single night.

All this while, she was also doing roles in movies like Cadillac Records and Obsessed. In 2010, Beyoncé announced that she was going to take a break from her music career. A break that lasted almost nine months saw Beyoncé ending professional ties with her father and also visiting Europe, Australia, Egypt, and China. In 2011, Beyoncé released her next album, 4. It was a mash up of multiple genres of music.

In 2012, Beyoncé gave birth to her first child, Blue Ivy Carter. Her first performance after the delivery was at The Ovation Hall in Revel Atlantic. In 2013, the singer performed at the second inauguration ceremony for President Barack Obama.

The same year, she released her fifth album on the iTunes Store. It came as a huge surprise to her fans, because she did not promote the album at all. Despite the absence of any promotion, the album managed to shoot up to charts and opened at the top of the Billboard 200 chart, just like all her previous releases. In 2016, Beyoncé released Lemonade exclusively on Tidal, which was also a chart-topper.

Beyoncé’s Personal Life

Apart from being a talented singer and actress, she is a successful business woman. She has her own line of women’s fashion, footwear, and many other business interests. Beyoncé is also a well-known philanthropist. She always contributes to funds that support people affected by natural calamities. In addition, she is an advocate for tighter gun-control laws and supports charities that work for women’s education.

Undoubtedly, Beyoncé is one of the most successful and popular music stars of the last decade. She is supremely talented and is ready to put in the hard work necessary to remain on top of the rest.

Meet Adam Levine, One of the Most Famous Singers in the World

International singing sensation Adam Levine is best known as the lead singer for popular music band Maroon 5. But did you know that he’s also an actor, record producer and entrepreneur? He’s also a coach on the popular NBC reality TV show “The Voice.” Without a doubt, the 38-year-old Levine has proven himself to be an extraordinarily talented and gifted performer.

Levine was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. At the age of 15, he started his musical career by launching a garage band, Kara’s Flowers, with a few of his high school friends. In the band, he was the lead vocalist and guitarist. The band released only one album – The Fourth World – in 1997, but it did not gain any real traction, and the band later broke up. But that initial experience later paid off in 2001, when the band re-formed, added a new guitarist (James Valentine) and renamed themselves Maroon 5. From there, the rest is history.

Maroon 5

Levine officially launched the pop rock band Maroon 5 in 2001. In 2002, the band’s first album (Songs About Jane) went multi-platinum, and paved the way for him to become an international singing sensation. Since 2002, Maroon 5 has released four more albums, each of them seemingly more popular than the last. In 2007, the band released It Won’t Be Soon Before Long, and followed that up with Hands All Over (2010), Overexposed (2012) and V (2014). He has also released two singles, “Don’t Wanna Know” and “Cold.”

It’s not only that Maroon 5 has turned into one of the bestselling bands in the world – they have also been critically acclaimed, picking up a number of awards. For his role with Maroon 5, Levine has picked up 3 Grammy Awards, 2 Billboard Music Awards, 2 American Music Awards, an MTV Video Music Award and a World Music Award.

While Maroon 5’s first two albums had their share of hits and Grammy-nominated songs, it wasn’t until 2010 that the band really became a household name with the release of “Moves Like Jagger.” The single became the ninth-bestselling digital single of 2011 with sales of 8.5 million copies. In later interviews, Levine would credit that song with “totally reviving the band.” In fact, ever since 2007, rumors had been circulating that Maroon 5 would be breaking up. The success of Hands All Over put an end to those rumors.

In 2012, the band opted for a more dance-driven approach with the release of Overexposed. And that really paid off for Levine and his band mates. The album and its lead single, “Payphone,” resulted in the band’s second Grammy win for “Best Pop Vocal Album.” The group also picked up a Grammy nomination for “Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.”

That led to the band’s fifth studio album, appropriately named V. The group quickly released five singles from the album, and then kicked off the Maroon 5 World Tour, which firmly established the group as one of the most popular in the world.

NBC reality TV show “The Voice”

Of course, there’s more to Adam Levine than just being one of the most popular and successful singers in the world. He’s also a voice coach for the NBC reality TV show “The Voice.” He has been on “The Voice” since 2011, which has led to a string of nominations and awards. In 2011, 2013 and 2014 he was nominated for a Teen Choice Award. And in 2013, he was nominated for People’s Choice Award for Favorite Celebrity Judge.

Other film and TV

Levine’s charismatic personality has led to a number of other film and TV appearances. In fact, in 2012, he made his acting debut in the film “Begin Again.” That led to an appearance in the 2015 film “Pitch Perfect 2” (where he played himself),as well as appearances in “Klown Forever” (2015) and “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” (2015).

On TV, Levine first appeared in an episode of “Beverly Hills, 90210” back in 1997. That was when he was still a member of his first rock band, Kara’s Flowers. He has appeared 7 times on “Saturday Night Live” as a musical guest or host. In 2009, he appeared in an episode of “30 Rock.” Then, in 2012, he appeared in 3 episodes of “American Horror Story: Asylum.” In 2013, he appeared in one episode of “Family Guy” and in 2016, he appeared in one episode of “Broad City.”

Entrepreneurial ventures

Starting in 2008, Levine has engaged in a number of business and entrepreneurial ventures that have largely leveraged his success as a pop music star. In 2008, for example, Levine created the First Act 222 Guitar, which was available for sale at Target retail stores. In February 2012, Levine founded his own record label, known as 222 Records.

