The Very Best Graphic Sex and Nudity Scenes from “Game of Thrones”

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In just seven seasons of “Game of Thrones,” there has been an incredible amount of nudity and sex – some of it merely titillating and some of it bordering on the pornographic. And these weren’t just your run-of-the-mill sex scenes, either, with many of them at least tangentially touching on some very taboo topics (incest, anyone?). So here are the very best graphic sex and nudity scenes from “Game of Thrones.”

Jaime and Cersei Lannister have sex on a tower wall (Season 1, Episode 1)

The best place to start, of course, is Season 1. If nothing else, this was the season that introduced us to the very sexy milieu of “Game of Thrones” and gave us a good idea of what was going to come over the next six seasons – like the ongoing incest theme involving Jaime and Cersei Lannister. In the first episode of Season 1, we see the twins Jaime and Cersei Lannister having sex high atop a tower wall in a little love nest. Their fun and games are spoiled, however, when little Bran Stark catches sight of them making love. That, of course, ends with Jaime walking over and throwing little Bran over the tower wall, to his almost certain death. “The things I do for love,” he tells Cersei.

Viserys and Doreah have sex in the bath (Season 1, Episode 4)

Whores and brothels play an important role in “Game of Thrones,” so it’s perhaps no surprise that some of the sexiest scenes in the show involve prostitutes doing things that, well, most people only fantasize about. And who wouldn’t want to be having a hot bath with a beautiful woman, as she gets so completely turned on by your power. Doreah rambles on and on about dragons, and how turned on she is by the power of Viserys to command them. Hot girls and dragon talk – very nicely done, “Game of Thrones.”

Daenerys learns to make love and seduce a man (Season 1, Episode 2)

Daenerys, eager to learn the deeper arts of seduction, asks the prostitute Doreah to teach her how to pleasure a man. That, of course, is something that Doreah knows very well. She proceeds to get on top of Daenerys, pinning her hands to the bed, and starts to talk about how important it is to look a man in the eyes directly. She tells Daenerys how it’s possible to “finish a man” simply with her eyes, and then tells Daenerys not to “make love like a slave.”

At which point, Daenerys suddenly plays the role of woman on top, flipping Doreah over. Just when you think things couldn’t possibly get any hotter, guess who enters? Yes, it’s Khal Drogo, completely naked. He tries to take Daenerys from behind, but she slaps away his hands. Tonight, it will be her who will be on top, riding the great Drogo.

Daenerys shows full frontal nudity in a giant fireball (Season 6, Episode 4)

Speaking of Daenerys, has their ever been a hotter, dragon-loving blonde on TV? So it’s understandable that a lot of the hottest and kinkiest scenes involve her. One of the best scenes is when Daenerys has been imprisoned by the Dothraki warlords, and they are debating whether or not to trade her for 10,000 stallions.

She’s brought in to a room lit only by torches, and all the powerfully built Dothraki men start to comment on her body. Rhalko says, “I’d like to know what a khaleesi tastes like” – at which point, it starts to look like this is going to be a mind-blowing gang rape scene, especially when one of the warriors refers to her as a “cunt.” The men, dressed in what could easily pass for bondage gear, say that they will each take turns having sex with her, then they will give her over to their horsemen, who will each have sex with her. Then, they will give her to their horses, “if there’s anything of you left.”

That’s when we learn that “fire cannot kill the dragon.” Daenerys goes berserk, setting the whole area on fire. We see the whole place burning to the ground, in a giant fireball. After a few seconds, we see her emerge, completely naked, with full frontal nudity. She’s been untouched by the fire, and all the men and women in attendance bow down deep to the ground. Wow, mind blown, right?

 

Daenerys and Daario make love (Season 5, Episode 7)

Most people point to this scene as the only real “romantic” sex scene in the entire show, so we’ll be brief here since we need to move on to the spicier sex scenes. But the gold satin sheets are a nice touch, and the tenderness that Daenerys and Daario feel for each other is almost palpable. As far as nudity, we mostly have to content ourselves with bare backs and shoulders, and the rest is left to the imagination. It’s artistic and tasteful.

