TIME Media

Why Investors Are So in Love With Netflix Right Now

The Netflix company logo is seen at Netf
Ryan Anson—AFP/Getty Images The Netflix company logo is seen at Netflix headquarters in Los Gatos, CA on April 13, 2011.

Nothing is ever straightforward about Netflix earnings–and last quarter was no exception: Netflix shares surged 12% in after-hours trading Tuesday after it reported earnings per share of 38 cents, a long way from the 63 cents a share that analysts had been expecting.

To explain that disconnect, you either have to conclude that Netflix investors have lost their minds or that there’s something else they saw and liked in the numbers. With Netflix, it can be both at once.

Because it’s as if there are multiple companies being analyzed here: the one poised to take over the world, or the one that is breaking the bank to get there. The stock that’s risen 4,000% over the past decade, or the speculative stock with the PE ratio above 160. In the case of Netflix, there’s plenty of room for both arguments.

One reason investors were willing to overlook the big earnings miss is that much of it was caused by the strong US dollar, which lowered international revenue 48%. Without the foreign-exchange losses, Netflix would have reported a 77-cents-a-share profit, above the Street’s expectations. As it was, Netflix reported a $14.7 million net profit, less than half the $35.8 million profit a year ago.

Investors, it seems, are willing to overlook that because of another metric, one that’s particularly scrutinized at Netflix these days: new subscribers. In the US, Netflix added 2.3 million new subscribers net of cancellations, which was well above the 1.8 million adds it had expected. Internationally, Netflix added 2.6 million net subscribers, also above the 2.25 million it forecast.

That was largely because of new original programming the company has creating, like the third season of House of Cards and the debut of new Netflix creations like Tina Fey’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and the star-studded drama Bloodline. Netflix has been cultivating series that can appeal in the US as well as abroad, and the new subscriptions suggest it’s working for now.

This quarter, the company is rolling out even more original content, such as the Marvel series Daredevil, released last Friday; a documentary series, Chef’s TableGrace and Frankie, a comedy starring four Emmy award winners; Sens8,a scifi series created by the Wachowskis; and the return of Orange Is the New Black. Those should keep new subscribers signing up, but they’re also adding to spending.

It’s the mounting spending that the Netflix bears often point to. Streaming content obligations (basically, licensing fees for titles coming in the future) rose to $9.8 billion in the last quarter from $7.1 billion a year ago. These figures don’t necessarily affect the current income statement as much as give an indication of how spending will happen in the future, but they are daunting numbers nonetheless.

For the last quarter’s spending, Netflix offers another home-brewed metric, contribution profit. It’s revenue minus content spending and marketing expenses, so it excludes tech infrastructure or administrative costs. It’s an unorthodox metric, but it at least shows how, as Netflix pushes into new markets, content and marketing are performing against revenue.

In the last quarter, the contribution profit from US streaming operations rose 55% year over year to $312 million, or 32% of revenue. International streaming, however, incurred a contribution loss of $65 million, up from a loss of $35 million a year ago. In the current quarter, the contribution loss will swell to $101 million.

On a video call discussing earnings (like its home-brewed metrics, Netflix has its own style of conference call, where a pair of rotating analysts ask questions on a Google hangout), CFO David Wells was asked about how long the spending would keep growing. He reiterated a warning Netflix has made before, that the losses could grow throughout 2015, thanks in good part to marketing in newer markets in Europe and Asia.

“We’ve said we are committed to running the business at global breakeven and we have ambitious plans for international growth,” Wells said. “We’ll have some bigger launches, and we’ve described them as meaningful and significant investments in back half of this year. So you should expect those losses to trend upward and into ’16, and then improve from there.”

The case Netflix has been making has been that it’s spending aggressively to take advantage of a global, long-term trend away from traditional broadcast and cable TV and toward TV streamed over the Internet. Others, like HBO, Hulu and possibly Apple are approaching the same market, but Netflix is racing less to compete with them today than to be ready as the audience and demand for Internet TV emerges.

To get there, Netflix has made it clear it will spend what it needs to, even at the risk of losses or shrinking profits this year. Future content obligations are growing, Wells said, but not faster than current revenue. The company’s big bet is the spending today will translate into faster growth and more profit starting in 2016.