But that was only the beginning of extending his brand into other fields. In 2013, for example, Levine worked with ID Perfumes to created a unique fragrance named after him. The fragrance range includes scents for both men and women and his sold at Macy’s department stores in bottles that are shaped like microphones. In 2013, he also became a celebrity spokesperson for Proactiv, a company that sells acne-fighting products. In 2013, at the peak of his popularity, he worked out a deal with Sears Holdings (which owns K-Mart and ShopYourWay) to create a menswear collection that is sold in 500 K-Mart stores and online. In his interviews, Levine has credited the unique collaboration for giving him total creative control – so if you’re buying a shirt or jacket with his name on it, you can be assured that it’s something that Levine would wear himself.

A winning formula for total success

As you can see, Levine has enjoyed incredible success in so many different fields. His work as a music artist is by now unquestioned, thanks to record sales and so many Grammy nominations. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Levine now makes more than $35 million each year from all of his related artistic projects – and that doesn’t even include the money he makes from his recent fragrance and menswear deals. And, best of all, he got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in February 2017.

Going forward, what can we expect from Adam Levine? It could be the case that we’ll see even more success from his record company, 222 Records. One of the first people signed to the label is Tony Lucca, a member of Team Adam on Season 2 of “The Voice.” He’s now working on building out that record label, including more of an emphasis on distribution, marketing and PR.

Based on Levine’s tremendous success with Maroon 5, it could be the case that we’ll be hearing another record drop from them soon, followed up by another mega-world tour. In 2017, Maroon 5 released a video for the song “Cold,” which will debut on their upcoming studio album. For all these reasons, Adam Levine is now perhaps one of the most recognizable celebrities in the world.

How “The Carmichael Show” Tackles Social Justice Topics

When standup comic Jerrod Carmichael received his own show on NBC back in August 2015, nobody was really sure what to expect. Just how far would he go with the type of comedic material that he covered on “The Carmichael Show? And, now nearly two years later, we know. “The Carmichael Show” has become one of the most important shows on TV today for its unflinching look at social justice topics, especially those that affect young black Americans.

And for this willingness to take on important topics, the show has received huge acclaim from both viewers and critics. The show has a 7.4/10 rating on IMDb and an 84% freshness score on Rotten Tomatoes. So what types of social justice topics has the show taken on?

Most importantly, there are the race issues that “The Carmichael Show” is helping to shine a spotlight on. In the second episode ever, “The Carmichael Show” looked at the ramifications of what happens when an unarmed black man is shot in Charlotte, North Carolina.

In many ways, this scenario was lifted almost straight from the headlines of today’s newspapers. And, as might be expected, two of the main characters of the show – Cynthia (Jerrod’s mother) and Maxine (Jerrod’s live-in girlfriend) – decide to join the young African-Americans in Charlotte who are gathering to protest. This, of course, raises the very important issue of #BlackLivesMatter, and shows how “The Carmichael Show” is on top of some very important issues.

The topic of racism, too, is one that gets plenty of attention on this NBC sitcom. In one of his standup routines, Jerrod Carmichael says, “You don’t go to Boston for the food, you go there for the enthusiastic racism.” So you know that he’s going to have a lot to say about this topic. He’s the comedian who has made jokes about Trayvon Martin, after all.

One episode particularly stands out, and that’s when Jerrod and his family are discussing slavery. Jerrod’s father, Joe, makes some truly outlandish comments, like the fact that slavery is what saved African-Americans from a terrible life in Africa. And he goes one step further, by saying that, if wasn’t for slavery, today’s Americans would be lining up to sponsor African adults for $0.98 a day, the way they do for malnourished African children.

How are we supposed to interpret these remarks? That’s where the humor of “The Carmichael Show” can be so powerful – it’s a way of having black characters utter impossibly untrue statements as a way of shining a light on the types of irresponsible statements made by white people. In the same way that white people can’t use the “N” word, they also can’t publicly say that they support slavery. So Jerrod has one of his characters say these kinds of things, to start a conversation.

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Most recently, in Season 3, “The Carmichael Show” has looked at the very controversial topic of euthanasia. In the episode, the decision is whether the Carmichael family members should help sick Grandma Francis, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease, kill herself.

This topic of euthanasia is one that shows how “The Carmichael Show” is willing to take on just about any controversial topic. This is not a black issue, as one might expect from a show with an all-black cast and a black star. Instead, the topic of euthanasia is one that impacts millions of America, especially as the country continues to “gray” with older demographics.

And, finally, consider the whole topic of transgender youth. In the show, the topic comes up in Season 3, where the Carmichael family gets into a very awkward conversation about the difference between being gay and being transgender. The general consensus seems to be that it’s Ok for a black youth to be gay, but it’s impossible in today’s social climate to be transgender.
And there are plenty of outrageous statements made by all the Carmichael family members. Both Joe and Cynthia say some crazy things. For example, Cynthia talks about how “it’s just too fast” the way society has embraced gay and now transgender youth. And then Joe chimes in, “Too fast, too furious.” That may be hilarious, but it also points to an important issue for modern society.

It’s no wonder, then, that NBC has been unsure of what to do with this show. Yes, the show has great viewer response, but the show also makes NBC a bit too uncomfortable. The network has looked for ways to make the show a little more family-friendly, and a little less awkward. When it came to renewing the show for Season 3, NBC had a hard time making up its mind.

In terms of the show’s style and message, it has been compared to “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons” and “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Critics have called it a “100 percent old school sitcom.” By that, they mean that the show has the look and feel of the types of uncomfortable shows in the 1970s and early 1980s that really pushed the boundary on topics like race and racism. That’s what made “The Jeffersons” such a classic – it was about a black man who had “made it” – but it also opened up all kinds of questions of what that really meant.

