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October 2001, Week 1


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James Monaco <[log in to unmask]>
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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 1 Oct 2001 00:05:46 -0400
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A couple of notes:

1) Not movies reviews, per se, but you should know about Douglas Pratt's DVD and Laserdisc reviews available at   I think he's one of the sharpest, most readable critics working today. (Yes, it's true I'm his publisher, but that's why I am!) Something close to 20,000 reviews there.

2) Someone mentioned Thought you might like to know where this 35,000 title database came from. (No, not TV Guide the magazine.)


In the mid-eighties two film buffs from Chicago pulled off one of the great coups of film reviewing, producing a multi-volume hardcover set called "The Motion Picture Guide" (if I remember correctly.) This is at a time when Steven Scheuer, Leslie Halliwell, and Leonard Maltin had a corner on the movie guide market.

These two guys got themselves on the Today show and sold a remarkable number of sets at a high price. They founded a company called Cinebooks, based in Evanston, and hired writers to keep the Guide up to date with annual appendixes. A few years later they sold out to Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. (This was about the time Murdoch acquired TV Guide from Annenberg for about $2 billion.)

Very quickly thereafter Murdoch's people realized that Cinebooks, on its own, was a losing proposition. They called us at Baseline. We bought the company from them. Reviews were one thing we didn't have and, although these reviews were mediocre, at least there were--then--almost 25,000 of them.

We assigned a young editor, Jamie Pallot, to beat this database into shape, which he proceeded to do for several years. The old reviews were improved and the new ones were of higher quality, written by a stable of freelancers (probably some of them are on this List) that Jamie had established. We continued to publish the annual updates, which sold a couple of thousand each year to libraries and a few buff collectors. We put the database online.

We also sold a one-volume redaction to Putnam's (The Movie Guide) and Virgin in the UK (The Film Guide.) This book went through 4 or 5 editions in the UK, where it was successful, and two editions in the US (where it was not).

Around 1990, some folks from Microsoft came looking for material for a projected  movie CD-ROM. This became Cinemania. We licensed them several products, including The Movie Guide.

Microsoft published Cinemania from 1992 to 1997. As of 31 December 1997 they had sold 2,768,859 copies for a total of $34,467,670 net. (At least that's what they claimed on royalty statements.)

They discontinued the product because it wasn't worth it.

Everything is relative.

Meanwhile, I lost control of Baseline in mid-1992 and shortly thereafter Jamie Pallot and his mentor Jo Imeson were fired. Jo knew there was language in the Cinebooks contract with News Corp that could allow the database to revert back News Corp under certain conditions. She was hired by News Corp, Jamie followed her there soon after; and so did Cinebooks. Jo and Jamie edited and published The Motion Picture Guide annuals from that base for several more years in the mid-1990s.

At the same time, Murdoch had big plans for TV Guide Online, and the movie review database was part of them. But after spending about $180 million to develop the web site, which debuted in early 1997, he decided to get out of the business.

He contrived a sale to Henry Yuen's Gemstar (VCR Plus) that made it look like he hadn't lost any money on the absurdly overpriced purchase of ten years earlier. Jo moved on to be editor in Chief at Muze (the music Baseline) and Jamie got a top editorial job with Microsoft's city guide. (Both have since left those posts.) Cinebooks and its database became the property of the new Gemstar-TV Guide company, and that's why they appear on the TV Guide website today.

I can vouch for the Cinebooks content  dated from 1989 to 1998 when it was under the editorial control of Jo and Jamie. I have no idea who writes or edits the reviews now.

That's how TV Guide got a pretty good movie database.

Online resources for film/TV studies may be found at ScreenSite