Losing the Gamble

First published in wait(er) Magazine, July, 2013.

My first job when I moved back to New York City, ten years ago, was working in a subsection of the financial services industry. Getting a root canal, sans anesthetic, would be less uncomfortable then trying to describe the banality of that job and industry. Suffice it to say, I was miserable.

Against almost everyone’s opinion, I up and quit after about 18 months without a back up job. Well, I gave two weeks notice but in keeping with company protocol, they didn’t except it and terminated me immediately. Apparently, they were worried I would steal valuable industry secrets or their clients. Christ, I didn’t know any secrets (if I did, I certainly wasn’t aware of them) and the thought of stealing clients never crossed my mind (until they said it).

I was happy to be leaving with what was left of my pride.

Having about ten years of restaurant experience behind me, I figured that was my best bet to keep me relatively solvent. So the day after I quit, I suited up and armed with a lead from a friend of a friend, I made my way to Penn Station.

Specifically, One Penn Plaza, to a place called Tupelo Grill. Holding the managers names, Aaron, the General Manager and Ethan, the Manager, I popped in to try and speak with them around 3pm. The hostess gave me an application and went to get one of them. It was Ethan who came up and introduced himself to me. We shook hands and I handed him my resume and completed application. He looked it over and asked me, “Do you have any New York City experience?”

Now, this was not the first time in my life I had heard this question. And frankly, it pissed me off then and even now as I write this, it still irks me. So I shared with Ethan why that question annoys me, why it usually means nothing and is a pretty transparent intimidation tactic.

Sometime in the mid-90’s I moved to the Upper West Side and went out looking for restaurant work. At this point I only had a few years experience, but I had been part of a serving staff of a newly opened chain and had been part of a three man team that opened a very successful restaurant outside of Waterbury, CT. I had a fairly solid grasp on the business, especially front of the house operations.

Nonetheless, every single restaurant I went into asked me the same damn question, as they looked at my resume, “Hmm, do you have any New York City experience?” Initially, I was embarrassed that I didn’t and would trip over my rebuttal. With each rejection I grew more and more annoyed. After a week of rejections, I went into Lexington Bar and Books and sure as shit, the guy looked at my resume and asked me “Hmm, well do you have any New York City experience?”

I snapped and retorted, “What exactly does that mean? I mean you can clearly see that I have experience bartending at two restaurants that did between three and four million dollars annually. Volume is volume whether it is in New York City or Des Moines, right?” He was a tad taken aback and silently nodded in agreement. Long story short, I got that job. It lasted all of three hours, but I did get that job (that’s a story for another time).

Ethan took in my tale, smiled and said “Those guys at Bar and Books are assholes anyway.” I’m still not entirely sure if they were assholes for hiring me.

As this was just as the whole foodie craze and the “everyone must know everything about food” crap, he asked if I would be willing to take a test. I shrugged and said “Sure.” It’s not like I had anything else going on.

Looking back, it was maybe seven or eight questions but I distinctly remember one:

Name three kinds of mushrooms:

1.     Good
2.     Bad
3.     Psilocybin

I got the job.

After two lunch shifts training, I was thrown into the fray. I quickly realized that Tupelo Grill was easily the best restaurant job I had ever had. The managers Aaron and Ethan were great and totally supportive, the staff was a lot of fun and easy to work with and the owners were non-existent (for the most part).

Certainly, all those things made the job great, but what made it excellent? The two reasons that matter most, the hours and the money. You see Tupelo Grill was in One Penn Plaza (a big office building) and across from Madison Square Garden (the worlds most famous arena). Because of the law offices and financial companies located on the floors above the restaurant, the lunch shifts were amazing! The proximity to MSG meant the place was packed when there was a concert or event at the Garden and pretty empty otherwise. Oh yeah, and the place was only open M-F.

Working one lunch about nine months into my stay there, I got sat a four top. An older guy, whom I recognized and thought to be in his late 60’s, and three of his colleagues who were probably about 20 years his junior.  I knew the guy was in finance because I had seen his American Express Black Card and the name of the company. Nonetheless, their lunch, as near as I could tell, went along without a hitch. The older guy asked for the check, so I printed it and dropped it off.

The guy was a typical 20% guy, so I didn’t worry too much. I saw him place his card in the check presenter card slot and then excuse himself to go to the bathroom. I meandered over and picked it up and took a stroll around my section to check on my other tables before going back to swipe his card and close the check.