Going forward, it’s likely that “The Carmichael Show” will continue to push the envelope in terms of what topics are talked about on network television. Don’t forget – this is an NBC show, not a show on cable or on Netflix. Thus, there’s a much lower threshold for just how uncomfortable the show can make people feel.

The good news, of course, is that it looks like Jerrod Carmichael has really arrived as a star. If you loved him for his standup comedy routines, you’ll love him on “The Carmichael Show.” Whether he’s talking about race, gun control, transgender teens or #BlackLivesMatter, he’s one of the freshest and most original voices on primetime TV.

The Vulture blog famously predicted that the show would become “the next Jerry Seinfeld,” and it’s easy to see why – the show is able to take everyday events and turn them into very incisive looks at modern society. We have a cast of characters that may seem strange or eccentric at times, but who are, at the core, people just like you or me. And what they have to say matters, especially when they are taking on social justice topics.

Categories TV

Underlying Issues Within the Charter/TWC Merger

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Anytime there’s a mega-merger of the kind that we saw with Charter and Time Warner Cable in 2016, there are bound to be underlying issues that take at least a few years to sort out. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing now. The mega-merger was finalized in May 2016, so we’ve had about 12 months to take a better view of how it will change the competitive landscape for cable TV and Internet services. Here are just a few of the issues involved.

#1: Monopoly and competition

The initial concern was that the Charter-Time Warner Cable combination was going to create a colossus – perhaps not as big as if Comcast had acquired TWC, but still a giant. The new Charter Spectrum is now the second-largest cable TV and Internet provider in the world, trailing only Comcast.

On a combined basis, Charter Spectrum and Comcast are huge. It’s not overstating things to call Comcast and Charter Spectrum a near-duopoly. On a combined basis, the two companies reach 80% of U.S. homes, and their competitive footprints are both national, stretching from California to Texas to New York and Florida. Chances are, wherever you live in America, you are within the service area of one of these 2 companies.

And that still has some people very concerned. Back in 2014-2015, as Charter started to put together its bid for Time Warner Cable, this was one of the biggest issues to address. Consumers feared that the behemoth cable provider would decrease competition, and potentially put an end to true innovation. Instead, skeptics said, the combined company would simply try to wring additional profits out of existing infrastructure and products.

#2: Net neutrality

On a related note, there was also concern about how the new merger would impact net neutrality. The fundamental principle of net neutrality is that the Internet should be a free and open place, where there is no “fast lane” and “slow lane” for traffic. In other words, the big cable providers shouldn’t get to determine that certain traffic will be “throttled” – or that some edge providers (like Netflix) should be forced to pay fees to connect their customers. As a condition of the merger, Charter promised that it would not charge companies like Netflix for improved delivery of content.

And, indeed, one of the big issues that came up during the Charter-TWC merger was how well Charter would respect these principles of net neutrality. Thus far, the signs have been favorable. In fact, Charter has signed a three-year agreement to respect net neutrality and the open Internet. And, at least publicly, Charter has commented on how important Netflix is to its future growth. Of course, Netflix helped to stymie the Comcast-TWC deal a year earlier, so it’s easy to see why Charter is bending over backwards to “play nice” with Netflix.

#3: Customer service

One of the key selling points of the merger was that it was going to dramatically improve customer service. That’s because Time Warner Cable was routinely cited as having poor customer service. People loved to hate TWC and comment on how old and inefficient everything about the company was. Even worse, TWC had pushed a lot of its customer call centers offshore, and that angered customers even more. In customer satisfaction surveys, TWC always performed poorly.

That’s why Charter has been very upfront and direct about improving customer service. Charter pledged to move all the customer call centers back to the U.S. AND hire as many as 20,000 new customer service representatives. That might sound like a very expensive endeavor, but as Charter explains, it’s crucial to reduce the churn in customers. And it also improves the company’s ability to up-sell customers into higher-priced offerings. For example, with good customer service, a call that might have ended previously with loud disagreements and shouting might now end with the customer happily moving into a higher-priced package.

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#4: Rebranding as Spectrum

People might not realize it, but Spectrum is a completely new brand that was created for the merger. One major goal of the Spectrum rebranding is to get every part of the company using the same logo and the same brand identity. It would be confusing to have one part of the company known as Charter, one part of the company known as Time Warner Cable, and one part of the company known as Bright House Networks.

And, to be honest, the new branding enables Charter to get rid of the Time Warner Cable name forever. That brand had been eroding in the minds of customers, and it still evoked the notion of “the cable guy.” People associated the brand name Time Warner Cable with poor service, long delays, poor quality and just a lot of problems. So Spectrum helps to gloss over the fact that it’s still the same company. If you think about it, Charter bought Time Warner Cable as much for its existing customer base as for its existing infrastructure.

There are a lot of changes planned to make every part of the company very efficient and customer-friendly, and it all starts with the rebranding as Spectrum. This rebranding will impact every customer touch point. For example, it will change the names and logos on billing, screen guides and advertising. In New York City, you used to see Time Warner Cable trucks heading uptown and downtown – now you’ll see trucks with the Charter Spectrum branding on them. At first, it may take some getting used to, but it’s all part of creating one, unified brand identity across all geographies.