This explains why subscription growth is so closely watched. It’s the clearest measure of whether the spending on new programs and new markets is actually delivering. The bulls believe this long-term growth will come as Netflix has promised.

What it doesn’t explain is why the stock sees such volatile swings whenever Netflix reports its quarterly earnings. For that, you need to look to the stock speculators, who have for years driven Netflix shares to euphoric heights that make its executives uncomfortable, if not themselves.

Netflix’s business may be as bullish as ever, but that doesn’t mean the stock price is fairly valued. It rose $56 to $531.50 on Tuesday’s earnings, making it worth 162 times the profit Netflix is expecting this year. Netflix is making some risky but realistic investments in its future growth. But that risk is nothing compared to what investors are taking on by buying at such a crazy valuation.

MONEY salary

MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski: What Women Do Wrong When Negotiating Their Salary

MSNBC Morning Joe co-anchor Mika Brzezinski explains the mistake that she and other women have made when asking for a raise.

TIME Books

Why TIME Declared George R.R. Martin ‘An American Tolkien’

TIME 100 Gala, TIME'S 100 Most Influential People In The World - Arrivals
Stephen Lovekin—Getty Images for Time Warner George R.R. Martin attends the TIME 100 Gala on April 26, 2011 in New York City.

TIME wrote about the author in 2005

In 2005, when the fourth A Song of Ice and Fire installment, A Feast for Crows, was released, author George R.R. Martin was still mostly unknown except among serious fantasy readers.

When TIME’s Lev Grossman reviewed the book and explained to readers who Martin was, he could still frame things by saying that Martin wasn’t the best-known American fantasy writer. Eragon author Christopher Paolini, Wheel of Time author Robert Jordan and Ursula K. LeGuin were all more famous.These days, of course, the slightest hint that Martin may be typing anything is met with near universal glee from fans of the immensely popular HBO adaptation of his work.

But not everything has changed since 2005: though Grossman noted that Martin wasn’t as famous as some of his peers, he also proclaimed that “of those who work in the grand epic-fantasy tradition, Martin is by far the best.” He was good enough, in fact, for the story to be headlined “An American Tolkien.” Here’s why:

What really distinguishes Martin, and what marks him as a major force for evolution in fantasy, is his refusal to embrace a vision of the world as a Manichaean struggle between Good and Evil. Tolkien’s work has enormous imaginative force, but you have to go elsewhere for moral complexity. Martin’s wars are multifaceted and ambiguous, as are the men and women who wage them and the gods who watch them and chortle, and somehow that makes them mean more.

Martin’s series may remain unfinished, but his moral complexity returns to television on Sunday, April 12.

Read the full 2005 story, here in the TIME archives: The American Tolkien

MONEY TV

Comcast’s Hometown Customers May Hate Comcast More Than You Do

Comcast Center headquarters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Kurt Brady—Alamy Comcast Center headquarters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Comcast customers in Philadelphia, where the cable TV-Internet giant is based, report higher bills and lower satisfaction compared to other cities.

Consumer frustration with Comcast is well documented. It routinely receives among the lowest satisfaction scores of any pay TV and Internet provider—or any business at all—and it is a two-time “winner” of the title of Consumerist’s Worst Company in America competition, based on input from online voters.

One might think that even the most maligned companies would take measures to be on their best behavior in their own backyard. It’s wise to make nice where you work and sleep, after all, not to mention where you hope to receive generous tax breaks and other business incentives. Yet a new study conducted by the city of Philadelphia indicates that Comcast’s hometown customers are treated worse—not better—than comparable cities.

The most striking revelation is how much more Philadelphians pay for Comcast cable TV compared to other cities. The average customer getting cable TV only from Comcast pays $96.75 per month. Customers in the other metropolitan areas cited in the study (Denver and Portland, Ore.) pay between $61 and $65 per month for the same services. The nationwide average monthly price for a basic cable package, according to a 2014 FCC report, is about $67.

To be fair, the Philadelphia study shows that 74% of local Comcast cable subscribers are satisfied with their service. But it’s worth noting that that’s 1% to 11% lower than the satisfaction ratings in other cities mentioned in the report.

