Why Tom Hanks Chose Yahoo For ‘Electric City’ (Updated)

The online animation project, Yahoo’s first effort at scripted content, offers creative flexibility and an efficient business model, he says

Why did Tom Hanks choose to partner with Yahoo for his next creative venture, “Electric City”? 

It appears the Hollywood icon has tired of the industry’s lack of creative flexibility and its limits on storytelling — not to mention the diminishing profit margins.

“We can tell this story as long as we keep it alive and fresh online. We can’t exhaust the theme,” Hanks said during a private event Tuesday at Las Vegas’ Bellagio Hotel as part of the Consumer Electronics Show.

“We’re trying to make ambiguous attractive. Ambiguity is anathema to them,” Hanks said in reference to Hollywood marketing types.

Also read: Yahoo to Kick Off New Comedy Channel With Live Bill Maher Performance

This is not to say that Hanks is done making movies, or that he dislikes Hollywood. He vowed to keep bringing in those paychecks once or twice a year, making movies that expose the viewer to the “unexpected.”

However, the Hollywood star also said that while feature films are “supposedly the top of the pyramid,” the ecosystem is changing. The process of film production is “sloppy,” he said, making them “more expensive than ever” and fewer people – at least in America – are watching them.

By contrast, his production company, Playtone, along with Reliance Entertainment, has already made 90 minutes of “Electric City” for just $2.5 million.

The show, which is animated and features the voices of Hanks, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Chris Parnell and others, will air in 4-6 minute segments. It can also be viewed contiguously.

Erin McPherson, Yahoo’s VP and Head of Video Programming and Originals, told TheWrap they "are down the road" with three to four sponsors, and that Tuesday’s event should help lure more since advertisers were the primary target.

This show, inspired by an anecdote about the Soviet Union’s draconian control over resources and communication, remains a risk for Hanks – not to his credibility, but in the sense that he is embracing a new platform with a newcomer to scripted programming. While Hanks has won almost every major acting award out there, this is Yahoo’s initial foray into scripted programming.

Yahoo has been building up its original programming online with a new comedy channel and a slate of women’s programming.

 “I don’t think anyone has been able to crack that nut really well,” McPherson said in reference to online scripted programming. “It’s a challenging model.”

She promised a “robust marketing campaign” both on and off Yahoo, including TV spots. She also saw opportunities to link a show that touches on topics like social unrest and green energy to ongoing news.

Hanks, aware of Yahoo’s relative inexperience and somewhat out of place at a scene like CES, took every shot he could at Yahoo – playfully, of course.

After Ross Levinsohn, Yahoo’s EVP of the Americas and the night’s emcee, opened by describing Yahoo’s 700 million unique visitors a month, Hanks joked about its 20,000 cafes in Latin America. 

Perhaps the best jab of all came towards the end, after Levinson acknowledged new Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson, who was in attendance.

“Thanks for bringing your storytelling moxie from PayPal,” Hanks teased before questioning what Thompson knew about the “three-act structure.”

For Hanks’ sake, Thompson better know a little, or be a fast learner.