Chicago may lay claim to being America’s “Second City” in a lot of aspects, having the third biggest population in the country along with strengths in sport, culture, and economics, but further South there’s the lesser-heralded metropolis of Atlanta. The capital of Georgia is a national center of commerce, home to the busiest airport in the world, and has been identified as a so-called “global city” for the worldwide impact it has on finance, research, technology, education, media, art, and entertainment.
It’s a few thousand miles from either of the coasts and their metropolises, buzzing hubs for the entertainment industry where creative and business types rub up against each other, where the commercial and experimental sides of art forms manage to coexist. It’s a big old world, though, and to assume that the twin poles of New York and Hollywood represent all the American continent has to offer popular culture, you better check yourself.
It’s always been a place with a lot going on, but the 1996 Olympics helped to boost Atlanta’s profile even more. Now, it’s a multi-disciplined cultural hub where the areas of business and art are intimately connected. Although, obviously, the fun stuff is the latter: music, TV, movies, zombies and The Weather channel make up the nine reasons why ATL is rocking the entertainment industry and an obvious choice to debut VIDGO!
Hip-Hop’s Center of Gravity
Outkast weren’t the only rap act out of Atlanta to make it big, but they were one of the first to make their hometown pride one of the key parts of their identity. André “3000” Benjamin and Antwan “Big Boi” Patton earned three number-one singles between them and, in the process, shouted out their city of origin with second album title ATLiens and with countless references to local color in their lyrics.
Southwest Atlanta, in particular, was an early adopter of hip hop, the scene having its beginnings in early Miami electro before truly taking of in the nineties, when the likes of the Goodie Mob (including future Gnarls Barkley member and solo artist Cee Lo Green), T.I., Ludacris, Young Jeezy and Lil Jon helped define the sub-genre of Dirty South rap and also create related styles like the latter’s crunk, as heard on chart-conquering 2003 single “Get Low”.
The city continues to have a thriving rap scene. Migos, a collective from the suburb of Lawrenceville, have been lighting up the Billboard charts with their single “Bad and Boujee,” the lyrics of which spawned and meme and were subsequently referenced by Donald Glover his acceptance speech at the 74th Golden Globe Awards. Speaking of which…
Atlanta (The TV Show)
Whilst Donald Glover already had an impressive resume – writing for 30 Rock, member of popular online sketch group Derrick, and a sideline rapping under the name Childish Gambino – nobody could quite predict what he would do with the first project created, written by and starring the polymathic comedian. Glover left a relatively stable gig in NBC sitcom Community to create a series for F/X which he pitched as “Twin Peaks with rappers.”
It turned out to be much more than that. Atlanta was a paean to the rich melting pot of culture offered by his Georgia roots, created in collaboration with brother Steve Glover, himself a rapper more engaged with the Southern hip-hop scene than Childish Gambino’s backpack rap. The two helped select local acts to highlight in the show’s opening and closing music, the series itself based around up-and-coming rapper Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry), managed by his cousin, played by Glover.
Staffing the show’s writers room with locals helped make something that truly captured key parts of (the city of) Atlanta’s character, its multicultural make-up and place in the wider U.S. of A. It’s also incredibly funny, with Straight Outta Compton’s LaKeith Stanfield stealing many scenes, and another triumph from the network that brought us Louie and Archer, which won the show a Golden Globe for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy and Best Actor in a Television Series in the same category for Glover. All whilst being loudly, proudly ATL.
Shout Out to The EARL
Rap certainly dominates Southwestern Atlanta, but the city’s East Village offers plenty of stage time to alternative music. Atlanta’s guitar rock scene is mostly centered around The EARL (which stands for East Atlanta Restaurant and Lounge, fact fans), a popular venue which opened at the turn of the millennium. Since then it has become a hub for local and visiting indie acts, with the venue itself becoming one of the most-loved restaurants, bars and music clubs in the city.
The EARL has a colorful history, from the building’s past as a mattress store to the bar itself, made from the wood of a tree that fell on the venue whilst it was being renovated. It’s come a long way from its early days, started by local resident but business newbie John Searson, to the point where it has held gigs for acts both local and beyond, including Cat Power, Death Cab for Cutie, Vampire Weekend and Joanna Newsom.
Back in the seventies, Atlanta was the first stop on the Sex Pistols’ U.S. tour, and the city was the proving ground for hit artists like Indigo Girls, The Black Crowes, and John Mayer. Clearly, there’s something in the water and something about the places that provide said thirst-quenching liquid. The EARL and the city it resides in continues to nurture top alternative acts which go on to achieve global fame, including recent successes including Deerhunter and Allison Weiss.
Headlined By CNN
The Cable News Network has weathered many storms, much competition and a handful of controversies, but CNN remains one of the strongest and loudest voices in modern television journalism. When it launched all the way back in 1980, Ted Turner’s pet project was the first TV channel to provide round-the-clock, 24-hour news, something which completely revolutionized the industry.