According to the study, 64% of subscribers say they had to call Comcast customer service in the last year. The most popular reason for calling customer service related to billing issues. That’s not surprising considering that Comcast is known to raise rates (or remove special promotion pricing) once a year, and to periodically jack up fees for modems and other equipment. It’s notable that among the 26% reporting outright dissatisfaction with Comcast service in Philadelphia, the easiest way for Comcast to improve in their eyes—named by 45%—was to simply make the service cheaper.

The Philadelphia Daily News reported that Comcast disputes many of the findings in the city’s study. For instance, of subscribers who said they called Comcast customer service over the past year, 61% said their calls were not answered in 30 seconds or less. Comcast’s own data says that more than 90% of customer service calls are answered within 30 seconds. (One wonders when Comcast’s clock actually starts: before or after listening to the automated message, which itself can easily last 30 seconds.) Some 15% of Philadelphians who called customer service say they received a busy signal, while Comcast data shows otherwise, with less than 0.5% of calls resulting in busy signals.

In other words, Comcast is saying that in some cases, Philadelphia subscribers, who were surveyed over the phone, have bad memories or are exaggerating.

Presumably, Comcast also feels like the subscribers who provided written comments in the Philadelphia area are stretching the truth or aren’t representative of the typical customer experience. As a Consumerist analysis of the study shows, 99% of the written responses were unfavorable, and among the most common phrases used were “price” (“Price gouging,” “Prices are outrageous”); “customer service” (“poor,” “lousy,” “nonexistent”); and “monopoly” (“horrible monopoly,” “City should break this monopoly”).

For yet another consumer perspective on Comcast in Philadelphia, let’s turn to user review service Yelp. The vast majority of Yelp reviews in the city for Comcast’s Internet service and cable TV service feature one-star ratings (zero stars is not an option). In a rare two-star review, this is the best the customer could say about Comcast: “despite being a money hungry and evil corporation, when their Internet works, it makes my family happy.”

Not to mention that in most cases, you have little choice but to do business with the company.

MORE:
How to Watch All the TV You Want Without a Cable Bill
If Comcast Did This One Thing, So Much Customer Hate Would Disappear

TIME movies

See the First Cast Photo for Suicide Squad

But where's Jared Leto?

The internet has buzzed with every casting announcement regarding what actors are in—and out—for DC Comics’ upcoming Suicide Squad.

But now you can finally see all of the cast in one place, thanks to a tweet by director David Ayers showing what the a read-through of the script looked like:

The photographed cast includes Viola Davis as Amanda Waller, Cara Develigne as Enchantress, Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn, Will Smith as Deadshot and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Killer Croc.

There’s only one question left: Where’s Jared Leto?

TIME Media

These Are the Cheapest Ways You Can Now Get HBO

New Product Announcements At The Apple Inc. Spring Forward Event
David Paul Morris—Bloomberg/Getty Images Richard Plepler, CEO of HBO, speaks during the Apple Spring Forward event in San Francisco, Calif. on March 9, 2015.

HBO's new streaming service isn't the only way to get Game of Thrones

At long last, TV lovers don’t have to buy a cable subscription with 100 other channels just to get HBO. The premium network has officially launched a new standalone streaming service, dubbed HBO Now, that lets users subscribe to HBO without any kind of cable plan.

Still, getting HBO remains a bit more complicated than signing up for Netflix. HBO is continuing to work with cable and tech companies to distribute its content, and everyone is offering up their own different bundle to try to entice customers. While a standalone HBO seems like a steal at first blush, it’s important to remember that HBO now customers still have to buy an Internet plan separately. Internet Service Providers will likely continue to try to keep customers buying HBO through them by offering up compelling bundles.

Here, we break down the myriad HBO deals currently on the market that allow you to subscribe to the network and receive a high-definition broadcast, either with an Internet plan or a small bundle of other channels. In order to make a fair price comparison for those offerings that include Internet service, we pegged the median price tag of standalone high-speed Internet at $41.95, based on price ranges gathered by the New America Foundation for plans with download speeds in the range of 15 to 20 Mbps.

