So, Microsoft flushed its co-branding initiative with Jerry Seinfeld like Duchamp’s Dadaist toilet (which is a polite way of describing what many critics have regarded as absurdist excrement – see Maria Russo’s astute analysis at her Los Angeles Times blog). It’s unclear who Microsoft’s ad agency, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, was targeting with the waning entertainment brand and the corporate behemoth. Seinfeld nostalgists? Gates acolytes? The TV spot (and its YouTube half-life) will likely be the only in the series released, as rumors suggest the rest of the campaign has been kyboshed due to a lingering aftertaste of WTF. I had just absorbed this minor newspeg, when out of the ether came the following press release:
When the Seinfeld Campus Tour rolls up to the University of San Francisco on Wednesday, October 15, one thing is certain—they will have no trouble remembering where they parked.
The Seinfeld Campus Tour is a pioneering 26-city, 10,000 mile cross-country tour designed to introduce the hit sitcom to college students who were too young to appreciate the show’s hip, sophisticated comedy during its original network run…
Decoded: Since your parents spared you the antics of these chatty TV misanthropes, we’re going to bludgeon your demographic with a bus until you’re oversaturated brand-loyalists like Seinfeld syndicators TBS, which targets predominately white men and women with a median age of 37, 32% of whom make $75K+ and have a yen for consumer electronics (source: Nielsen Media Research, 2007). According to NYC PR firm The Rosen Group, a “60-foot long ‘Seinfeld’ branded, bio-diesel fueled bus” containing a “mini-museum” of props and costumes from the comedian’s titular show will roll to colleges and Best Buy locations throughout the nation, pumping an upcoming DVD release. Moreover, “Twix, black & white cookies, Snickers and non-fat frozen yogurt, a wall of “Seinfeld” framed production and gallery stills with behind-the-scenes captions, laptops to explore ‘Seinfeld’ online and a Monk’s-style ‘Scene It?’ lounge where the public can sample the new DVD trivia game” will be on hand to further distract college students from their studies. Ack. There’s more, including a 1,700 square foot tented kiosk “Seinfeld” compound, but I find the endeavor too tacky to waste additional pixels. Suffice it to say, if this is what the Seinfeld camp considers target-marketing, Gates, et al, we’re smart to sever the association. The original Seinfeld series found absurd comedy in the banality of quotidian experience – The Seinfeld Campus Tour is a garish sideshow.
As one might expect, I hail from a family of storytellers (read: entertaining fibbers). Both sides of my lineage (the Greco and Anglo, in this case) each make a claim to some order of narrative provenance (the Greek side claims to have invented the form, though I’m sure a few early homo sapiens huddled around ye olde campfire might have first filed that copyright). The Anglo side, or more specifically the Irish side, split their namesake county at the tail of the Irish Diaspora, only to start another Howell County, rather improbably, in Missouri. After later burying half their brood in the Dripping Springs Cemetery, a splinter faction made for warmer climes and finally came to wine country, turned Napanese, and laid claim to Howell Mountain.
Our family lore is rife with tales of chicanery, fierce love, bald criminality and cruel capitalism, awash in an undercurrent of booze and madness. Or so I’m told. Separating the sense from the sensational is as much a family sport as telling the tales themselves. In this regard, our sister Dasha is the true storyteller. Continue reading
On the wing-tipped heels of AMC’s recent Emmy-grab with its retro-ad game series Mad Men, Charlie Collier, executive vice president and general manager of AMC, shares some professional insights with Diane Clehane at MediaBistro. The interview reminded me of a gag Jerry Rapp and I once penned for a TV-biz script in which a creative executive’s job description includes “executing creativity.” This, however, doesn’t seem present in AMC’s culture (or cable in general these days) as it continues to supplement its library with original series – good news for show creators and audiences alike.
Clehane: What lessons did you learn early in your career that you still find relevant today?
Collier: Number one – begin as you intend to proceed. It’s something someone said to be when I was just starting out. She gave me my first management job at 24. She said, ‘So many people are trying to fit some mold instead of doing what they think is right from the start.’
A refinement of ye olde adage “Fake it, ’til you make it,” Collier’s “Begin as you intend to proceed,” is sound advice, which I repeat here as a defense against those who may balk at my “Citizen Kane” shtick. I intend to proceed with intention until I die a rich, lonely media mogul with a yen for sleds. (My sorry fate notwithstanding, I do think Collier’s is good advice for those navigating creative careers.)
English artist Damien Hirst has weathered controversy, critics and the unenviable task of fitting the corpse of a 14-foot tiger shark into a vat of formaldehyde. And still, there are five additional reasons to applaud him.
1. A two-day auction at Sotheby’s auction house dubbed “Beautiful Inside My Head Forever” cut out the middleman – in this case art dealers – and delivered a circus train of animals steeped in formaldehyde and other works directly to buyers for nearly $200 million. Lesson? Artists should be more aggressive about bringing their own art to market.
2. Despite inspiring incipient envy amongst his colleagues, Hirst again proved the value of becoming one’s own brand. “Charles Thomson, founder of the The Stuckist art movement, which promotes art with a meaning, said Hirst was not art but a ‘designer label.’ “Just using an object like a dead animal is capable of very little meaning,” he said. “He is not selling art. It’s a form of madness.” (Javier Espinoza, Forbes.com)
3. Hirst’s success came during Wall Street’s financial meltdown, underscoring the durability, if not the blessed absurdity, of the art market – a validating notion for those in the arts.
4. Hirst’s work substantiates Andy Warhol’s notion that art has become a consumer item. Good for cocktail chatter. No wonder works by the two artists were showcased together in February at the Gow Langsford Gallery in Auckland, New Zealand. Hirst’s work, “For the Love of God,” features 8,500 flawless diamonds encrusted into a platinum cast of a human skull, was paired, fittingly, with one of Warhol’s famed “Dollar Sign” screens.
5. We have the same initials (this may not mean a lot to you, but when I start selling pickled creatures on eBay signed “DH,” you’ll at least understand my inspiration).
Imagine if Grace Kelley slid her pinky over her iPhone screen instead of answering the landline tethered to her would-be assassination in Dial M for Murder; or if E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, used his rollover minutes instead of hotwiring a Speak ‘N’ Spell to phone home. Contemporary communication tools have made us reachable 24/7, consequently, screenwriters are engineering new, if contrived, ways of making their characters (dramatically) unreachable. Writer Zachary Pincus-Roth penned an interesting piece for last week’s Los Angeles Times that explores this phenomenon.
While cellphones appear to help storytellers, since they allow anyone to talk to anyone at any time, “that seeming freedom only makes it all the more difficult,” says Robert McKee, the screenwriting guru and author of Story. “It takes away a possible source of conflict – the difficulty of communicating, the difficulty of calling for help.”
…Still, he doesn’t see the development as negative. “All it means is that the writer has to be even more ingenious in building the conflicts and the tensions in a credible way,” he says.
Thanks, Bob. I suppose the Web 2.0 version would have a character dangling from a precipice, who Twitters for help, only to have comic hijinks ensue when 2,000 “followers” arrive to save the day as Clay Shirky sighs, “Here comes everybody.”
Pincus-Roth discusses his article with On The Media’s Brooke Gladstone.