I timed it so that I was printing out his check just as he was exiting the bathroom and was on my way to his table. About ten paces before I got to his table I got smacked across the face with a horrendous smell. The smell only got stronger as I approached the table. I’ve no doubt I grimaced and shook my head, but maintained my composure as I presented the check to the table and said “Thank you”.

As I walked back to the computer, one of the other waiters was surveying the dining room when I said “Jesus, it smells like SHIT by table 44.” She looked over and then I looked over just as my four top was standing and we noticed at the same time, it was shit.

The old man had lost the gamble and shat himself.  The back of his finely tailored grey Brooks Brothers suit was dark, wet and no longer grey. OBVIOUSLY, I first fell into a fit of laughter that gave way to embarrassment for the guy and I finally settled on my go to, sadness. I mean there was NO way he didn’t know he shat himself and NO way his cohorts didn’t smell it. And since he walked out FIRST, there was no way they didn’t see it.

Just as I settled on sadness, one of my other tables called me over to inform me that the men’s room was a mess. I quickly put two and two together and grabbed a busboy to assess the damage. The restaurant hierarchy can be a little murky but one thing is almost universally true, busboys and dishwashers may be on the bottom rung but the best managers always slide on the continuum between dishwasher/busboy and front of the house politico. Both Aaron and Ethan were on this continuum.

So the busboy I grab goes in and immediately comes out laughing, shaking his head to the left and right, saying “No, no, not me. Not me.”

Given that reaction, there was no way I was going in, so I went to get the manager on duty, Ethan, to tell him that the men’s room was a mess. I told him what had happened and who did it.

He lowered his head and simply said, “Fuck, not again.”

I was floored, “Whadda ya mean not AGAIN?!”

“Oh, he’s done this before.”

As he and I walked through the server station over to the men’s room, I had transitioned from sadness back to a fit of laughter.

Aaron walked by and tapped one of huddled busboys and signaled for him to follow. The poor guy put his head down as though he were being led to the gallows pole. They both went in and seconds later Aaron burst out of the bathroom laughing, “Dude, you gotta go in there, it’s everywhere! It’s like a shit sprinkler went off!” The poor busboy immediately followed Aaron, laughing just as hard.

They tried pushing me in there, but to no avail. The three of us laughing like high school students or leads in some Farrelly Brothers movie. Once we regained our composure we began to assume our respective positions.

In the absence of Tupelo Grill branded HAZMAT suits, Aaron and the busboy geared up in trash bags and rubber gloves to clean up while I stood sentry, directing men to the handicapped bathroom around the corner.  Before going into the DMZ that was now the men’s room, he asked someone to take the chair the guy sat on and remove it. The remaining two busboys couldn’t get to table 44 fast enough.

I left Tupelo Grill shortly after this crappy incident (seriously, how could you not see a pun coming) to begin a career as a cube dwelling, media drone and while I worked a couple of parties and a few shifts after, eventually the calls to fill in shifts stopped coming.

The last I had heard of Ethan was that he had developed a rather bad cocaine habit and was waiting tables somewhere downtown and Aaron was managing a hotel in China. Tupelo Grill has been re-branded as some Italian Place.

As for the guy who lost the gamble? I don’t know but I’d like to think that with the advances in adult diaper technology, I hope he is out there…and he is wearing them.

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Brooklyn Film Festival Review #2

A Series of Shorts: A different lens through which to see the world.

Now more than ever, we must look to artists to see the world through their eyes because it is often the artists who hold the mirror up to society and provide us with a different lens through which to see the world. And for those artists who choose to work in the short film or video genre, their vision is crucial for us to gain a better understanding of the human condition.

The short film genre gives artists a truly unencumbered opportunity to tell their story and sometimes, they even do. It may make viewers bored or even angry, or in some cases, both.

Sitting through ninety minutes of short films last night, I got seven very different perspectives and I was seldom bored or angry. I’m not sure they all hit the mark but more did than didn’t. Nonetheless, whatever my opinion is, or anyone else’s for that matter, one must recognize the determination and efforts of the seven artists whose films I saw last night.

