THR's 2011 Biggest Rule Breakers: Kim Kardashian, Netflix's Reed Hastings, Chuck Lorre and Ashton Kutcher
Two thousand and eleven marked the end of conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom said nobody would go see a period piece about African-American maids in the Deep South made by an untested studio director -- then along came The Help, DreamWorks' biggest hit this year with $202 million at the global box office.
Conventional wisdom said a comedy top-lining six women would appeal to only one of the four moviegoing "quadrants," women over age 25 -- until Bridesmaids earned $288 million worldwide.
Conventional wisdom said that Chuck Lorre couldn't resurrect Two and a Half Men after his then-star Charlie Sheen spun into a professional tailspin -- but the CBS comedy returned in September and drew 27.7 million viewers, delivering the series' largest rating ever.
In each case, these projects took one or more individuals who were willing to break all the rules, from George Clooney, who believed a political movie could work in an era that loathes politics, and earned three Golden Globe nominations for The Ides of March, to the Kardashians, a reality family who continues to defy expectations despite popular criticism.
At its worst, Hollywood is known as a fear-based industry. There are no new ideas, some say; good concepts are focus-grouped to death. No one, least of all an executive, wants to stick his neck out for something different. Even DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg said earlier this year of Hollywood's current state, "It's a particularly dreary moment."
He's not altogether right. This is a town whose business is about creation -- creating stories and narratives that shape our lives, even as they shape our view of Hollywood. Yes, it's easy to dwell on the year's disappointments, the movies that bombed and the TV shows that were canceled.
But 2011 had plenty over which to rejoice -- not least that the conventional wisdom of 12 months ago is no longer valid today. Men will go see a comedy starring women; franchises do get better; shows can have second acts; and there is indeed an audience for terrific, original projects -- if the right people will fight for them.
The Sitcom Survivors: Ashton Kutcher and Chuck Lorre
Photographed by Brigitte Sire on Dec. 3 at Hollywood Center Studios in Hollywood.
"I thought he was really serious for a comedy guy," Kutcher, 33, recalls of his first meeting in April with Lorre, 59, a short chat orchestrated by CBS' Leslie Moonves that eventually led to the most improbable comeback story of 2011. At the time, Lorre had reason to be somber: Two and a Half Men, America's most-watched comedy, had imploded as star Charlie Sheen's drug-fueled tirades got him fired, leading to a $100 million lawsuit against Lorre and Warner Bros. Television.
But rather than close up shop, Lorre took a gamble and chose to reboot the show around Kutcher. "After that meeting was over, I called [Men producers] Lee Aronsohn and Edward Gorodetsky and I said, 'We have to make this happen, this guy's amazing,' " Lorre recalls. The bet paid off: Men will end 2011 averaging 19 million viewers each week, up a staggering 22 percent over Sheen's last season.
TV's top comedy showrunner (The Big Bang Theory, Mike & Molly) admits he was very nervous the night of the premiere, watching at his house with the casts and writers of all three of his shows. "It was a terrifying experience," he recalls. "Everything was being scrutinized, parsed, analyzed and condemned. It wasn't just a TV show, it had become something else." Now Lorre and Kutcher, who is signed for only one season, already have begun to talk about another. "Optimism and comedy writing are not necessarily things that go hand-in-hand," Lorre says. "But I'm as optimistic as I possibly can be about the show right now." -- Matthew Belloni