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Stannis and Melisandre have sex on a table (Season 2, Episode 2)

One of the kinkiest characters on all of “Game of Thrones” is Melisandre, otherwise known as the Red Lady. In fact, British GQ has referred to her as the “Queen of Kink,” partially due to that twisted scene in Season 3 where she ties up a guy in the bedroom and proceeds to apply leeches all over his body in some kind of bizarre ritualistic sex scene.

But back to the table… Melisandre is ready to seduce Stannis by telling him “I will give you a son.” And what better place to do it than on a giant war planning table, where he has laid out all the positions of his men in battle. It looks like a giant Risk board, and she’s obviously turned on. She’s dressed in nothing more than a very sheer red robe, which she soon discards. All we see are her beautiful breasts and curvaceous figure. As you might imagine, the sight of that turns Stannis into a sex-crazed fiend. He doesn’t even wait to take off his coat or shoes, and takes her right there on the table. That steamy sex scene, of course, is what leads to the Shadow Baby.

Daenerys and Jon Snow have sex on a boat (Season 7, Episode 7)

Just about the only sex scene in what has been described as a strangely “sexless” Season 7 is the famous one involving Daenerys and Jon Snow. On YouTube, people are calling this the “boat scene,” and we seen plenty of skin and nudity here as Jon Snow and Daenerys make love. The bonus here, of course, is that we find out who Jon Snow really is during this scene. For seven seasons, we thought he was a bastard son. But here we find out his true identity: he is Aegon Targaryen, the rightful heir to the Iron Throne.

That’s pretty awesome, right? But then you have to think to yourself: Daenerys is also a Targaryen… so that would mean that a Targaryen is having sex with another Targaryen. So… Did Jon Snow just have sex with his aunt? Oh, hey, this is “Game of Thrones,” so it’s just one more controversial sex scene. At this point, who’s really counting?

Lord Baelish instructs prostitutes how to pleasure a man (Season 1, Episode 7)

This has to be one of the best brothel scenes in the entire seven seasons of “Game of Thrones,” especially because it lasts for so long, getting hotter by the minute. Lord Baelish is somewhat distracted, and we see two girls in the background. But he finally can’t take it anymore, and gives them a quick lesson on how to pleasure a man. He wants them to fake it so well that men will keep coming back to them, again and again, at the brothel. So he watches them talk dirty to each other and get it on at the same time, offering some sagely advice.

As these scenes make clear, “Game of Thrones” has delivered, season after season, a rare mix of nudity, sex and sexual violence. It’s a hot, steamy combination that’s plenty spicy – and it might just be one of the best parts of “Game of Thrones.”

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Categories TV

Film Review: “The Dark Tower”

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“The Dark Tower” is the film adaptation of Stephen King’s series of 8 novels that fans have been long anticipating. The only question, though, was how any Hollywood director was going to take eight very dense and complicated novels and transform them into a seamless 90-minute movie experience. Unfortunately, this film adaptation of “The Dark Tower” from Danish director Nikolaj Arcel often fails to hit the mark.

“The Dark Tower” struggles with its adaptation of Stephen King

The problem, quite simple, is that you can’t satisfy both Stephen King fans – who obviously wanted a very faithful adaptation of the novels – and the typical summer moviegoer who wants plenty of action and adventure with a minimal amount of exposition. So Arcel did what he had to do – he combined several characters from King’s novels into composite characters. He tried to explain the whole back story of the Gunslinger and the Man in Black in a way that a popcorn movie audience could understand.

As a result, the film often comes off as a Cliff Notes version of “The Dark Tower.” Another review has referred to this film as “The Dark Tower for Dummies.” It’s almost as if a team of writers and directors quickly read through all of King’s novels and tried to pull out the most salient plot points and characters. But it sometimes feels like a strange mash-up of King’s work.

