Highbrow Cable Goes Low-Low-Lowbrow

The reality-ification of culture-snob cable may have finally reached a nadir: The cougar-housewife haven Bravo used to showcase ballet; the History Channel, home to Ice Road Truckers, aired enough WWII content to be dubbed the Hitler Channel; and A&E went from the Emmy-winning Biography to the breakout hit Duck Dynasty. But the mutation feels complete with the go-go-juice-swillin', ad-revenue-generatin' clan of TLC's (née The Learning Channel) Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. While the network officially abbreviated itself 15 years ago, it's still a tad defensive regarding the educational merit in prepubescent flatulence. "There's some equity" in the former name, says TLC general manager Amy Winter diplomatically. "We're offering you the opportunity to see different perspectives in life. If there's takeaway, that's terrific." Or, in the words of Honey Boo Boo herself: "You better redneckcognize!"

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The Fearless Financier

Sometimes the boldest iconoclasm comes from those with the biggest pile of money. Though she is press-shy enough to make Terrence Malick look garrulous, Annapurna Pictures' Megan Ellison, daughter of Oracle CEO Larry Ellison (America's third-wealthiest citizen, with an estimated worth of $41 billion, according to Forbes), has spoken loudly with her audacious choice of films. Two years into her producing career, the 26-year-old Ellison has, thanks to a reported $2 billion inheritance, managed to tweak Scientology (Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master) and the U.S. military (Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty). With a Julian Assange project also in the works, it's clear she's underwriting big films that couldn't otherwise be made in today's reboot-or-retire studio system. The Master had been languishing for years when, as Anderson put it, "suddenly, like an angel out of the sky came Megan Ellison with wings on her back, basically saying, 'Let's make a movie.'" But Ellison's patronage isn't limited to politically thorny films—Annapurna (named for the Hindu goddess of nourishment) is also behind November's Killing Them Softly and Spike Jonze's forthcoming sci-fi-rom-com weirdness Her, and it recently reportedly outbid Lionsgate for the rights to the Terminator franchise for $20 million.

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Internet TV Comes of Age

According to the research firm comScore, a whopping 188 million people in the U.S. watched 37.7 billion online videos in August, so it's little surprise that industry titans are finally making good on the long-promised convergence of television and the Internet. Netflix's shot across the Establishment's bow: ordering new episodes of Arrested Development and green-lighting shows by David Fincher and Eli Roth. Meanwhile, Amazon is crowdsourcing pilot scripts through its new original-content arm, and Google has reportedly pledged $300 million to the development of 160 YouTube channels featuring programming from partners like Jay-Z and Disney. "We provide freedom from the rigid formats of traditional television," says Erin McPherson, VP and head of video programming at Yahoo!, which has introduced more than 50 original series. "People ask, 'Are you competing with TV?' But people are watching more media than ever. More equals more—at least for now."

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The China Syndrome

Originally, the invaders oppressing the U.S. of A. in November's Red Dawn remake were supposed to be Chinese; nearly $1 million in post-production later, the People's Liberation Army was gone and America was under attack by North Korea. The reason? Studios are working overtime to ensure that their films play well in Beijing by making plots more China-friendly. "Red Dawn is the most blatant example," says Stanley Rosen, a professor of political science at USC, but other high-profile franchises, from Iron Man to Avatar, are similarly adapting. "The North American box office has been relatively flat, but China's has been growing at about 35 percent a year. It's Hollywood's most important market of the future." However, it's about as easy to infiltrate as the Forbidden City: The national quota allows for just 34 imported U.S. films a year, and American studios pocket only about a quarter of the profit; coproductions must be shot partly in China and pass muster with government censors. For proof of China's sway, look no further than industry bellwether James Cameron: In August, he signed a joint venture with state-owned companies to make 3-D films in Tianjin province. Discussing incentives for Avatar 2 and 3, Cameron told The Hollywood Reporter, "It is logical that there would be a number of Chinese amongst the contingent on Pandora."

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