#5: Development of improved national broadband infrastructure

Going forward, a major goal of the merger will be to completely overhaul Time Warner Cable’s aging infrastructure. The near-term goal is to create an all-digital operation by getting rid of any analog infrastructure. That will enable the company to offer more innovative services, including the build out of the much-touted 5G infrastructure. In Florida, for example, Charter Spectrum plans to start 5G field trials in Florida, making it the first U.S. cable company to lay the groundwork for 5G.

For the customer, all of these changes are a positive. For example, Charter Spectrum pledged that it would boost the minimum speed for all of its customers to at least 60 Mbps. And, going forward, Charter Spectrum will be able to offer even faster speeds. But first things first – the goal is to get all Time Warner Cable customers up to a minimum speed.

#6: Streamlined pricing and packaging offers

Another major issue of the Charter-Time Warner Cable mega-merger was rationalizing and streamlining all the pricing and packaging offers. If you think about, it’s pretty confusing to the end customer to have too many choices. With Time Warner Cable, there were prices and tiers for all different kinds of connection speeds. People in Florida might have a whole set of offers and tiers different from those in New York City.

That may not sound like a big deal – but consider the following theoretical example… What if a Starbucks in Florida served different drinks and had different names for those drinks than a Starbucks in Manhattan? It would get pretty confusing for customers any time they traveled. And it would be harder for Starbucks to deal with suppliers – the company would have to order certain cups and ingredients for one region, and a completely different set of cups and ingredients for another region. See? It would be pretty confusing, so for larger companies, it always makes sense to streamline and consolidate.

So Charter Spectrum set out from the beginning to collapse all the prices and tiers into three basic levels: Select, Silver and Gold. That would make it easier to explain to customers what their options were, and it would also make it easier for Spectrum to use a single set of advertising materials for any location in the nation. In a best-case scenario, those cost savings and efficiencies could be passed on to the consumer in the form of cheaper prices.

So, as you can see, this huge mega-merger created a number of different issues that are still being resolved today. Most importantly, there were issues related to competition and the risks of monopoly-like behavior, due to the combined market size of the new company.

To overcome this problem, Charter Spectrum sought to improve customer service dramatically and also improve the overall level of service quality. At the same time, the company worked on a re-branding, and began the process of overhauling its aging infrastructure acquired from Time Warner Cable. The company is also working to address the issue of net neutrality, which has once again entered the spotlight as an important issue impacting the future development of digital broadband services.

The next step is the most exciting step – and that’s the rollout of innovative new services and products, including those made possible by the development of 5G Internet infrastructure. In a best-case scenario, that will lead to faster speeds, which everyone agrees is necessary for the next generation of online video screening (as well as whatever comes next).

Of course, a big merger doesn’t occur overnight. There are a lot of important steps that need to be taken over the next 12 months. But 2017 is shaping up to be a very important year for Charter Spectrum, especially as it develops the next generation of digital services. Spectrum has the opportunity to become a brand synonymous with high quality, great customer service and innovative products, all offered at a price point that’s attractive to consumers.

How Charter Spectrum Is Handling the Net Neutrality Debate

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For Charter Spectrum and other Internet service providers (ISPs), the debate over net neutrality is once again in the spotlight. In 2017, the new Trump administration has made it clear that it’s no fan of net neutrality, and new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has made overturning net neutrality one of his primary strategic goals.

The very fact that the Trump administration is going to do all the dirty work of clearing away net neutrality will give cover to the cable companies to continue business as usual, all while secretly hoping for the day when they can start to monetize their vast broadband infrastructure. Already, articles are appearing in the media, suggesting that the cable companies are chipping away at net neutrality after giving lip service to it for several years.

Case in point: in April 2017, a controversial article in New York magazine – “We Already Know How Internet Providers Will Screw Us Over, Because They Did It Before” – basically outlined how the big cable companies were going to try to squeeze online video providers like Netflix, which now account for a huge proportion of total bandwidth provided by ISPs.

For Charter Spectrum, the article was particularly explosive because it featured the behind-the-scenes machinations of Time Warner Cable, which Charter Spectrum acquired in a massive $55 billion mega-merger. As the article pointed out, legal memos and correspondence have been leaked from the former Time Warner Cable, showing exactly what the company’s executives had in mind. The goal was to get content providers like Netflix to “pay up” for a direct connection to their customers.

If Netflix didn’t pay, then all their video traffic would be sent to the slow lane of the Internet, something that Time Warner Cable executives referred to as “through transit.” As long as Netflix didn’t pay up to use the TWC broadband infrastructure, Netflix customers would experience very slow buffering times for videos, and would probably conclude that this bad overall experience was the fault of Netflix. Time Warner Cable, of course, never planned to divulge its role in slow video speeds.

So let’s back up for a second and set the stage for Charter Spectrum in terms of the upcoming debate over net neutrality in 2017. The huge cable company – which now accounts for nearly 15 percent of all cable and satellite TV subscribers and 22 percent of all broadband customers – will likely direct its efforts in two directions:

  • Making sure that it abides by its net neutrality commitments agreed to as terms of the huge Charter-Time Warner Cable merger
  • Making clear that it is still publicly committed to net neutrality, even as the FCC moves to dismantle the open Internet

At a quick glance, you can see that framing the debate around (1) is much easier than framing the debate around (2).

Before Charter Communications was allowed to merge with Time Warner Cable, it had to abide by some fairly onerous net neutrality commitments. The logic was simple: if you want to buy up a company for $55 billion, then you better play nice with everyone else on the Internet.