Moreover, the psychic child at the center of the film (Jake Chambers, played by Tom Taylor) seems to have the same kind of “shining” that’s famously the subject of the King novel and film “The Shining.” Still other reviewers have complained that the movie reminded them too much of Steven Spielberg, and not enough of Stephen King. The drawings of the Man in Black, the Dark Tower, and the Gunslinger might remind you of scenes from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” So purists are bound to be at least a little disappointed.

“The Dark Tower” is a gunslinger Western sci-fi fantasy with plenty of action

Where Arcel does succeed, though, is turning this film into a fun, sci-fi fantasy with a Western saga feel to it. The role of the Gunslinger, played by a world-weary Idris Elba, is one of the highlights of the movie. In his barren wasteland of the world, he comes off as a Western-style hero from the 1970s. He’s a loner and short on words – but he’s a master of his craft. He’s also full of aphorisms on how to shoot and kill.

And it’s these action sequences that give the film its life. At times, the Gunslinger must fend off the henchmen who have been sent by the Man in Black (played by Matthew McConaughey). At other times, he is pitted, head-to-head, with the Man in Black himself. According to mythical lore, the only person who can destroy the Man in Black is the Gunslinger. His gun has been forged from the same steel as King Arthur’s Excalibur. It’s no wonder, then, that the Man in Black wants the Gunslinger dead.

“The Dark Tower” is the ultimate story of good and evil

The basic plotline of “The Dark Tower” can be broken down into just a single sentence: The Gunslinger must prevent the Man in Black from destroying the Dark Tower and unleashing unspeakable evil and destruction on the universe. And it’s here where things get really complex, because there are at least two worlds involved here – the barren wasteland inhabited by the Gunslinger and then the modern, contemporary world of New York City. There are portals between worlds, and that sets up the final ending of the movie, in which the Gunslinger and Jake must find a way into the Dark Tower from these portals. If they fail to do so, the universe will basically come to an end, so there’s plenty of motivation.

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“The Dark Tower” squanders the talent of Matthew McConaughey as the Man in Black

The Man in Black obviously is central to the whole film – he is seemingly hell-bent (literally) on destroying the Dark Tower, but it’s never completely clear why. At many points in the film, it seems like he is doing all this just to antagonize his historical rival, the Gunslinger. But aren’t there better ways of revenge than destroying the Dark Tower and bringing about the end of the universe?

Moreover, it often seems like Matthew McConaughey’s main role is to appear every now and then and utter a few throwaway bad guy lines. We want to believe in his utter villainy – and there’s one scene where he does his best to wish a dark fate upon everyone he encounters in New York City – but there’s something about his character that doesn’t ring true. If you’re not a “Dark Tower” fan, the whole idea of kidnapping psychic children and using them to bring down the tower will be confusing at best.

“The Dark Tower” is going to be the perfect movie to stream on Netflix

There are two types of movies these days. One is the epic blockbuster film that everyone is going to see and that is best enjoyed in the movie cinema. “Dunkirk” and “Wonder Woman” are great examples. The second is the type of movie that’s best for streaming on Netflix. And “The Dark Tower” is one of those movies.

It’s a movie that, in previous decades, would have been called a B-movie. It’s competent, well-directed and well-acted, but it just doesn’t measure up. There’s plenty of action, but the dialogue and exposition can weigh the film down at times. And some of the plot lines can be hard to follow, so it might be a movie that’s best viewed twice on your favorite streaming device.

Trying to adapt a Stephen King novel for the big screen has always been a challenging task. It’s hard to capture every nuance of his work and still make it something that’s worth paying for in the movie cinema. “The Dark Tower” will be talked about and may end up being a cult hit, but Stephen King fans are almost certain to be disappointed. “The Dark Tower” deserves more than 90 minutes – it would almost be better as a miniseries on Netflix that you could binge on over a weekend.

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Does “The House” Bring the Funny?

