Covering just about any entertainment medium these days can involve some tap-dances, but I really don't like the steps that I'm having to take for "The Simpsons Movie." ...
To be sure, I have spent most of my recent years covering television, where the rules about reviewing TV shows and interviewing stars are generally pretty simple. Review copies will arrive with requests not to give away spoilers, for one thing. And when the pilots for new shows are sent out in the late spring (basically to provide more information for show-related interviews on the summer press tour), the networks ask that they not be reviewed since things could change before the shows actually air. Of course, my colleagues and I still write about the shows -- but take some pains to note that the comments are not a review of what you'll see in the fall. (And things really do change, especially in casting.)
Interviews, as well, can be subject to negotiation. I've been offered some interviews only if I agree to write a story only about the star in question, not packaged with other interviews. (I've usually said that I may write only about that person, but I won't guarantee it, since another interview may come along that fits with it, and the interviews haven't happened.)
Sometimes publicists will ask that certain topics not be brought up, and I've been in situations where publicists cut off lines of questioning they deemed inappropriate. (I've also seen ground rules set, and then ignored by the actor being interviewed, when a tactfully phrased question eased the pre-interview resistance.) One of the nice things about talking to Kellie Pickler, mentioned in a previous post, is that there were no ground rules beforehand, and she fielded my questions. Contrast that to Star Jones's ridiculous recent attempt to fend off questions about her makeover.
I blame the movie biz for such behavior, since control freaks have tried to run the movie media for years. When Victoria Beckham wanted written control of some interview comments, it was reasonable to think that the Beckhams are claiming chumminess with Tom Cruise, whose rep for controlling behavior is well known.
Then there's the nonsense I've been going through regarding "The Simpsons Movie." It's going to be available for preview a few days before its premiere, and I expect to see it and write about it. But before I go to the preview, I've been told that I have to hold my print review until the day the movie opens locally.
I wasn't pleased to be told when a review could run, but printing it on opening day is consistent with what we do with most reviews, so I can live with that. Then, today, I got an e-mail wanting "written confirmation" that I wouldn't post notes about the movie in this blog before opening day.
As you know, I routinely post comments here shortly after seeing movies, as I did recently with "Hairspray" and "Talk to Me." They're not reviews, but, I'm told, would be considered reviews by the "Simpsons" folks -- and they're working hard to control the news about their movie, as this Los Angeles Times story indicates.
Once again, I don't like the idea that I'm being told when I can write about something by the people I'm writing about. Beyond that, though, what "The Simpsons Movie" wants to do seems practically impossible. If, as the Times story says, it's opening July 24 in LA, then there will be plenty of buzz on the Internet that same day, if not sooner. (I have to think some blogger is going to get into the Springfield, Vt., premiere -- part of a "Simpsons" promotional contest -- reportedly scheduled for July 21.)
Holding back a review in Akron does not stop the flow of information for people here. I am sure that by the time I write more about "Talk To Me" for its Northeast Ohio opening date, plenty of people will know all they want about the movie because it has already opened in other cities and been widely reviewed.
Even the understanding about the print review is looking more absurd, since some theaters in Ohio and elsewhere will begin showing "The Simpsons Movie" at the stroke of midnight on July 27 -- and "The Simpsons" strikes me as real midnight-movie material -- so some people will see the print review later that morning, after they've seen the movie.
The wisest course for "The Simpsons Movie" was, and is, to make it available to reviewers with a simple "Have at it," and let the judgments fall where they may. If nothing else, then I wouldn't feel so cranky about the movie before seeing it.