It’s also worth noting that these prices are based on promotional rates that cable operators often offer for the first 12 months of service. Prices for television and Internet service can increase by $20 to $30 each in ensuing years, depending on the plan. Fees charged also vary slightly based on region.

HBO Now (No Contract)

What You Get: Stream HBO content live and access back catalogue of shows and movies

In the Fine Print: HBO Now is almost entirely exclusive to Apple devices like the Apple TV for the first three months. The Apple TV costs $69, though subscribers can also use an iPhone, iPad or PC. You’ll also have to pay for Internet separately.

Perfect For: Dorm-dwelling college students who don’t have to pay for their own Internet

Total Cost: HBO Now ($15) + Internet Access ($41.95) = $56.95 per month

HBO Now via Optimum (No Contract)

What You Get: High-speed Internet with 15 Mbps download speeds and HBO Now

In the Fine Print: HBO Now is available to Optimum Internet subscribers regardless of what device they’re using to access it. But there’s a $40 installation fee and it’s only available in a small part of the northeastern U.S.

Perfect for: People who just want to watch this season of Game of Thrones, then cancel HBO

Total Cost: Internet Access ($40) + HBO Now ($15) = $55 per month

Amazon Prime Instant Video (12-month contract)

What You Get: Access to thousands of movies and TV shows, including a large selection of HBO classics like The Sopranos and The Wire (to say nothing of the free 2-day shipping for Amazon products, the music streaming service and other perks)

In the Fine Print: HBO shows arrive to Amazon three years late and current mega-hits like Game of Thrones and True Detective aren’t part of the deal at all

Perfect For: A streaming novice who’s never watched HBO’s past content or the other popular shows available

Total Cost: Internet Access ($41.95) + Amazon Prime ($8.25) = $50.20 per month

Comcast (No Contract)

What You Get: High-speed Internet with 25 Mbps download speeds, HBO, local TV channels

In the Fine Print: A $32 installation fee

Perfect for: People who live in areas where an antenna won’t pick up the local networks

Total Cost: Bundle Cost ($40) + Modem fee ($10) + HD fee ($10) + broadcast fee (up to $3.50) = up to $63.50 per month

AT&T (12-month Contract)

What You Get: High-speed Internet with 18 Mbps download speeds, HBO, local TV channels and a year-long subscription to Amazon Prime

In the Fine Print: A $100 installation fee, as well as a $180 termination fee for ending the contract in less than a year

Perfect For: Game of Thrones fans who also love free shipping for their Amazon orders

Total Cost: Bundle cost ($49) + equipment fees (approximately $7 per month) + HD fee ($10 per month) + broadcast fee (approx. $3) = $69 per month

Sling TV (No Contract)

What You Get: HBO and 21 other channels streaming live, including ESPN, AMC and CNN. Sling’s streaming version of HBO will be available on many more platforms than HBO Now, including Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Xbox One.

In the Fine Print: Sling’s version of HBO doesn’t allow users to make use of either HBO Go or HBO Now, though subscribers will still be able to access HBO’s programming through Sling’s own video-on-demand interface

Perfect For: TV-lovers who are looking to trim down on their channels but not go totally cold turkey on cable

Total Cost: Sling TV basic package ($20) + HBO ($15) + Internet Access ($41.95) = $76.95 per month

Verizon (No Contract)

What You Get: High-speed Internet with 50 Mbps download speeds, HBO, local TV channels

In the Fine Print: An installation fee as high as $90

Perfect For: Power users who plan to be streaming lots of HD content at once, or fans of Showtime, since you can sign a 2-year contract and Verizon will throw that channel in for free

Total cost: Bundle cost ($60) + Equipment fees (up to $22) + broadcast fee ($2) = up to $84 per month

MONEY Sports

9 Reasons It’s Hard to Be a Baseball Fan Today

Baseball fans at a Cincinnati Reds game
Tom Uhlman—Alamy Baseball fans at a Cincinnati Reds game

Major League Baseball scoring is down, while the average costs of attending games or merely watching on TV are up.

The 2014 Major League Baseball regular season boasted the seventh best attendance of all time, and revenues reached a record $9 billion. So baseball’s doing pretty great. Except that it’s not.