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Any time you bring Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler together in a film, you’re going to have some laughs. The problem with “The House,” though, is that those laughs don’t come nearly as often as viewers would like. At some point, “The House” stops being a raunchy comedy and, instead, becomes a dark (and surprisingly bloody) commentary on the failed American middle class dream. It just doesn’t bring the funny.

#1: Even Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler can’t make “The House” funny

For most moviegoers, the idea of combining Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler together in one comedy is going to be worth the price of admission. And, for the first 20 minutes of the film, there’s the faint glimmer of hope that the two characters they play – the married couple of Scott and Kate Johansen – will turn this into a funny suburban farce. The two are desperate to raise enough money for their daughter’s college tuition, and have stumbled on the idea of running an underground casino in a neighbor’s house.

But then something happens – the film stops being a silly movie about suburban parents with first-world problems and careens wildly off the track. The whole premise of turning a giant suburban house into a casino is not funny in and of itself, so director Andrew Jay Cohen amps up this premise by turning this casino into a version of suburban hell. Moms in yoga pants face off in Fight Club-like duels. Dads start snorting cocaine. And, of course, there are the inevitable prostitutes and other hangers-on that you’d expect at any seedy casino.

And it all happens so fast – before you can blink, the whole house is outfitted with gambling tables and the action starts. Along the way, there are lame math jokes (you see, Will Ferrell is a smart, successful suburban dad but can’t do any math!) and jokes about living in the ‘burbs. But don’t blame Ferrell and Poehler – the material is weak, and even two gifted comics can’t turn this movie around.

#2: “The House” becomes a bleak, bloody ode to suburban rage

At some point in the movie, it’s almost as if director Andrew Jay Cohen had an epiphany – let’s make this film much darker and much bloodier. At some point, the two goofy suburban parents transform into hardened criminals – Amy Poehler has a dope habit and Will Ferrell becomes a mafia-style enforcer called “The Butcher.” As if to reinforce this point, theme music from “The Sopranos” plays in the background.

And it turns out that all the people who lived in this nice, genial suburban neighborhood (“Fox Hollow”) are actually a bunch of debauched libertines. At a moment’s notice, they turn into gambling, drug-using, sex-addled fiends. The local police seem, at best, inept. The local politicians are corrupt and untrustworthy. And normal, everyday people turn callous. Violence – and blood –seemingly courses through this version of suburbia.

Describing this dark turn in the movie, The New York Times called “The House” a “dark, startlingly bloody journey into the bitter, empty broken heart of the American middle class.” And that’s exactly what you have – a tale of social despair. This is what happens when the system no longer works. What once might have been just farce turns into dark, biting satire.

At which point, you have to ask: Is this really what director Andrew Jay Cohen had in mind? Presumably, people wanted to see a quirky, goofy movie with lots of laughs. They might not be prepared for this dark turn – and certainly not for Will Ferrell calling himself “The Butcher.”

#3: “The House” tries to wing it on acting talent alone

Of course, critics can be forgiven for going overboard on their negative assessment of the movie. After all, newspaper film critics are experiencing a bit of white-collar, suburban rage themselves these days. One day, they are world-renowned film critics, the next day, they are scrambling to get more likes on their film review website than some teenager writing about movies in his (or her) parent’s basement.

And, in this case, the film critics weren’t even invited to an initial screening. Thus, some critics were making some snide comments about the film being “sneaked” into cinemas, while others went into the film fully expecting a dumpster fire of a movie.

And, in some ways, the mainstream media critics are right. “The House” boasts some fine acting talent (including Jason Mantzoukas as Frank, the neighbor with both a gambling and porn addiction), but seems to lack everything else for box office success – like a script. The characters are never fully formed, to the point where you don’t even know their names.

There are a lot of different directions this film could have gone. It almost seems like it was rushed to the big screen, because many of the plot elements were never fully fleshed out.