So here are the seven films I saw last night in the order they were shown:

Superf*ckers: Burger Brothers
Director: Fran Krause

I have to say this was a huge disappointment for a variety of reasons. One, this is part of a funded YouTube Channel series. Two, it is egregiously unfunny. Three, excessive use of coarse language; as anyone who knows me can attest, I actually enjoy that kind of language…when it serves the story or plays to a joke. Here it does not. At all. Four, I’m not even sure what the f*ck Superf*ckers was all about…other than sucking 240,000 milliseconds from my life.

Crappy content aside, I’m a little unclear why a short that already has a distribution channel in place (a funded YouTube Channel) would be part of the festival. I had it in my head that film festivals, especially short films, were about recognizing talent and not building brands.

PlayPals
Director: Yianni Warnock

With hardly any dialog at all, this Australian short pokes fun at the vacuous nature and emotional immaturity that is often attributed to men. In just 11 minutes, we get pretty much the story of what men like to do: walk around without pants, masturbate, be bored, ignore dishes and hygiene, fight, watch TV and have a singing fish on a wall. The only thing missing was a picture of Dogs Playing Poker, but perhaps that isn’t as popular in Australia.

Of course, the two guys watching TV devolves into a slap fight and wrestling match, not in any sort of homoerotic sense, just two guys who punch each other to see who can hit the hardest. It’s silly, fun and completely pointless.

Aesthetically, this short was spot on. The look, the characters, the setting, the feel and almost complete lack of dialog reminded me of a Wes Anderson film, in all the best ways. The two actors, Shane Gregory Gardiner and Peter Flaherty, resembled a chubby bearded Jason Lee and Zach Galifianakus respectively, played the roles perfectly and without their girth, I don’t think this short would have been as effective.

PlayPals captures the loneliness that often accompanies such infantile behavior and it’s that loneliness that adds a much needed depth and overall sadness to the short.

Eat
Director: Moritz Krämer

Annnnnd, this is the German art house short of the group. This is to say it was kind of funny, looked brilliant but was pretty odd overall. Less narrative driven than the other films in the group but that actually works in favor of the film.

Skinny model gets a break from a photo shoot, retreats to her dressing room to find that everything in the room is edible, from the lipstick to the wall. Skinny model then pulls her lower lip over her entire body and retreats into some sort of cocoon.

Eat just left me scratching my head wondering what the point was. Admittedly, this is not the first time I’ve been left befuddled by a German film so I can’t say for certain whether my reaction would have been different if it was shown with a group of like minded shorts. It could easily just be German films in general.

The Places Where We Lived
Director: Bernardo Britto

Opening on a Japanese man reciting some sort of diary entry and then leading into a montage of demolition footage was certainly interesting. Once the animation took over and the actual narrative began to take shape, The Places Where We Lived really began to shine.

I just re-read the synopsis “A man wakes up with a terrible feeling. His parents are selling his childhood home”. I have to say that point was lost on me. Nonetheless, there were some laugh out loud moments here because it was so often awkward and funny. In both style and substance, it reminded me of the animated series “Dr. Katz”, and that is a good thing.

Are We Not Cats
Director: Xander Robin

Imagine if David Lynch and Jim Jarmusch decided to collaborate on a short film. I think you’d find they would create something like Are We Not Cats. You don’t believe me? Read the synopsis “A welder discovers his eccentric girlfriend eating his hair subconsciously as they take a truck drive to an abandoned resort.

Only it’s not so subconscious when, post coital, she coughs up a giant hair ball.

In the hands of writer/director Xander Robin (seriously, if Lynch and Jarmusch had a kid, I’ve no doubt it would be named Xander) actors, Michael Patrick and Kelsea Dakota shine in this quirky little story.

The Amateurs
Director: Kai Gero Lenke

For me, this was both a missed opportunity and a messy short. I think the subject matter, two adolescent boys who know sex only through internet porn, is one ripe for satire, drama or comedy but unfortunately, The Amateurs is none of those.

Writer/Director Kai Gero Lenke clearly has something to say, and reminds me of Todd Solondz, and it could be interesting. Unfortunately, the performances are so bad here that whatever the point is it is completely lost. Lenke, and cinematographer Markus Englmair, certainly capture the barren look Solondz has mastered, but sadly, it’s the actors that dragged this piece down.

I don’t want to say this short is appropriately titled, but it is.

Having said that, something tells me we will hear more from Kai Gero Lenke and I look forward to that.