And, to be fair to Charter, the company was a model citizen ahead of the merger. In June 2015, a noted net neutrality advocate (Martin Ammori) outlined in WIRED magazine all the ways that Charter was committed to a free and open Internet. In fact, he says that he personally advised Charter on the right language to use, and that he was satisfied with Charter’s approach.

He offered a glowing recommendation of Charter as a model net neutrality advocate: “Charter is offering the strongest network neutrality commitment ever offered – in any merger or, to my knowledge, in any nation.” He followed that up by saying, “Charter is offering commitments that go further than any before.”

However, there was one little caveat, and that was the duration of the commitment. Charter was offering to abide by network neutrality commitments for 3 years. So you do the math – assuming the clock started in early 2016, when the merger was finalized, then that means Charter would be free to re-think its network neutrality commitment by 2019. That would give the FCC plenty of time (two years) to dismantle network neutrality, and provide plausible cover for Charter to change its stance. In doing so, Charter could simply point to changing competitive conditions in the industry.

By all indications, Charter proceeded with the Time Warner Cable merger in good faith. It fully intended to comply with network neutrality principles, and it proclaimed its commitment openly. In November 2015, just months before the merger was finalized, Hollywood Reporter reviewed all the ways that Charter was sticking by its network neutrality agreements. This included the following key points:

  • No blocking or throttling Internet traffic
  • Not engaging in paid prioritization
  • Not charging consumers additional fees to use third-party apps
  • Not imposing data caps on consumers
  • Not charging interconnection fees to edge providers (like Netflix)

Most notably, Charter went out of its way to embrace Netflix, saying that, “Foreclosure is the exact opposite of the strategy Charter has been pursuing.” Moreover, Charter noted that its plan to upgrade the speeds of its Internet customers acquired from Time Warner Cable would actually be in the best interests of Netflix – it would mean faster video playing times for all streaming content.

By all intents and purposes, then, Charter handled the net neutrality debate by showing that its interests were firmly aligned with Netflix’s. Charter wanted to grow its broadband infrastructure and boost speeds, and that favored Netflix. And Charter recognized that Netflix was the type of edge provider that it had to be careful with.

Remember – Netflix had opposed an earlier Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal, and had used net neutrality as a key part of its argument. Thus, from the perspective of Charter, Netflix was a very strong adversary that had to be respected. If Charter tried to take on Netflix directly, then it would mean the end of its merger with Time Warner Cable.

In April 2015, in fact, the popular tech blog Mashable wrote, “The Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger died because of Netflix.” The online video streaming giant directly petitioned the FCC to block the merger. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings told Wall Street analysts that his major goal was to “block” Comcast’s proposed $45 billion merger with Time Warner Cable. When Comcast eventually walked away from the deal after losing the support of the FCC, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called it a victory for “providers of content and streaming services who work to bring innovative products to consumers across America and around the world.”

So the writing was on the wall for Charter in 2015 – play nice with Netflix, or there’s absolutely no way you’re going to get the merger done.

Which brings us to 2017. Charter’s merger with Time Warner Cable has been completed, and the final rebranding as Charter Spectrum is now a done deal. Heading into the merger, Charter met all of its commitments, and was a model citizen in terms of driving forward the net neutrality debate. But now what?

The role of the FCC in the Trump administration obviously looms large. If you think about it, the FCC is giving ISPs like Charter the “perfect out.” If Charter sees that the public debate around network neutrality is shifting, then it makes it much easier to adapt its own business practices accordingly.

In terms of net neutrality, it now may make sense for Charter Spectrum to co-opt service providers like Netflix by providing its own competing services. And, indeed, that’s what we’re starting to see with all of the biggest cable giants. They are introducing their own streaming services, making it easier to share content across devices even when out of the home, and making it highly advantageous to bundle cable TV with Internet due to all the possible synergies involving streaming content.

And, if anything, Netflix’s dominant role in the world of streaming video is eroding. When Netflix took on Comcast, it was close to its peak in terms of market strength. It could dictate the terms of any deal. But now look around you – there are so many flourishing streaming services that Netflix can no longer say that cable companies are responsible for anti-competitive market practices. In addition to Netflix, there’s Sling TV, Hulu, Amazon Prime Now and a whole host of specialty streaming services.

This new, shifting competitive landscape is going to change the debate around net neutrality. For one, it will make it easier for Charter Spectrum to make the case that it is a champion of net neutrality. And it will make it easier to appease the regulators: anyone questioning the Charter-Time Warner deal will have a tough time proving that the merger was bad for consumers.

The true test will come when Charter and other ISPs begin to invest heavily in new infrastructure. How can they get companies like Netflix to help pay some of the costs, without actually charging them for it directly? In many ways, it’s like asking Mexico to help build a border wall – and then asking Mexico to pay for it. Nobody is going to do that unless there’s an awful lot of arm-twisting. But since the battle over net neutrality plays out in public, all of that arm-twisting is going to be up to the lobbyists in Washington.

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How Customers Perceive Charter Spectrum’s Rebranding

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When Charter Communications completed its acquisition of Time Warner Cable in 2016, the plan was to push through a massive rebranding that would quickly replace the much-maligned Time Warner Cable brand with a new, more modern brand: Spectrum. The essence of the Spectrum brand was supposed to be “better service at a better price,” all backed by much-improved customer service.

To make that a reality, Charter Communications focused on several key steps:

(1) Stripping away the Time Warner name from all billings, advertising and mailings

(2) Boosting the Internet speeds of all customers to a base level of at least 60 Mbps

(3) Reducing a confusing mix of incentives, programs, plans and offers into just a few core offerings (Select, Silver, Gold)

(4) Revamping customer service by hiring nearly 20,000 customer service representatives and bringing call centers back to the U.S.