For example, why exactly are Scott and Kate having so much trouble handling the college tuition when they seem to be living in a gigantic house? Just sell the house, pocket the money, and move somewhere cheaper. And how is it possible that two suburbanites just snap so completely – we’re never really given any narrative framework to understand how and why Scott and Kate turn into pot-smoking, violence-prone suburbanites.

Maybe it was all meant to be very, very funny in some twisted way. But here’s the thing: you can’t wing a movie on acting talent alone. The movie clocked in at less than 1 hour and 30 minutes, and even that time seemed stuffed with comic outtakes at the very end. There’s just very little here. Characters come and go, and we don’t really know why. It doesn’t matter, though, since it’s the composite picture that’s supposed to be funny, of suburban life gone very, very wrong.

What we do have is very dark – lust, greed, corruption, cocaine and brawls. “The House” will bring you face to face with the dark underbelly of American middle class life. Behind all the nice houses and all the fancy cars, there’s apparently a lot of suburban rage, just waiting to be let loose on the world. It’s safe to say that “The House” doesn’t bring the funny.

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Why “Transformers: The Last Knight” Got Terrible Reviews

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There some movie franchises that are seemingly critic-proof. The “Transformers” franchise is one of them. The latest “Transformers” film – the fifth in the series if you’re keeping track – was savaged by critics, but still turned in a fairly impressive box office showing, pulling down more than $450 million worldwide. So here’s why “Transformers: The Last Knight” got such terrible reviews, even though audiences seemed to love it.

#1: “Transformers: The Last Knight” was hollow and meaningless

Now at the helm of his fifth “Transformers” film, director Michael Bay seems to have little else to say as a filmmaker. This was simply a movie that was made because it could be made. As a result, critics have used terms like “unnecessary” and “unsatisfying” to describe the film.

At this point, it doesn’t seem to matter who’s fighting who, or which metal robots are fighting which other metal robots. It’s all just an excuse to have hours of CGI fun, watching big metal creatures do battle with each other on the big screen. As a result, everything about the film seems to be hollow and meaningless.

#2: “Transformers: The Last Knight” includes some ridiculous plotlines

Ok, you’re probably not expecting strong, dramatic storytelling with a “Transformers” movie. But at least treat the audience with a little bit of respect when it comes to developing the plotline!

Case in point: there’s a plotline in which Vivian Wembley (played by Laura Haddock) plays an Oxford professor. And it turns out that she’s more than just a professor – she’s also the last direct descendant of the magician Merlin. That means she is the only person capable of using the magical staff that Merlin had buried next to him in his coffin. At which point, you’re probably wondering, “What in the world does Merlin have to do with the Transformers?”

And you’d be right. Critics were quick to point out that this amounted to nothing more than “mystical medieval hokum.” It was almost as if the screenwriters were hunting and searching for something that would make the movie seem bigger and more important, and the idea of King Arthur and Merlin suddenly struck someone as a good idea. Other critics have said that this plot line essentially turned the film into a mash-up of “The Da Vinci Code” and “The Terminator.”

#3: The movie was too long and too hard to watch

“Transformers: The Last Knight” clocked in at an impressive 3 hours and 9 minutes. If you’re paying $20 for a movie ticket, you can say that you got your money’s worth, right? Not so fast. Those were an interminable 3 hours of non-stop explosions, chases and fights. The movie could have ended an hour earlier, and movie audiences wouldn’t have been disappointed.

Instead, it’s almost as if Michael Bay was determined to make this the biggest, baddest “Transformers” yet. And so he over-stuffed the movie with action. It was all so chaotic and messy, though. There were quick jump cuts and throwaway lines. No time for dialogue and meaningful plot development, when the goal is to create a massive, soaring CGI masterpiece!

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#4: “Transformers” squanders some top-quality actors and actresses

There was another miscalculation from the “Transformers” team, and that was replacing Shia LeBeouf with Mark Wahlberg (as Cade Yeager) as the new face of the franchise back in 2014. Granted, Wahlberg is the bigger star these days, but it also fundamentally changed the way that critics viewed the movie franchise.

