-- Margin Call
Lionsgate; R; $19.98 DVD, $29.99 Blu-Ray; Dec. 20
If you hurry, you can still catch the critically praised Margin Call on the big screen. But if you want to see it on your very own big screen, the financial drama lands on DVD/Blu-ray later this month.
Though the film's talented cast (including Jeremy Irons, Kevin Spacey and Paul Bettany) plays bank employees scrambling to dump worthless assets on the eve of the tipping point of the financial crisis, producer Neal Dodson says the movie explores the gray area between vilifying them and giving them a free pass.
"Our writer/director J.C. Chandor had a very human take on this epic tragic tale," Dodson said in an e-mail interview. "I related to these characters, no matter how verbal they are or mathematical they are or how reckless they may have been."
Selling Spelling Manor
HGTV; Dec. 15; 9 p.m. ET/PT
In a land of excess, there's plenty on display in HGTV's tour of the lavish Los Angeles estate of Aaron Spelling, the prolific television producer who died in 2006. Spelling's widow, Candy, put the 56,500-square-foot megamansion up for sale in 2009 for $150 million, and this special appears to have been taped during the 840 days it spent on the market before being purchased this summer for $85 million — in cash — by Petra Ecclestone, a British heiress.
We meet the lucky listing agent and the army of movers but not until Candy Spelling has taken viewers from one specialty room to the next: the 1,000-bottle wine cellar, the doll museum, the bowling alley, the barber shop, the three gift-wrapping rooms, the 17,000-square-foot "attic" that looks more like a warehouse. She's upfront about the opulence — when you entertain presidents and royalty, these are the things you need, she says — and her thirst for acquisition. With her husband constantly working, "I had a lot of time to fill, so I bought a lot and shopped a lot."
It's all rather spectacular, especially when she says, "Living here is not that much different than living anywhere."
Extreme Couponing All-Stars
TLC; Dec. 27; 10 p.m. ET/PT
Fans of Extreme Couponing, in which featured shoppers routinely buy hundreds of dollars worth of groceries for just a few bucks and lots of coupons, will see familiar faces when the reality show returns with an all-star version later this month.
What won't be familiar is the format, as two veterans go head-to-head in a "savings showdown." That's right, competitive couponing. Their mission is to buy as much as they can in 30 minutes while spending as little as possible. Sounds fun, except for the rule that allows the contestants to pre-order items in bulk. That loophole lessens the cart-loading excitement, but builds up the savings percentage, since the couponers use their pre-orders on items such as bottles of flavored water and cases of cleanser they get for free through the clever combination of sale price and multiple coupons that the store doubles.
Both Carla's and Faatima's shopping savvy on the first episode overwhelm their stores' checkout machines, forcing the patient store managers to resort to handheld calculators to tabulate the bottom line. The contestant with the highest percentage of savings — and both get in the 90s — moves on to compete again later in the season, but the real winners might be the charities that receive the shopping spoils.
Screw Business as Usual
By Richard Branson (Portfolio; $26.95; Thursday
The title of the Virgin group founder's latest book, Screw Business as Usual, follows the naming pattern of his previous works, Screw It, Let's Do It and Business Stripped Bare. As in those previous efforts, Branson weaves together anecdotes from his no-holds-barred entrepreneurial efforts and lessons from other companies. This time around, there's a common theme: turning capitalism on its head by doing right by people and the planet first, and the money will follow.
Also in December
•Learn how to access emerging markets as a source for returns in a new episode of Trading the Globe (CNBC; Dec. 16; 7:30 ET).
•A very enthusiastic Paul Merriman delivers money advice in the manner of an infomercial host on Financial Fitness after 50 with Paul Merriman (PBS; Tuesday; 9:30 p.m. ET, check local listings or pbs.org).
•Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte join an eclectic stable of actors in Luck, a drama about the horse-racing business (HBO; sneak preview Dec. 11; 10 p.m.).
5 Questions for RadioShack CEO Lee Applbaum
By Jayne O'Donnell, USA TODAY
Lee Applbaum is the chief marketing officer at RadioShack, which repositioned itself as "The Shack" two years ago. RadioShack may not always be top of mind for consumers when it comes to, say, iPhone purchases, but Applbaum says the 4,600-store chain is working hard to change that. His responses have been edited for space and clarity.
Q: What's RadioShack's outlook on the economy?
A: There continues to be a very unpredictable and dynamic retail landscape, and it's clearly fueled by uncertainty in both the domestic and European markets. But we feel better than ever about our focus, which is really around mobility (mobile devices) and around offering consumer value, which has obviously become increasingly important given the economic uncertainty.
Q: How's the holiday season looking from your vantage point?
A: We are encouraged based on some of the things we've heard and seen early in the holiday season. There's a long way left to go in this quarter and in the holiday season. We had long lines on Black Friday. Traffic is not a surrogate for sales, but it certainly is really positive news.
Q: What are you doing differently this season?
A: We opened our doors at 5:30 (a.m.) on Black Friday in lieu of a midnight opening. We started the holiday season with an offer of more than 20 different free phones (with phone contracts and data packs) on the Sunday before Black Friday. We wanted to give consumers time to go through the fairly rigorous process of a phone purchase without the stress or frenzy that accompanies Black Friday. We've decided to extend this huge free phone event throughout the holidays.
Q: Why did the RadioShack brand need a big change?
A: The Shack was conceived to be not a name change but a conversation starter for a brand that was not talked about in the press, with consumers, with investors or even with our vendor partners. We were perceived as an iconic but staid 90-year-old retail brand. Everything about The Shack, its look and its feel and even the name, was intended to contemporize and energize a brand for a generation of consumers for whom mobile products are a necessity and not just an intimidating luxury. That transformation is a long journey.
Q: How has the popularity of mobile devices affected your business?
A: Smartphones, tablets, e-readers — these products that were once deemed luxury or discretionary are now more of an essential tool to manage our daily lives. That's what I attribute some of our enthusiasm to — so much of our business is rooted in these very essential mobile devices.
Mobility now represents about 47% of our business, up from 35% in 2006. A lot of people don't realize we have iPhones on all three major carriers now. It's one of the continuing challenges and opportunities for the brand. We are a very substantial player in mobility, but gaining appreciable consumer awareness just takes time.