The first leg of the rebranding launched in September 2016, with a rollout to Texas and California markets. That was followed by a rebranding in New York and Florida. Finally, the company rolled out the rebranding to the Midwest, including Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Wisconsin.

If this were a business school case study, it would be a textbook example of how to achieve a rebranding. Any corporate strategist would tell you that you can’t accomplish a massive national rebranding overnight, and that a staged process would make sense. And those same corporate strategist would also probably tell you that any brand needs to be easily defined in terms of a few basic principles. And here the “better service at a better price” brand offer seemed to make sense.

And, just to make sure that the rebranding efforts hit all major demographic groups, Charter Spectrum also rolled out a marketing campaign specifically targeted to Hispanic and Spanish-speaking populations in Texas and California. Again, that’s a perfectly logical step designed to maximize consumer awareness of the new brand.

So, nearly 9 months after the rebranding effort started, how has Charter Spectrum done? It’s too early to see the effect of the rebranding in terms of customer satisfaction surveys (where Time Warner typically scored extremely low), but it is possible to check out some of the chatter on branding blogs and cable TV blogs. And it’s here that it’s possible to really see how customers perceive Charter Spectrum’s rebranding.

Let’s go back to the four major components of the rebranding to see how Charter Spectrum has delivered. To see how well the rebranding has gone, we can compare what the company initially set out to achieve with what the customer response has been thus far.

#1: Stripping away the Time Warner name from all billings, advertising and mailings

From the outset, it could be expected that this move might be confusing for customers. If you’ve been a long-time Time Warner Cable customer for years, what are you going to think when you start to see cable trucks emblazoned with “Spectrum” zipping through your city? In many ways, Time Warner was always a brand that people loved to hate. As much as people complained about Time Warner, it was still a company with a long, distinguished pedigree. And it wasn’t always clear to people why the Time Warner name lived on for some cable TV content assets (like CNN), while Time Warner Cable simply disappeared.

And there was one more problem here, and one that perhaps could have been avoided. When customers had a problem, they were used to calling a certain number to complain. But when the rebranding took effect, it suddenly became difficult to figure out who to call. If you read the customer comments on blogs, one important point that emerged was that some customers were both confused and angry that their old customer service numbers simply disappeared.

But remember – Charter Spectrum was also in the process of closing down overseas call centers and moving them to the U.S. So it perhaps only made sense that the process of transitioning to new customer service call centers was perhaps harder than expected. Plus, as noted above, Charter Spectrum was in the midst of hiring 20,000 new customer service reps and teaching them a new sales script.

#2: Boosting the Internet speeds of all customers to a base level of at least 60 Mbps

This should have been a clear customer win for Charter Spectrum. It meant that some customers automatically saw their Internet connection rates increase overnight, all at no additional cost. In terms of customer perceptions, this should have seen an outpouring of support from disgruntled customers. They should have been praising Spectrum, right?

Not so fast. The problem is that Time Warner Cable had been quietly boosting the Internet speeds of some customers to 100 Mbps and even 300 Mbps. There were so many Time Warner cable programs and price tiers, that there were actually more customers than might have been expected who were getting faster speeds than 60 Mbps.

Moreover, they were often getting special promotional pricing for those speeds. Once those promotional periods came to an end, they suddenly found out that there would be an “activation fee” to keep those higher speeds. As some angry customers pointed out on blogs, they felt “exploited” and they were angry about paying activation speeds of up to $200 ($200!) to keep those super-fast 300 Mbps connection speeds.

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#3: Reducing a confusing mix of incentives, programs, plans and offers into just a few core offerings

This, too, should have been a slam dunk win for Charter Spectrum. If you’ve ever seen all the programs, tiers and offers from Time Warner Cable, it would have made your head spin. So Charter Communications did what it thought was best – it “rationalized” all those plans into several core plans – Select, Silver and Gold. Charter thought it was making the lives of its customers easier, not harder. All of a sudden, a very complex choice about which cable TV package to choose became very simple.

But, again, theory and reality did not always go hand in hand. One big problem was that customers actually enjoyed the idea of negotiating with the cable company and feeling like they had won. When they called up and were told that legacy pricing was no longer available, and that they didn’t have as many choices, customers responded by blaming the “monopoly” pricing power of a huge cable giant. And, even worse, customer service reps were given a script to stick to. At times, there were “hidden” options not on that script and customers, indeed, wanted them.

It would be as if you walked into your corner Starbucks and your favorite drink that you’ve been ordering for months was no longer available. Your favorite barista still knew how to make it, but they weren’t allowed to give it to customers. Just imagine how your opinion about Starbucks might change after that.

#4: Revamping customer service

This was perhaps the biggest win for Charter Spectrum. Let’s face it – the customer service at Time Warner was abysmal. And part of the rebranding was meant to gloss over the fact that this was still the same company. But here Charter Spectrum really put its money on the line. Hiring 20,000 customer service reps is a big step. And the company really tried to reinvent itself as a friendly, customer-centric company.

Several branding blogs (including Brand Channel) even pointed out that Charter was redoubling its efforts in the local community. One big winner with Charter had been “Charter Our Community” and so the company intended to bring that same community spirit to regions served by Time Warner Cable. One example was a video posted on YouTube of how a California mom was able to make important home repairs, all thanks to Charter. As Charter establishes itself as a brand in these local communities, the sort of word-of-mouth buzz that’s possible from these efforts should not be underestimated.