In short, there could never be just another fun, robot-clanking movie that didn’t take itself too seriously. This was, after all, the film franchise that was founded back in 2007 on the basis of toy trucks created for 10-year-old boys. But when you add Wahlberg into the mix, it’s clear that “Transformers” wants to be more than a film for adolescent boys – it wants to be something that grownups will go see. Sorry Michael Bay, but Mark Wahlberg is no Shia LeBeouf.

Who, exactly, wants to see this kind of movie? It’s just explosions and battles, anyway. Even a legendary actor from Hollywood’s golden age couldn’t save this movie from itself. Better yet – why even include real actors, anyway? Just create some CGI-generated avatar and let them wreak havoc for a few hours.

And there’s a deeper problem here – “Transformers” squanders some great acting talent here. It’s almost as if these actors signed on for a big pay day, and then just mailed it in. They realized that nobody really cares about them, anyway, it’s all about the Decepticons and Autobots. Just check out some of the names involved with this film (in addition to Mark Wahlberg and Laura Haddock) — Anthony Hopkins, Stanley Tucci, Jerrod Carmichael and Josh Duhamel. There was obviously room to make this film more of a character-driven narrative, but that’s something that Michael Bay clearly had no intention of doing.

#5: What ever happened to Optimus Prime?

If there was one defining element that united all the “Transformers” movies, it was Optimus Prime. But the fundamental premise of this movie is that Optimus Prime is gone, leaving humans and robots to fight it out on Earth. There’s some back story involving a grand bargain that Optimus Made, essentially handing over Earth to the bad guys.

But here’s the thing – Optimus Prime finally returns to his old self in the movie, after about two and a half hours! After more than 150 minutes of robot vs. robot warfare, we’re finally spared. This was supposed to be the big dramatic moment in “Transformers” – the moment when audiences gasp with wonder and awe. But, instead, audiences just offer up a groan of approval: “Thank goodness, maybe this means this film is finally coming to an end…”

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There’s one line from the studio trailer that now rings true. In it, there’s the voice of Anthony Hopkins asking, “Why do they keep coming here?” It’s a question very much on the minds of studio audiences with regard to these “Transformer” films. Why do they keep coming back? The only possible answer is that there’s money to be made, and this is all simply a ploy to get moviegoers to part with their hard-earned cash.

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Did “Rough Night” Hit the Comedy Mark?

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After nearly 40 years of “guys behaving badly” films, it’s now time to see how the opposite sex behaves when nobody is watching. Last year’s surprise comedy hit – “Bad Moms” – was just the beginning of a new type of film written for women who want to celebrate being women. The new film “Rough Night” takes what might be a throwaway storyline – a bunch of hard-partying girls go to Miami Beach – and turns it into something both funny and meaningful. Female director Lucia Aniello has hit the comedy mark on this one.

“Rough Night” is more than just a “Hangover” for women

In many ways, “Rough Night” heads down the same narrative road as the “Hangover” films. A bunch of college friends reunite for a bawdy adventure in a party town (usually Vegas, but now Miami Beach), and bad things proceed to happen at a dizzying pace. And, in between, there’s plenty of scenes of strippers (male, not female) and gratuitous drug use (cocaine, the hard stuff, not legalized marijuana).

But what makes this film so hilarious is that it’s completely directed with what some might call the “female gaze.” In other words, in the same way that Patty Jenkins changed what we thought superhero films could be by presenting “Wonder Woman” from a female point of view, Lucia Aniello has changed what we thought buddy-bonding movies could be by re-imagining everything from a female point of view.

In other words, this is not a male fantasy of what a woman’s “Hangover” film would look like. Yes, there’s gratuitous drug use, and lots of references to male anatomy – but it shows us what a role reversal can look like in the movies. As they say, the tables have been turned.