Chaser
Director: Sal Bardo

In high school I got sick and was out of school for a month. My mother would drive me to the video store every few days to pick up movies to watch. On one of these trips I picked up William Friedkin’s 1980 thriller Cruising with Al Pacino. I had no idea what that movie was about until I started to watch it. It’s a pretty tough film to watch in many ways.

Sal Bardo’s Chaser is equally as tough to watch, and in the wrong hands, the subject matter would seem just gratuitous. Thankfully, writer/director Bardo and actor Max Rhyser, as Zach, are so incredibly talented it is anything but gratuitous.

Look, I could easily write an entire article on this film alone, but I won’t.

I will say this is the film in this series that holds that mirror up to society.

The synopsis reads “Alienated from his conservative Jewish family and culture, a promising, young, gay schoolteacher seeks solace in the barebacking community.” Now, that sense of alienation from his family came across, in this context, as sort of self imposed. Does Zach have a sense of self loathing? It would seem so.

In one telling scene Zach is teaching his class and engaging one of his students to explain to him why the character in his homework is a “cutter”. The student’s explanation foreshadows what Zach subjects himself to in that “barebacking community.”

OK, on that note, it seems absolutely unfathomable to me that in this day and age there would actually be such a thing as a “barebacking community”. But it is portrayed so incredibly benignly and believably that I have no doubt it exists. In less adept hands this portrayal of that community would have overshadowed the more powerful component. And that is what Zach subjects himself to.

Despite the brutal depiction of Zach’s self hatred, this short ends on an optimistic note. Which seems counter intuitive to what you just witnessed, but both Bardo and Rhyser have the skills to really make it believable.

Chaser is the best of what short films should be; thought provoking, eye opening and reflective of the community we live in.

Watching short films is a hit or miss endeavor and, for the most part, this particular line up hits more than it misses.

This line up screens again tomorrow Wednesday June 5 at 10:30pm at indieScreen.

I would encourage you to go. All of these film makers have something to say and a couple of them, notably Sal Bardo, are actually keeping the short film genre relevant.

Published 6.5 on The WG News+Arts site.

The Lowdown on an Upright Citizen: Comedian Anthony Apruzzese

From the April 15, 2013 Williamsburg Greenpoint News + Arts:

Showtime3

The Lowdown on an Upright Citizen: Comedian Anthony Apruzzese

by
Keith R. Higgons

Comedy is as much a part of the DNA of Brooklyn as country music is of Nashville. The list of comedians who have called Brooklyn home reads like a history lesson of the hysterical: Mel Brooks, Larry David, Woody Allen, Jackie Gleason, and current late night warriors Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon, among countless others. Hoping to one day count himself among those names is Williamsburg resident Anthony Apruzzese. He is currently blazing a trail in the super competitive world of comedy with his improvisation/theater/sketch late night talk show at the Upright Citizens Brigade East Theater called Showtime with Anthony Apruzzese.

READ MORE AT THE WG BY CLICKING BELOW:

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White Noise

“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”
– Grouch Marx

Here we sit on the cusp of the annual network television circle jerk, or as it is known in the industry, the up fronts. For the uninitiated, that is where the networks all pitch advertisers about their new fall programming in the hopes of locking in advertising revenue. The largest source of hilarity about this annual dog and pony show is that both networks and advertising agencies think that viewers will actually give a crap about the crap they have slammed together.

For the most part, we don’t. The only people who care about this are the ad agencies and the networks.

What we want is good television programming and that doesn’t seem to be a priority for the networks. So God only knows what sort of mediocre to awful tripe they are going to offer up this year. I’m sure NBC will lead the charge because they have the most to prove and yet have proven time and time again their programming department is either completely inept or…or…actually, I am pretty sure they are completely inept. ABC and CBS will probably stay the course and offer up shows similar to what is proving successful for them. FOX is always a wildcard and with Seth MacFarlane getting at least another 30 minutes of FOX programming, don’t expect too much change there either. Once again, all eyes will be on NBC and once again, I suspect NBC will completely fail to deliver. If any network makes a case for cord cutting, it is NBC.

Much hullabaloo has been spoken and written about over the past few years regarding this proverbial “cutting the cord” concept and, while inevitable, I still feel we’re a few years from any sort of mass severing. The technology exists where you can watch your favorite shows via other channels, Apple TV, Roku, Netflix, iTunes, etc. (albeit at times, kinda spotty) which leaves network television and their minions in a real pickle. You see, they are still holding on to the paradigm that if they put it on TV people will watch it at that moment. That just doesn’t hold any weight anymore. We’ll watch it…if it’s good…and when we have the time to do so.