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At the end of the day, any rebranding takes time. And keep in mind – Charter is the second-largest cable company these days (trailing only Comcast) with a huge national footprint. It’s not a case of an upstart brand changing its logo and “pivoting” to a new customer segment. In the case of Charter Communications, it meant a re-thinking of every single Time Warner Cable touch point with customers, in very diverse markets. The same branding message that might go over well with customers in Los Angeles or New York might not resonate as well with customers in Ohio and Wisconsin. And any increase in price – even if it meant significantly faster speeds or better service – would be seen by customers as proof that they were being exploited.

After summer 2017, we’ll have a much better view of how the rebranding went. The multi-stage rebranding across all geographic markets will be complete, and the first customer service satisfaction ratings should start to be available. If all goes according to plan, customers will view Spectrum as a progressive, modern brand that offers crystal-clear HD picture, a fully-featured voice service, and the fastest possible Internet — all without a confusing mix of tiers, programs, offers and incentives. That will give Charter Spectrum a solid base to build out its broadband infrastructure and continue to offer its national customers the most innovative product offerings possible.

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Why Viewers Love “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee”

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The first queen of late-night TV is the comedian Samantha Bee, who has become one of the most important voices in the pop culture mainstream with her “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” on TBS. The once-a-week late-night show has become must-watch TV for anyone wanting a sharp, satirical point of view on current events, especially in the new era of Trump. Here are just a few of the reasons why viewers love “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee.”

Reason #1: She’s not afraid to go after President Donald Trump

One of the hallmarks of “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” is her irreverent and scathing criticism of the Trump administration. In 2016, her “Trump Conspiracy Theory” segment was named the #1 video clip of the year in a popular survey of the Top 10 Most Important Late Night Moments of 2016. That just gives you an idea of her willingness to question the policies of the current administration, using comedy as a tool to get people talking.

On April 29, she hosted the “Not the White House Correspondents’ Dinner,” which was both a chance to lampoon the Trump administration and to take a few swings at the mainstream media as well. The show, which was counter-programming for both the real White House correspondents’ dinner and the Trump rally taking place in Pennsylvania, include a cold open that featured a satirical press room briefing with the “real fake news.” It also included a piece on “Fox News in memoriam” and a roast of NBC’s Jeff Zucker.

That tells you all you really need to know about Samantha Bee’s ability to take a wide angle view of what’s happening in the media and political space. In the current era, the line between news and entertainment continues to blur. To connect with the young millennial viewer, as Samantha Bee clearly has, requires the ability to turn weighty, important matters into entertaining video clips.

Reason #2: She goes “full frontal” with field reports

Another major distinguishing feature of the show is the reliance on field reports, rather than just having a host sitting behind a news desk. That’s a sharp departure from what you typically see with other late night shows, which are long on sit-down interviews and sketch comedy bits, but not so much on field reports.

By getting out into the field and out of the studio, Samantha Bee can often expose the ludicrousness of certain views. For example, a feature on the “Deepest State” promised to reveal “malicious government employees” at work. What ensued was hardly anything but.

As an example of the type of field reports that Samantha Bee does is an investigation into the Veteran’s Health Administration (VHA) and the fate of female soldiers coming back from combat. Samantha Bee has also filed field reports from outside the U.S., like a popular piece she did that was filmed in Jordan.

The show does interview guests occasionally – an interview with President Barack Obama in late 2016 was a notable exception – but Samantha Bee pulls heavily on her previous work as a correspondent on the “Daily Show.” Bee’s goal is to arrive at important truths by getting out into the field.

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Reason #3: She presents a woman’s point of view on news and culture

Let’s face it – the late night TV landscape is relatively barren of female voices. Think of all the late night TV hosts – they are all men. And even when it comes to “The Daily Show,” Samantha Bee was completely passed over as a potential host for the show when Jon Stewart announced his retirement. So Samantha Bee decided to launch her own show on a different network.

It’s the type of perspective that TBS likes to tout somewhat irreverently. On the show’s website, TBS proudly hails the show as a welcome addition to “late-night’s all-male sausage fest.” While not all the segments are women-centric, there are definitely some that are focused on women (like on the segment about female soldiers). And she also enjoys dropping the “V” word as often as possible.

Reason #4: Samantha Bee focuses on stories at the edge of politics and culture

While other late night TV show hosts focus more on Hollywood and pop culture, Samantha Bee has her sights set much higher: on the current political scene. Take the example of the recent alleged hacking of the U.S. election by the Russians. That led to Samantha Bee doing a feature on Russian hacking and Russian trolls. But it wasn’t just the obvious take on the Russian hacking scandal – it also mocked the gullibility of people who would actually believe any of the clumsy attempts to change American views.

And, given all the Trump-fueled paranoia about the “Deep State” trying to take him down, Samantha Bee now features some merchandise on her website with “Deep State Alumni” emblazoned on the front. Just as someone might walk around with an Ohio State Alumni or Michigan State Alumni sweatshirt, you can now wear a Deep State Alumni sweatshirt!

Reason #5: Samantha Bee has mastered the art of creating viral content

In today’s digital world, what matters is being able to get your content shared and picked up by others. In other words – it’s important for that content to go viral. And that’s something that Samantha Bee has mastered, making it easy for her fans to package up her content and share it widely. At times, the weekly show almost feels like a pre-packaged collection of viral YouTube clips, all ready to travel out into the ether and win over new fans. And it’s exactly her brand of “full frontal” content that is best able to go viral. It’s at times shocking, other times hilarious, and still others, shockingly hilarious. But it is always pure Samantha Bee.