The consensus has it that the future success of the game—and pro baseball as a product—is in dire jeopardy because young people aren’t interested in playing, or even watching, the game. But kids aren’t the only ones who find it hard to be fans lately. Here are nine reasons why interest in baseball is fading—one reason for each inning.

It costs a bundle to go to a game. According to the Team Marketing Report 2015 Fan Cost Index, the average cost to bring a family of four to a Major League Baseball game is $211.53, a 2.5% increase over last year. Tickets account for less than half of that amount—the average “non-premium” seat is about $29—because the index also includes expenses such as parking, one hot dog and soft drink apiece, two of the cheapest beers at the stadium, and two souvenir caps. To get good seats for the game, you’ll spend a lot more: League-wide, the average premium ticket runs $97, while the average premium seat at Yankee Stadium is a whopping $305. For one ticket!

They charge extra to watch batting practice … in spring training. Fans have come to expect to pay a premium for anything sold in or around the ballpark. A beer at the stadium priced at $6 or $7 seems “cheap,” and the $4 beers at Cleveland Indians and Arizona Diamondbacks games are downright bargains. What’s truly amazing is the endless variety of creative upsells and add-ons that baseball marketers come up with to get more money out of fans. For instance, the Atlanta Braves offer a Batting Practice Experience, allowing fans to watch BP in a gated area behind home plate for a little over an hour. It costs $55 to $90 depending on the day of the week and which team the Braves are hosting (Yankees cost the most, Marlins the least). All fans must buy a regular admissions ticket as well, which isn’t included in the “Experience” price.

Traditionally, fans who head out to the ballpark a couple of hours before the first pitch are rewarded by being able to watch batting practice free of charge, and this is still a free perk at many stadiums. But this little extra increasingly costs extra, even at spring training facilities. At Florida’s Rogers Dean Stadium, where the Marlins and Cardinals play their pre-season, fans had to pay an extra $5 if they wanted to watch batting practice. And it cost an extra $25 if you wanted to watch batting practice down on the field.

It’s expensive to watch on TV too. There are more and more ways to drop cable and still watch nearly all the TV programming you want. But the TV rights of local sports teams are generally held by sports networks that are only available with a pay TV package—meaning it’s virtually impossible to cut the cord if you want to watch your local ball team on a regular basis. Basic cable packages average $67 per month and can go much higher, and sometimes the networks broadcasting local pro sports cost extra.

Sometimes local fans can’t watch at all. A contract dispute that began last year meant that millions of Los Angeles-area Dodgers fans could not watch their team on TV for the entire season. The issue still hasn’t been resolved as the current season begins. It’s been estimated that at the start of the 2015 season, 70% of Angelenos can’t tune in to Dodgers games regularly because providers like Verizon, DirecTV, and Charter Communications refuse to pay the costs demanded by Time Warner Cable, which has local distribution rights for broadcasts via the SportsNet LA channel.

Games take forever. In 2014, the average Major League Baseball game lasted 3:08. That’s more than a half-hour longer than the average in the mid-’70s through the mid-’80s. The games have gotten so long—thanks to pitcher and batter behavior, endless pitching changes, and TV advertising, among other factors—that baseball has instituted a few rule changes this season to speed up and (hopefully) add excitement to the games. The baseball regular season and playoffs stretch out far longer than any other pro sport as well, resulting in the widespread feeling that any individual regular season game is fairly meaningless.

Not enough scoring. As the New York Times detailed last week, scoring in baseball has taken a dramatic dip: Teams scored 5,000 fewer runs and hit 1,000 fewer home runs last year compared to 2000, and pitchers tossed 6,000 more strikeouts than in 2000. Simply put, critics say there’s just not enough action to keep casual fans interested. The lack of buzz to the game translated to dismal World Series TV ratings last year, including record low viewing for Game One.

It was worse when there was lots of scoring. One word explains why scoring in baseball was so much higher in the late ’90s and ’00s: steroids.

The fan base is overwhelmingly male, white, and old. A demographic profile of sports fans shows that Major League Baseball fans are 70% male, 83% white, and 50% ages 55 and over. It’s not exactly the hip, young, and diverse crowd many marketers dream about. And it’s hardly the environment that tends to attract millennials.