In “Rough Night,” it’s the women – played by Scarlett Johansson, Zoe Kravitz, Ilana Glazer, Jillian Bell and Kate McKinnon – who have the wild, bachelorette party while the guys settle for a very uninspiring wine-tasting party to celebrate the end of being a bachelor. And it’s the women who are sex-crazed and looking to party, not the men.

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“Rough Night” has hilarious comic nuances, thanks to Scarlett Johansson

The real shining star of “Rough Night” is Scarlett Johansson, who’s playing a very grown-up and respectable woman (Jess) who’s running for political office. But, back in the day, she enjoyed a good party, just like anyone else. And her friends back in the day were true partiers.

Who knew that Scarlett Johansson could do comedy? So it’s here that the particularly deft hand of director Lucia Aniello is felt. Just a few years ago, the only comic roles for women were those featuring larger-than-life personalities like Roseanne Barr or Melissa McCarthy. Serious actresses, we were told by the (male) Hollywood establishment, didn’t do goofy comedies.

And so the role of Scarlett Johansson, in many ways, is culturally and socially liberating. Here we have one of the most accomplished actresses in Hollywood, someone who has worked and played alongside the biggest names of the industry, and she’s “slumming it” in a female version of a frat party movie? Except that she’s not slumming it – she’s making a statement here about the types of roles that women get in Hollywood. If Robert De Niro can do comedy, then why not Scarlett Johansson? This is the new cultural zeitgeist, so get used to it.

“Rough Night” takes all the standard formulas, and gives them a twist

Yes, some critics have called “Rough Night” a bit “derivative” and “formulaic.” Yes, it’s easy just to label it a female “Hangover” or a female “Weekend at Bernie’s” and be done with it. But there are plenty of elements here that get a nice, comedic twist.

For example, it’s easy just to fall back on comic stereotypes for the roles of the college friends. But this film goes one step further. The LGBT rights activist is also a cokehead. The girl we thought was going to be so successful back in college turns out to be a drunk narcissist. And the person we thought was going to be our BFF throughout life turns out to be very needy, viewing the relationship in the most possessive manner possible. In short, these aren’t a bunch of stereotypes being tossed out there for viewer consumption.

And we should have expected as much. Lucia Aniello, with her co-writer Paul Downs, is also one of the creative forces behind the web series “Broad City,” which fully blossomed into a Comedy Central series starring Ilana Glazer. Guess what? She also stars in this film. And where “Broad City” was so powerful was in adapting a slightly off-kilter female humor dynamic for today’s web audience.

As a result, it sometimes feels in “Rough Night” that we’re experiencing more than just a formulaic comedy. Instead, we’re viewing a new type of webisode-inspired comedy that’s tailor-made to appear on “Comedy Central” at some later date. We can’t wait for this film to go straight-to-web.

“Rough Night” appeals to a wider audience than just women

Judging by the mixed reviews on IMDb (5.5 out of 10.0) and the 48% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it would be too easy to say that “Rough Night” missed the comedy mark. But that does not embrace the bigger idea here – that this movie is not a film about women for men, it is a film about women for women. And that’s why it’s so powerful.

Once you begin to see “Rough Night” as more than just a female romp for male consumption, you begin to appreciate all the comic nuances. Topics that were once only seen from a male perspective – such as what married life feels like at a certain age – are given a new filter and a new lens.

There are just so many funny lines of dialogue and sight gags in “Rough Night” that you’ll be laughing through the whole film. The first time you see Scarlett Johansson on screen – all serious-looking with short hair  — you might be tempted to ask yourself, “Does this girl really get it?” And she does.

It’s so great to see the likes of “ScarJo” dipping into the comedy genre, alongside comic veterans like Jillian Bell, Ilana Glazer, and Kate McKinnon. It’s proof that a female comedy doesn’t just have to be a derivative male version of a film. Instead, it can be something meaningful, fresh and new – and still deliver a bunch of laughs. So, yes, “Rough Night” did hit the comedy mark.

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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 Internet 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 Internet 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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