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.
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, unless it’s the bouquet of a fine Bordeaux, that’s really a “faux-deaux.” Like the imitation Gucci bag and the Rolex reduxes strapped on cheaper wrists, wine too has made a splash among counterfeiters as purveyors of bogus plonk have turned the cellars of the unsuspecting into menageries of liquid fraud. Alas, sour grapes looms for this lot – as Krissy Clark recently reported on Marketplace, services like those offered by Applied DNA Sciences are thwarting counterfeiters by letting the genome out of the bottle through genetic tracking. As the company explains on its website “Applied DNA Sciences offers a novel system called SigNature (Botanical plant DNA) to certify and verify the provenance of prestige wines.” It remains unnecessary, however to verify the provenance and prestige of today’s wine-borne hangover. Some things, regrettably, are always legit. (Thanks to Christian Chensvold for the lead.)
So I’m at a wedding party and I’m talking to a movie theater projectionist about the trade. There is no trade he tells me. As more theaters have invested in digital projection technologies, the notion of a journeyman projectionist who knows how to cut film, load platters and thread the great heaving apparata that make the pictures move, is going the way of the zoetrope. Apparently, these days, distributors send theater managers a data cube – a sort of flash drive – loaded with the film and its constituent data… and a password. According to the projectionist, some kid then puts the cube in the machine, inputs the code, and then pushes play. Apparently, the cube is just a patch before they get the satellite distribution model worked out and the cube and the kid are cut out of the equation. And the whole thing is password protected to prevent hi-tech piracy, you know, by the kid.
CinemaWest, the local theatrical exhibitor of films and related content has outfitted many of its holdings throughout the Bay Area with digital projection, including Boulevard Cinemas in Petaluma, CA. On August 20, Delirium, a Cirque de Soleil prerecorded live music concert with all the acrobatics and contortions of the human form we’ve come to expect from the franchise, opened at the cinemas. The Circque performance is being distributed by Sony Pictures Releasing, which is also presenting upcoming Broadway performance of Rent in the same format. Didn’t we just see rent as a major motion picture on local screens last year? Yes. But we can also listen to This American Life on the radio, or watch the TV series on Showtime – and that didn’t stop a successful one night run of This American Life Live, in which host Ira Glass was beamed by satellite to theaters nationwide. As Alana, a Facebook commentor opined “Being in the theater last night with all those other people who love the show as much as I do was like being ‘home.’” Now, Alana, might be a corporate shill, but I suspect that many might feel the same. Could this be the future of on-screen entertainment? I’m curious to find out. Delirium might not have a delirious business model after all. Tickets are available at Sony’s site thehotticket.net, and lest I become their shill, considering its slogan, which suggests “If you can’t be there, be here.”
Pour yourself of glass of your favorite oft-maligned varietal and enjoy this chat with Rudy McClain, producer-director of the pro-merlot documentary Merlove. The podcast was pulled from a recent broadcast of Mornings in Sonoma (KSVY 91.3 FM), which I co-host with Ken Brown (hence all the raucous laughter). They say that wine improves with age – well, this podcast improves with wine (specifically merlot, of course).
Whodda thunk that Napa Valley would be early adopters? According to Terry Hall, head flak at the Napa Valley Vintners, online uber-store Amazon.com will start selling Napa wines as well as those from an additional 25 states as early as the end of September (thus spake the Wall Street Journal).
I’m all for mixing a little silicon in local terroir, but assumed perennial Napa County rival Sonoma County would have leapt first (two or our major growth sectors are wine and tech). Of course, shipping wines out-of-state is still fraught with niggling legal and protocol issues (as anyone who has worked in fulfillment can tell you), which makes it a perfect job for digital deployment. Online imbibers can thank Napa-based New Vine Logistics for handholding Amazon through this process, who, beyond having a company name straight from a sci-fi film, has brought us one step closer to a computer-generated voice querying “Shall we drink some wine?”
Please bear with this brief post, which I’m writing via iPhone from my roost at the girl and the fig. I’ve downloaded a new app to facilitate this potential rival to my recent spate of twittering (are we not amazed by the recent surge in verbs?) and am, presently, quite satisfied. Of course, that might be the pinto of Anchor Steam talking — or Texting (verb check) as the case may be. I dread that this device might someday obviate my reporter’s notebook. Why take a note when one can just as easily post? I maintain a rather romantic notion that the thoughts I capture in the notebook ferment there until I call upon them again, whereupon they have matured, deepened and generally become more writerly (at least in the context to which they are transplanted). Not true. I rarely, if ever, return to a notebook for more than a phone number. In fact, it’s priniciple use is as a prop to remind others that I’m an accredited member of the media — especially snarky waiters, who most regularly see it when plucked with a sigh from my inside coat pocket (always left) and laid on the table next to my poison pen while on restaurant reviews. The iPhone doesn’t have the same effect as a prop. When placed on a table it merely looks as if I’m expecting a call that never comes (like some hi-tech metanym for my agent). I’ll stop here. Being the lone man at the bar Texting to his blog is beginning to seem a little too geekish a pose. Back to the notebook — at least there’s cultural precedence for that pose.