'Mr. Selfridge': The man who invented retail therapy

Jeremy Piven

Jeremy Piven as Harry Gordon Selfridge in the PBS series "Mr. Selfridge." (March 28, 2013)

It’s funny, though, if you think back to that phrase “just looking” cited by that Australian health food store. That was a phrase Selfridge quite liked. Browsing was his thing. He ran ads encouraging shoppers to visit to the store as if they were sightseers. And more importantly, he helped abolish the role of floorwalkers who would pressure customers to spend their money or leave.

Here’s one account in Woodhead’s book: “ ‘Is Sir intending to buy something?’ asked one supercilious man. ’No, I’m just looking,’ replied Selfridge, at which the floorwalker dropped his pseudo-smart voice and snarled, ’Then ’op it mate!’ Selfridge never forgot the incident and refused to hire ‘walkers’ when his opened in Oxford Street two decades later.”

“Mr. Selfridge” begins 8 p.m. Sunday on PBS.

Casting

Chicago native and “The Mindy Project” writer and co-star Ike Barinholtz has been cast in “Townies,” new comedy centered on the friction between frat brothers and locals in the college town. The movie will co-star Seth Rogen and Zac Efron.In other news, Andy and Lana Wachowski, who have their production headquarters in Chicago, are creating a television series for Netflix. The 10-episode sci-fi drama “Sense8” (which they are making with “Babylon 5” creator J. Michael Straczynski) will debut sometime next year. The Wachowskis are gearing up to shoot exteriors for their next film, “Jupiter Ascending,” in Chicago this summer.

Spinoff?

Rumors surfaced earlier this week that the creators of NBC’s “Chicago Fire,” which shoots here in town, may be developing a Chicago-set spinoff that would focus on the police department. ¿Producer Dick Wolf and executive producers Derek Haas and Michael Brandt might launch the spin-off through “Chicago Fire’s” season finale this spring. The series, which got off to a rocky start in the ratings, has grown to become one of NBC’s steady performers and a lone bright spot on the network’s troubled schedule, airing 9 p.m. Wednesdays.

The original movie star

Silent film star Mary Pickford allegedly once said that adding sound to the movies was akin to “putting lipstick on the Venus de Milo.” But hey, she knew her stuff when it came to the film industry in those first couple decades of the 20th century, anyway, earning millions and becoming a hands-on producer along the way. Film historian Christel Schmidt, author of “Mary Pickford: Queen of the Movies,” comes to Chicago next week for a pair of Pickford screenings, including “Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall” (a historical drama set in Elizabethan England) on Wednesday at the Portage ¿Theater (courtesy of the Northwest Chicago Film Society), and “Sparrows” (about a young woman who takes down kidnappers) on April 6 at the Music Box Theatre. Go to northwestchicagofilmsociety.org and musicboxtheatre.com.

Short and funny

The Midwest Independent Film Festival presents its annual Comedic Shorts program this week, including “An Audition Nightmare” (the title says it all); “Little Man of Steel,” which envisions Clark  and Lois Lane on a condom run; and the world premiere of “Hot¿Kent Doctor” featuring former Second City mainstager and current “Saturday Night Live” cast member Tim Robinson. Actors and filmmakers will be there for the screenings, Tuesday at Landmark Century Centre Cinema. Go to midwestfilm.com.

Trafficked

This weekend Chicago Filmmakers features a double bill of documentaries exposing the plight of exploited young women. “It’s a Girl” focuses on the staggering number of girls who go missing annually in India and China; “A Civil Remedy” directs its camera closer to home in the United States to document the experiences of a teenager trafficked into prostitution in Boston. 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Chicago Filmmakers. Go to chicagofilmmakers.org.

Early Oscar talk

According to awardscircuit.com, an early test screening earlier this month of “August: Osage County” generated an enthusiastic response from the audience, paving the way for a healthy Oscar run when the film opens in November. Chicago actor and playwright Tracy Letts adapted the screenplay from his Pulitzer- and Tony-winning play of the same name, a theatrical juggernaut that launched in 2007 from his home base at the Steppenwolf. Alas, none of the original cast members made it into the film, which co-stars Meryl Streep  and Julia Roberts.

nmetz@tribune.com

@NinaMetzNews

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