Where did everything start? And where is it still based to this day? That’s right, its headquarters are still based at the CNN Center in Atlanta. Whilst the Georgia HQ is nowadays only used for the filming of weekend programming, it is nonetheless still the hub of the channel, where post production work is done and where tourists can experience studio tours. There may not be as many broadcasts from the city, but it’s still the throbbing heartbeat at the center of the whole enterprise.
The CNN Center is also home to an Omni Hotel, which both provides accommodation and has and sustenance to event goers from Philips Arena and the Georgia Dome, tourists, CNN employees and conference attendees from the Georgia World Congress Center. Even when there’s no news being broadcast from the Center, it remains a vital part of Atlanta and its thriving entertainment industry.
The Unrivaled Power Of the Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act
You may well have seen – and been slightly confused by – the image of the Georgia Peach after the credits of TV shows like The Vampire Diaries and films like Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion. That’s the logo of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, meaning that the production you just watched was coaxed to the home state of Atlanta by said department’s Film, Television, and Digital Entertainment Tax Credit.
A beneficiary of the Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act passed in 2005, the state offers tax incentives for film and television productions who chose to shoot there. It’s been a huge success, too, making Georgia’s film industry the third largest in the U.S., following heavy-hitters California and New York State. That’s nothing to sniff at, and it’s a reputation Atlanta is looking to build on with these tax breaks.
Productions with budgets over $500,000 get a 20 percent tax credit, and those who feature that peach logo in their finished project get an additional 10 percent. The greater metropolitan area of Atlanta is a popular shooting spot, especially for horror-themed series like Teen Wolf and the 2009 Jesse Eisenberg and Emma Stone undead comedy Zombieland. Whether the architects of Atlanta are happy that their city has been considered suitably creepy for this trend is another matter.
Home of The Walking Dead
AMC’s smash-hit serial does a lot of things which set it apart from the larger zombie genre. The Walking Dead tells a long-form story, as opposed to a film or novel with a definitive, closed ending. It’s groundbreaking in being a real gory horror show airing on cable with such a huge following. And whilst spin-off Fear The Walking Dead set its action in California, the original series avoids the usual West-or-East Coast blockbuster locations in favor of the South.
In both the world of the show and the locations where it’s shot, it’s made that clear Rick Grimes and his band of traumatized survivors are making their way around the Atlanta region. The environments in which they bicker, backstab, and occasionally fight off a terrifying onslaught of the undead are very clearly the green, sunbaked streets and fields of the Georgia state capital. It would almost be a great commercial for Atlanta as a vacation spot, were it not for all the severed limbs and baseball bat-based ultraviolence.
Simply put, The Walking Dead would be a very different show if it was not shot in and around Atlanta. Its striking geography and landscapes add a whole lot to the series and its sense of the natural world continuing on in the face of every human being getting their brain eaten. And considering the show remains, seven seasons in, one of the most-watched and best-reviewed on television has helped keep Atlanta on the entertainment map.
Eye of The Weather Channel
We may only ever address the weather man when he’s lead us astray, shaking our fists equally at rain clouds and the person at the end of the local news report who convinced us we should wear bermuda shorts and a linen shirt, but for the most part modern meteorological techniques are sophisticated enough to provide accurate forecasts. The most accurate, usually, come from The Weather Channel.
Of course they do, it’s the whole point of the channel! The times where the weather man doesn’t lead you astray, that’s usually The Weather Channel who should be receiving your less fist-shakey praise. Formed in 1982 by veteran television meteorologist John Coleman, the cable and satellite broadcaster remains based in Atlanta (even if ownership has now moved to a consortium including NBCUniversal).
From the Local on the 8s to the numerous franchised forecasts found on local television, radio and online, The Weather Channel is a unique prospect in the entertainment industry, broadcasting as it does to numerous different formats on top of its 24-hour-a-day cable network. It’s perhaps one of the stranger things Atlanta has to offer the world of popular culture, but also one of the most helpful. When their predictions are right, anyway…
Cox Enterprises is almost the archetypal American family-run company, passed down from generation to generation, the conglomerate growing and growing as the decades go by whilst still paying tribute to the initial vision of the grandparents who started it when they had but two nickels to rub together. In 2017, Cox is run by fourth generation James C. Kennedy, who presides over a media empire including newspapers, local television stations, dozens of AM and FM radio stations, broadband and cable company Cox Communications, and Autotrader.
You may have already guessed this, but the Cox Enterprises headquarters calls Atlanta, Georgia its home. Kennedy’s grandfather, James Cox, got into the media business after a stalled political career, buying up the Atlanta Journal and soon after launched the South’s first TV station. Despite his fortune, Kennedy remains resolutely humble: “My first concern was not to screw things up,” he said of taking over as CEO.
Besides cornering the market of local media and journalism through its ownership of radio, TV, and newspapers in the southern states, Cox Enterprises contribute to Atlanta’s entertainment economy through the communications arm which continues to break new ground: in 2013 they launched their Contour TV service which integrates HD DVR, TV, iPad, and extra room set-top boxes for streaming video.
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