Bob Lefsetz recently wrote about some of this and I have to say I agree with a lot of it. However, he claims that cable television is going to crumble and crumble quickly. This, I do not agree with. I DO think traditional broadcast networks like NBC, CBS, ABC and FOX simply can’t seem to get out of their own way and unless they re-think their business model and re-align their focus, they’re fucked. It’s that simple. But cable television is still providing the more compelling scripted programming. They are allowing and fostering more creativity whereas the big four are basically trying to find ways to screw the other one. That is not to say that eventually cable will crumble, it will. But not before the big four.

Will streaming crush broadcast media? Not in the short term. Eventually? Yes, it will. Netflix is a force to be reckoned with. Disregard the noise coming from Wall Street about Netflix, they will dominate…for a little longer. I recently had one NBC executive guffaw at my praise of “House of Cards” saying “Oh you mean the 100 million dollar gamble?” Yes, it was 100 million dollars…for 26 episodes of a show starring a Hollywood A-list actor, produced by a Hollywood A-list director, directed and written by some of the best people working in Hollywood today. How much do you think NBC has spent trying to fill the 10pm slot that housed the broadcasting abortion that was the 10pm Jay Leno variety show, with infinitely lesser talents? Trust me, they’ve spent well over 100 million dollars trying to fill that and have yet to yield a hit there. Netflix original programming, so far, has been top notch and I don’t see that trend of quality waning anytime soon. Nonetheless, I think the streaming models of Netflix, and Amazon, will grow and become the destination for more intelligent scripted programming, bypassing traditional broadcast and cable outlets.

So where does that leave advertisers and their broadcast television teat suckers?

The future for broadcast television is with live sporting events and with reality and unscripted programming. That is the plain and simple truth. They both have an inherent sense of immediate viewing, which isn’t there for scripted shows. Networks can charge top dollar to advertisers for live events. Sports fans are sports fans and they need to see the game or event live.

As much as I bash NBC, I will say the rolling up of all their sports nets into NBC Sports was a good move and they actually have a leg up with both the Olympics and Sunday Night Football. They also have a bunch of niche channels which will yield some decent dividends in the long run (admittedly, the long run is not something any network is good at…Corporatism at its best). While I may think starting the Olympics a day early is dumb, maybe they have data that suggests otherwise. I doubt it. I suspect it is just a money grab which smells of desperation. But unscripted programming, much like sports,  have that sense of immediacy built into them which could serve them well.

The giant wild card in all of this is the baby boomer generation and NOT the 18-34 demographic. You know, the baby boomers? The demographic no one wants to talk about but the one that is poised to sustain every industry for the next 20-30 years. Advertisers and networks are still holding on that ideal that the 18-34 demographic is the key one to grab. Their logic is that if they can get them young they can build brand loyalty with them. I’m not sure how they keep missing this, but that demo doesn’t have brand loyalty. In fact, I am not sure loyalty is even part of their vernacular.

Historically, CBS has always been perceived as the old fogey network, which in this case should to carry them through the budding baby boomer explosion. If the rest of the networks had half a brain, and all evidence points to the contrary, they’d be building shows around the boomer interests, be they scripted or unscripted. More than likely, the boomers viewing habits will stay the same. Which is to say that they will continue to rely on the “talking box” to get their information and entertainment whereas the current 18-34 group is all over bejesus getting their information. The reason to work within the baby boomer demographic and build off of them is two fold. One, there is simply more potential eyeballs and therefore, revenue and two, it would allow time for nets to develop an exit strategy.

There is a lot of white noise surrounding the discussion of what the future of television will look like. Will it be a la carte, will there be massive cord cutting, is streaming the future, yadda yadda yadda. The truth is, no one knows and don’t let them tell you otherwise. BUT in order to look ahead, one can not look behind, those days are over. It appears that networks learned nothing from the collapse of the recording industry. If the networks had a theme song, it would be “Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen.

If you really want to see where we are headed, look to a few bigger digital players, like Google, Apple and Amazon to see what they are futzing around with and the companies they are buying. History shows us there will only be a few key players in the long run for broadcasting and it simply won’t be NBC, CBS, ABC or FOX.