It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” has picked up some stellar reviews from fans and critics alike. The first season of the show, which started in February 2016, has a perfect 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. That made the decision by TBS to renew the show for a second season a no-brainer. Samantha Bee is a comedic force on late-night TV, and her rapier-like wit is only getting sharper each week. She has clearly figured out a way to offer a relevant, satirical analysis of current events and the political agenda.

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Categories TV

Why You’ll Love “Anne With An E”

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There are certain stories that stay with us throughout life, and resonate especially clearly in adulthood. They are stories that have been placed firmly into our memories and we are unable to dislodge them. One of those stories most certainly is “Anne of Green Gables” by Lucy Maud Montgomery; it’s a timeless coming-of-age story of an orphan who maintains her imagination and positive outlook in the face of all adversity. For that reason alone, you’ll love “Anne” on Netflix. It brings the classic novel to life in a brand new way.

Classic and timeless

For so many young girls, Anne Shirley (played by Amybeth McNulty) is their heroine. She’s an orphan coming of age on Prince Edward Island in Canada, and learning how to make her way in the world. Along the way, she must overcome her own tragic past and deal with a host of other problems as she confronts them.

And, along the way, she has an unquenchable zest for life and a high-spirited imagination. That’s why you’ll find the cinematic updating of this novel so thrilling – you’ll be thrilled by the made up worlds that Anne has created for herself, and you’ll view each new episode as a fun adventure as Anne learns more about herself.

So many of the themes and ideas in the new Netflix series are timeless, classic and enduring. Whether it’s making sense of the first pangs of true love (in classic Anne fashion, she clumsily whacks her future lover over his head while at school), or making sense of impending womanhood (such as all the signs of female puberty), Anne is truly making her way in the world.

A more realistic updating

The one point where purists are going to come to blows is how much Netflix should have updated this series. From what we’ve seen from released scenes and the trailer, the overall look of the series will be somewhat moody and gray. This is in sharp contrast to the typical way that “Anne of Green Gables” has been adapted for TV. In those version, the series is usually very bright and cheery, in order to convey the optimism of Anne.

So fans of the 1908 book are already having online debates about just how realistic this series should be, especially in its treatment of Anne’s past life. She is an orphan after all, and throughout history, orphans have been cast as bringers of woes and troubles. But dwelling too much on this side of “Anne” might make the series too downbeat. It should be positive and full of imaginative storytelling power. So we’ll have to see how the new Netflix series deals with this issue.

The good news is that there are still plenty of scenes of dreamy romanticism. For example, there’s one particularly thrilling and uplifting scene where Anne is standing on a cliff, with her hair blowing in the wind, and staring out at the sea.

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A real Canadian gem

It should be pointed out that, since this was a Canadian book, the series is premiering first on Canadian TV (CBC) before coming to Netflix. And all of the scenes were shot in Canada – that includes some gorgeous scenery from Prince Edward Island and Southern Ontario. There’s beautiful scenery of Green Gables, of course, which leads Anne to exuberantly declare, “It’s so easy to love Green Gables, isn’t it?”

This is a far superior remake of a former 1985 TV version of the show, which many point to as the definitive version of “Anne” until now. The Netflix version (known as “Anne With an E”) has been adapted by Emmy Award-winning writer and producer Moira Walley-Beckett and boasts some really first-rate dramatic talent, including Amybeth McNulty (as Anne), Geraldine James (as Marilla Cuthbert), R.H. Thomson (as Matthew Cuthbert), Lucas Jade Zimmerman (as Gilbert Blythe), Dalila Bela (as Diana Barry) and Corinne Koslo (as Rachel Lynde).

Eternal childhood friendship

In childhood, it always seems like there is someone who is destined to be our friend and supporter forever, and in this case, it’s Anne and Diana. In the Netflix trailer, we see them pledging their eternal love and devotion to each other, and that’s something that makes us feel good inside. This story may be more than a century old, but it still resonates with today’s girls.

Anne takes on all adversity as she approaches womanhood

In many ways, Anne is fearless. She can take on any challenge, even those that might appear impossible to others. One example is where her new schoolmates start to bully her once they find out that she’s an orphan. One girl says to Anne, “I won’t eat next to dirty trash.”

And, in the very first episode of the show, Anne must deal with the fact that her adopting family originally wanted a boy, not a girl. This is a farm, after all, and a young boy who can grow up to take care of things is always more valued than a girl. At one point, Anne actually tries to run away, so you can imagine how hurt and rejected she initially feels.

The wonderful Green Gables

As the final episode (Episode 7) of the series makes clear, the farm is the symbol of friendship and love. It is something that unites generations of family, as well as something that brings friends closer together. So we can’t wait to see all the scenes of early twentieth-century farm life. That lifestyle may seem quaint today, but all of us can identify with the enduring themes of rural life. It’s the reason why people today are enamored of spending the day at the local farmer’s market. The farm stands for hard work, dedication and a certain purity of soul. And these become enduring values that we associate with the Cuthbert family, including Anne.

Once these 7 episodes of “Anne” hit Netflix on May 12, it’s easy to see how people are going to be binge-watching them to catch up with their favorite red-headed heroine. Anne has been a favorite and a role model for generations of girls, and now they will have a chance to see her in a Netflix series. It will help to bring their dreams and imagination to life. And thus the cycle of a timeless classic will be continually renewed, as the next generation of young girls learns about Anne of Green Gables.

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Categories TV