Baseball has no LeBron James. As Ben McGrath of the New Yorker noted in an essay late last summer, very few Americans would recognize Mike Trout if he was walking down the street or sat down at the next stool in a bar, despite the fact that the Los Angeles Angels’ outfielder is “widely considered the best in the world” and “a once-in-a-generation talent.”

Why isn’t this phenom already an icon, or at least famous enough so that he’d be recognized on the street? It probably has something to do with the culture of baseball itself, and how that culture is quieter and less brash than that of other sports. “Baseball has a very conservative culture where you don’t draw attention to yourself. You play every day, so you have to get along. Baseball’s culture is less celebratory, and that’s a problem for a lot of kids today,” John McCarthy, who runs Home Run Baseball Camp in upper Northwest Washington, explained recently to the Washington Post. “Baseball has no LeBron James, who doesn’t take [guff] from anybody.”

TIME Television

This Is the Nixon Speech Don Draper Was Watching on Mad Men

Todays Weather
Hulton Archive/Getty Images Richard Nixon points to a map of Southeast Asia during a nationwide broadcast

The 1970 address to the nation appeared in the mid-season premiere of the show's final season

Contains extremely mild spoilers for the mid-season premiere of Mad Men

Few things can place a fictional story on a real-world timeline better than a Presidential speech can. In the case of the Sunday night mid-season premiere of Mad Men, the background appearance of a speech by Richard Nixon dates one scene precisely, at April 30, 1970, around 9 p.m. Eastern, when Nixon addressed the nation.

It also dates the scene, though somewhat less precisely, to a time of what even the President of the United States dubbed “anarchy.”

Nixon began the speech by laying out what was going on in Vietnam, as the war there raged on. He had recently pledged to ramp up the withdrawal of American troops from the war zone, but explained, using the visual aid of a map, that doing so successfully would now require, paradoxically, diving deeper into the conflict. North Vietnam had built up “military sanctuaries” along its border with Cambodia, which were being used as bases for attacks on South Vietnam. Cambodia had been neutral in the conflict, but was now asking for help from the U.S., Nixon told the country. In response, he and the South Vietnamese had decided to “clean out” the sanctuaries with a new series of attacks.

The new attacks, he said, were in the service of bringing the war to an end. But, he continued, the desire to end the conflict did not mean the U.S. would just give up:

The time came long ago to end this war through peaceful negotiations. We stand ready for those negotiations. We have made major efforts, many of which must remain secret. I say tonight: All the offers and approaches made previously remain on the conference table whenever Hanoi is ready to negotiate seriously.

But if the enemy response to our most conciliatory offers for peaceful negotiation continues to be to increase its attacks and humiliate and defeat us, we shall react accordingly.

My fellow Americans, we live in an age of anarchy, both abroad and at home. We see mindless attacks on all the great institutions which have been created by free civilizations in the last 500 years. Even here in the United States, great universities are being systematically destroyed. Small nations all over the world find themselves under attack from within and from without.

If, when the chips are down, the world’s most powerful nation, the United States of America, acts like a pitiful, helpless giant, the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy will threaten free nations and free institutions throughout the world.

[Read the full speech here]

As TIME reported the following week, polls showed that a majority of Americans opposed committing military effort to Cambodia and, though the White House switchboard reported a favorable reaction to the speech, other lawmakers saw their offices bombarded with messages from constituents who disagreed. The campus activists whom the President had compared to anarchists responded with a new wave of protest.

Then-Senator Bob Dole told TIME that, “If [the attack] works, it’s a stroke of genius. If it doesn’t, he strikes out.” A few months later, the White House claimed the operation — dubbed Operation Total Victory No. 42 and No. 43 — as a major success, though Nixon was still dealing with fallout for not consulting Congress on the move. Meanwhile, in Cambodia, things were far from calm.

Read TIME’s full original coverage of the 1970 speech, here in the TIME Vault: The New Burdens of War

TIME Television

Mad Men’s Final Word on the 1960s … And Today

Jon Hamm as Don Draper - Mad Men _ Season 7B, Gallery - Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC
Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC Jon Hamm as Don Draper in 'Mad Men'

The final season will show if Don Draper is, at heart, Dick Nixon or Ronald Reagan

History News Network

This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. The article below was originally published at HNN.