(For those wondering who that photo is of, that is John Logie Baird, the inventor of the television.)

Can a corporation be insane?

nbc-broken-peacock“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
– Albert Einstein

Like any kid growing up in the Midwest, I had big dreams. And while my brother had dreams of being a cop or a stuntman or hockey player, I always knew I wanted to be something different. Something BIGGER. In no particular order I wanted to be:

  • A rock star (I always had the temperament just lacked the discipline to develop a skill)
  • An actor (After seeing Henry Winkler in Heroes, I was sold)
  • A writer (Reading John Steinbeck’s The Pearl and John Irving’s The Hotel New Hampshire changed my life…what does that say about me)
  • An A&R guy for Columbia or Atlantic Records or Warner Brothers (John Hammond was a hero)
  • For a brief period, a corporate executive (Until I discovered weed and realized I lacked the pedigree, and grades, to get into an Ivy League school)
  • A film editor (I would argue a good editor is more important than a good director)
  • An NBC employee (Two generations of kids were raised on NBC programming)
  • A restaurateur

I knew I couldn’t do all those things, but I knew one place I could potentially do all those things, New York City.  NYC is known for housing many industries, legal and not, and three of the larger legal employment arena’s are Finance, Restaurants and Media. About ten years ago, I moved here with two duffel bags of clothes, one suit and about 500 dollars. It sounds like a cliche’ but it’s the truth. Within two weeks I had landed a temp job at a company called Georgeson Shareholder working in one of the most arcane subdivisions of financial services (proxy solicitation) that it hardly bears defining. That temp job led to permanent employment as an Account Manager there doing a job I simply could not wrap my head around.

Eventually, my misery led to ultimate frustration so I simply quit. I quit without having another job prospect but knowing I could fall back on my skills as a waiter or bartender in the short term. Two days later I landed a job at a place called Tupelo Grill, located right across from Madison Square Garden. Of all the restaurant jobs in my day, this one was the best. Only open Monday through Friday and as long as there was something going on at the Garden, you made amazing money and you were done by 10pm. As far as a stop gap job goes, there was none better.  Two years in NYC and I had already conquered two of the three industries it is known for, Financial Services and Restaurants. I set my sights on Media.

As luck would have it, just as I was getting bored with Tupelo Grill, an old friend asked me if I wanted to work at NBC. He didn’t glorify the position at all and told me straight up what it was. It didn’t matter to me; I had always wanted to work at NBC and figured I could springboard from whatever department it was. I knew all I needed was access and then my insane talents would take me to where I wanted to be. I immediately began planning my career trajectory and jumped at the chance for the job at NBC, in the ass end of television.

When I was hired, their prime time dominance was slipping and my goal was to get to the Programming Department, either here in NYC or in LA, I didn’t care. They needed fresh blood, they needed creativity, and they needed ME! Luckily for them, they already had the chrome dome midget mind of Jeff Zucker who promptly fired programming head Kevin Riley to make room for, not me but, the silver spooned idiot child Ben Silverman. And thus began a complete and total dismantling of what was once a creative and ratings juggernaut.

Zucker and Silverman spearheaded the NBC descent into the cellar of television ratings and programming that remains unparalleled in television history. An accomplishment…of sorts. I would argue that these two knuckleheads were dyslexic because they seemed to have reversed the idea of “shoot for the stars” and as opposed to going UP in the sky with good programming they were going DOWN towards the earth’s core with shitty programming. In any other industry, a performance as disastrous as Zucker’s would have been met with almost immediate termination and yet somehow he remained through the Comcast acquisition. My suspicious mind tells me that Zucker held onto his job because he had pictures of either Jeff Immelt and/or Bob Wright with a pre-op tranny in Bangkok. I can’t prove that…yet.

So Comcast acquired NBCUniversal and the best part about that was the spin. They tried to pitch it as a “merger”. Now I didn’t go to an Ivy League school like the upper echelon of GE, Comcast and NBC, but it seems to me when a company purchases 51% of a company, that is an acquisition and not a merger, but what do I know? Comcast has since purchased the remaining 49% so it would seem to be a acquisition now.