April 5 marks the beginning of the end for Mad Men, and viewers anxiously await a final coda to creator Matthew Weiner’s tale. Will advertising executive Don Draper’s tumultuous peaks and valleys experiences of the 1960s conclude with happiness or tragedy?

The 1960 film, The Apartment, and presidential history during that decade, may hint at an answer.

Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner has cited this Academy Award winning movie as an important inspiration for his serial drama. Since The Apartment ended on a positive note with the main character finding love, viewers might expect a similar conclusion to Weiner’s production. More significantly, The Apartment stands as a cultural symbol of the youthful optimism for social change that many Americans associate with the 1960s. Along with the defeat of Richard Nixon by the youthful, vigorous John Kennedy in the 1960 presidential election, The Apartment’s director, Billy Wilder, helped create today’s conventional wisdom that the year 1960 represented a break from the staid conformity characteristic of the 1950s.

In The Apartment, Director Wilder presents protagonist C.C. “Bud” Baxter as a young, bored number-cruncher (played by Jack Lemmon) in the accounting division of a corporation known as Consolidated Life Insurance. There are two primary settings where the characters interact—the vast 19th floor of seemingly endless rows of desks in the skyscraper where Baxter works, and Baxter’s small apartment in New York City.

The story’s problem emerges when Consolidated Life’s personnel director Jeffrey Sheldrake asks Baxter if the rumors are true that married senior executives have borrowed Baxter’s apartment to conduct secret extramarital affairs. Sheldrake’s intent, we soon discover, is not to reprimand Baxter, but to borrow his key so that Sheldrake may have exclusive privileges to bring his own mistresses to Baxter’s den of iniquity.

Although Sheldrake rewards the junior executive with a 27th floor private office and a bowler hat to boot, Baxter soon regrets the decision when he finds himself having to choose between his career and his love for Fran Kubelik, an elevator operator (played by Shirley MacLaine) in his company’s building. When Baxter discovers that Kubelik is one of Sheldrake’s conquests, he must either cling to his newfound place on the corporate ladder or fight for this damsel in distress. In witnessing Baxter’s decision to abandon the company in exchange for romantic love, we recognize a rejection of the 1950s culture of conformity which sociologists, novelists, and journalists portrayed in books such as The Power Elite, The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit, and The Organization Man.

The Apartment concludes with Baxter’s rejection of conformist and debased corporate culture, but Mad Men presents Don Draper as still engaged in the struggle to maintain individual autonomy in the complacent, risk-averse, and conformist white-collar world. In order to carry the drama forward through the 1960s, Weiner created a character more complex than Wilder’s Baxter. Viewers balance Don’s misogyny against his elevation of his secretary Peggy Olson to a position of copy editor. His infidelity is placed in the context of his troubled past growing up in a whorehouse. In the Darwinian jungle of corporate America, furthermore, Draper’s ambition and authoritarianism appear somehow necessary for a man who began without inherited wealth or business contacts.

In Season One, Weiner used the Nixon-Kennedy presidential contest as a Hegelian thesis-antithesis recasting of The Apartment’s theme. Nixon hires Draper’s advertising firm, Sterling Cooper, to help publicize his 1960 presidential campaign. The upstart Kennedy’s victory appears as a tragic defeat for the company’s corporate elite that seeks to perpetuate the conformist 1950s. The image of a triumphant Kennedy symbolizes the hope for change in the new decade, and Draper appears to represent this icon of youthful optimism. In one episode, a character describes the youthful, handsome, and decisive Draper as Kennedyesque—distinct from the common corporate type–saying “You’re JFK!”

But Draper identifies more with Nixon. Somewhat surprisingly, Weiner’s protagonist thinks Nixon’s defeat says more about how the candidate’s handlers failed to present his background than about the spirit of the age. When Draper sees Nixon, he says, he sees himself—a self-made man of the people. Draper’s self-image is not as a member of the power elite, but neither as an idealist. He is a working class man pursuing the American Dream. While many of the Mad Men characters—including Draper—appear to admire Kennedy, the president’s tragic assassination in 1963 casts a pall over the ebullient optimism which Draper, his family, and work associates embodied in the first three seasons.

Given that the program is concluding during 1969—Nixon’s first year as president–Washington Post opinion writer Alyssa Rosenberg has posited that Nixon was “the key to understanding Don Draper.” In Rosenberg’s view, Nixon’s ability to come back from multiple political defeats—including the 1960 presidential campaign and a failed 1962 bid for governor of California—appeared as the model for Draper’s similar skill at surviving setbacks by reinventing himself.

The Kennedy-Nixon dialectic certainly serves as one way of understanding the tension between hope and cynicism in Mad Men, but another politician–Ronald Reagan—may provide the model that Weiner has in mind for Draper’s ultimate fate. Draper’s creative genius and macho cool seems more similar to Reagan’s Hollywood confidence and calm than to Nixon’s calculated professionalism. While Nixon and Draper certainly reinvented themselves multiple times, Draper does not seem to share the dark side that Nixon’s closest aides identified in the former president.

Reagan’s sunny optimism wedded to “tough love” conservatism seems to embody the synthesis that Draper will need to embrace in the years following the Kennedy and Nixon administrations. Similar to Reagan, who was elected governor of California in 1967 (and again in 1971), Draper survived by balancing artistic and practical responses to challenges. Hollywood plays an important role in Draper’s professional and personal lives. Reagan’s divorce and remarriage serve as another parallel with Draper (and not with Kennedy or Nixon). Finally, Reagan’s penchant for concealing his inner self appears akin to the mysterious Draper, who hides his true identity as Dick Whitman from even his closest friends, who are few.

If The Apartment served as a Muse for Weiner’s Mad Men, viewers can expect Don Draper to walk off the screen this year facing a sunny future. Just as Billy Wilder’s film portrayed the protagonists as rejecting 1950s corporate conformity, Mad Men began in 1960 with a theme of individual liberation. The Apartment did not require C.C. Baxter and Fran Kubelik to sacrifice the ideal of romantic love, and Mad Men has vindicated that choice by celebrating the 1960s office culture as a space of social revolution.

But as 1969 draws to a close, Draper will need to engage with the rise of corporate power during the Age of Reagan, as historian Sean Wilentz has characterized the 1974-2008 United States. Indeed, one of the subtexts of Mad Men has been the rising importance of work in the lives of Americans. Weiner’s narrative has shown how corporate America’s adoption of the 1960s liberation movements strengthened rather than weakened capitalism’s roots in the United States. In many cases, Don Draper and his colleagues Pete, Ron, Joan, and Peggy formed closer relationships with their colleagues and their firm than with their own wives, husbands, and children. Weiner surely knows that the show’s fans want those bonds to last a lifetime.

Thomas J. Carty, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of American Studies at Springfield College.

 

TIME movies

David Hasselhoff on Sharknado 3: ‘Worst Movie You Have Ever Seen’

ENT 2015: David Hasselhoff Press Helsinki JAN 15
All Over Press—AP David Hasselhoff attends a press conference in Helsinki on Jan. 16, 2015

In case the fact that Michele Bachmann’s involvement wasn’t proof enough, David Hasselhoff confirmed on Monday that, yes, Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No! will be “the worst movie you have ever seen.”

In fact, when he talked to HuffPost Live about SyFy’s third installment in the made-for-TV franchise, the Baywatch star said that’s entirely the point.

“The first one was the worst. The second one I think was even worse than the first. I’m so honored to be in Sharknado 3,” he said. “I’ll tell you, I had so much fun making the movie. The people who make the movie have such a great sense of humor. They are the nicest people. Everybody’s in on the joke, and it is so much fun.”

And while nothing’s set in stone yet, Hasselhoff hinted fans should be fully expecting a Sharknado 4. In fact, he thinks “this thing is gonna go on forever.”

Hasselhoff plays the father of Ian Ziering’s Fin Shephard, and he told HuffPo the two would “fall to the ground laughing” after takes – mainly because he has a rule: “Play it real.”

“The straighter you play it and the more you believe it, the funnier it is,” he said.

Sharknado 3 airs on SyFy on July 22.

This article originally appeared on EW.com

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