Not surprisingly, after an acquimerger of this size comes a changing of the guard. And new head honcho Steve Burke grabbed the bull by the horns and did his best to instill confidence among the rank and file, like me. He assured all of us that he would make the right moves to restore NBC’s luster, to create shows and products across all networks we could all be proud of and believe in. He didn’t mince words, he said it would take time and money and he seemed ready and willing to make the tough decisions. And for about ten months he did all of that and came to define leadership. He cleaned the executive suites and replaced them with either people loyal to him or, seemingly, competent people. Perhaps the smartest thing Burke did was push out Zucker and his minions (Silverman had already been neutered and replaced with talented but rendered impotent Jeff Gaspin). While Gaspin and Silverman held the title, it was no secret that Zucker drove the bus. Burke didn’t then, and doesn’t now, appear to suffer from the same degree of narcissism or micro-management as Jeff Zucker, which points to his leadership.

Once the Zucker mess had been sorted out, Burke brought in former Fox and Showtime head Robert Greenblatt to replace Jeff Gaspin and head up what had become the very definition of epically inept, the NBC Programming Department. Greenblatt was an interesting choice because he has a mix of programming moxy which includes both shite and blue chip television work (Melrose Place, The X-Files at Fox and Weeds and Dexter while at Showtime), a successful run on Broadway as a producer (9 to 5) and a seemingly solid commitment to return NBC to dominance. By all accounts across the board, a solid, if interesting, choice.

To date, dominance has not been any part of the NBC brand. If you follow these things, you’ve been left scratching your head wondering what the hell is going on here. Trust me, we all are. Seriously. Sure, last fall we did well. For some retarded reason people watch The Voice and we had Sunday Night Football, so that makes sense. But the scripted shows were, and continue to be, simply awful. Animal Practice, 1600 Penn, Do No Harm, the continued spiral of Smash, the failed Dane Cook comedy and honestly, the list is too long to mention.

If you think about it, Greenblatt and Silverman (Gaspin didn’t really do anything) have proven only moderately more successful than me, and I haven’t programmed ANYTHING!

Is Must See TV dead? Yep. It should be. What NBC should do is hold a funeral for it, bury it so we can all move past it. I’m not kidding either. Create a spectacular show where all the stars gather together and have a New Orleans style funeral for Must See TV. If we were to do this, we could let that era go and so could the critics and the public, instead of holding out hope that NBC can regain those years and those programs. It’s time to properly celebrate their existence and MOVE FORWARD. And what better way to do that then to celebrate the Must See TV life?

I still believe in NBC and while I have a modicum of pride about working here, it is rapidly disappearing. However, I don’t feel that hitting the panic switch and doing a corporate shuffle is the right thing. People want to see stability and if you keep replacing the head of programming, no clear network vision will ever be defined. And while the other networks may think Greenblatt is the anti-Christ because he came from cable, he’s not. He understands vision and diversity but for some reason, he’s not sticking with it. My guess is he is too accommodating coupled with the heavy influence of Creative Corporatism.

Some thoughts:

  • Getting rid of Jay Leno is a no brainer and having Jimmy Fallon replace him is also a no brainer, but not now. Leno has to go but the mishandling of this is just imbecilic.
  • Yes, Matt Lauer has to go. Sorry Matt, your number is up. People fear change but you can’t let fear dictate any progress.
  • NBC Spin department, stop the bullshit, OK? Even a six year old knows moving “Smash” to Saturday is NOT a strategic move but really a move towards extinction.
  • Create shows with a defined arc. No need for a show to run 8 seasons if it doesn’t NEED to.
  • NBC Programming, take chances. “Hannibal”, really? Come on. Stop dumbing down the shows. The public can take some intelligence.
  • Writers and show runners are not brands, they are creative people. Diversify your creative pool for God’s sake. And if you feel you already do, do it MORE!
  • Stop relying on the same agents and managers for pitches and shows. There is a SHIT TON of creativity out there for you to harness. Go with your gut. Fight for vision.

Sure, I’ve accomplished one of my childhood goals by getting a job at NBC, albeit at the ass end, and even with my rapidly disappearing pride, I hold out hope. I hold out hope that NBC can do better and hold out hope we will be able to show that. But the way forward is not constantly looking in the rear view mirror.

I don’t pretend to know the intricacies of programming because, well, I don’t work there…yet. And as I write this thinking back to when I was hired it’s funny because even after all these years, NBC still needs fresh blood, they still need creativity, and they still need ME…but my gut tells me they think they have all the answers already.

If corporations are, by law, people, then NBC is surely insane.

Where there is art, there is no hell.

“Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But, since no one was listening, everything must be said again.”
– Andre Gide

Yesterday, I watched a documentary. And while that, in and of itself, is about as interesting as peanut butter, what I watched was interesting, Born Into This, a documentary about Charles Bukowski.

I first discovered Charles Bukowski from the script he wrote for the Barbet Schroeder film Barfly, starring Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway. To be fair, it’s been a long time since I have seen it and I can’t recall what I thought of it but given my pathetic attempt at being a film snob and my man crush on Mickey Rourke at the time, I am sure I LOVED it. But I have never seen it again, so I guess that says something.

Thanks to The Red Hot Chilli Peppers I got reintroduced to Bukowski a few years later and read in quick succession Women, Factotum, Hollywood and Post Office. I muscled through those four books and frankly, I hated them. It wasn’t the writing that I hated so much as his characters. They were repellant. I mean seriously horrible people. As misanthropic as I was back then, even I found these people awful.

My contempt for poetry kept me away from the Bukowski poetry cannon. Based on his fiction, I wasn’t keen to dive into a genre I didn’t like with I writer I didn’t like. To be honest though, and to avoid offending any poetry readers/writers, it’s not contempt for poetry I have so much as I just don’t have that kind of brain. I’ve read a lot of it, and even written some horrible teen angst verse, but as a whole I don’t “get it”. And I’m not a good enough bullshitter to pretend to “get it”. For whatever reason, poetry doesn’t have any emotional impact on me…and yet song lyrics do, go figure.

After watching Born Into This, I walked away with a new found respect and appreciation for Charles Bukowski. So much so that on my way home from work I stopped off to purchase a book of his poetry, The Last Night of the Earth Poems. I have to say, so far, his verse is breathtaking.

Admittedly, I’ve grown up a lot since those first introductions and with that growth comes life and experiences, good and bad alike, along with some gray hair. In the process, I’ve come to see the world through a different lens then the one when I first read those books. And as distorted as my lens was then and may be now, it’s not even close to the Bukowski lens. However, in growing up and with experiences, you can begin to see the world for what it is. A fucked up place. With fucked up people. Doing fucked up things. To each other.

Bukowski characters, as deplorable as they are, are real characters. Underneath all that depravity though, are just people trying to do what we’re all trying to do. Get by and find a way to slice off a little piece of happiness pie for ourselves. Sure, they may find happiness in places we don’t understand and can’t respect, but Bukowski shows us time and time again that their journey is our journey.

Clearly, this is an over simplification (I’ll leave the more robust literary analysis to the folks behind the ivy walls with thicker and grayer beards, who study this professionally) but as Longfellow said, and Bukowski shows us, “..the supreme excellence is simplicity.”

Obviously, the legacy of any artist is their work. True art, real art, will speak for years and years, as Bukowski’s does. In Born Into This there is a scene where he is reciting his poem Dinosaur, We (written in 1993) and these lines screamed out to me:

Born into this
Into hospitals which are so expensive that it’s cheaper to die
Into lawyers who charge so much it’s cheaper to plead guilty
Into a country where the jails are full and the madhouses closed
Into a place where the masses elevate fools into rich heroes
Born into this
Walking and living through this
Dying because of this
Muted because of this

To dismiss Charles Bukowski as a simple and misogynistic drunk writer is to diminish not only his artistic contribution but also his message. His was a message for those of us not birthed into any entitlement. It was a message from the underside saying “We’re here too. We exist.” In between all the despicable characters, the women, the booze and the shitty behavior is the one thing that transcends everything, even entitlement, the human condition.

Where there is art, there is no hell, only our own journey. That journey may be hell, and who we seek for armistice and guidance can make that journey easier. Thankfully, we have the work of Charles Bukowski, and so many others, to help us find our own way, creatively or otherwise. And that ain’t a bad thing baby.

DInosaur, We
by Charles Bukowski

Born like this
Into this
As the chalk faces smile
As Mrs. Death laughs
As the elevators break
As political landscapes dissolve
As the supermarket bag boy holds a college degree
As the oily fish spit out their oily prey
As the sun is masked
We are
Born like this
Into this
Into these carefully mad wars
Into the sight of broken factory windows of emptiness
Into bars where people no longer speak to each other
Into fist fights that end as shootings and knifings
Born into this
Into hospitals which are so expensive that it’s cheaper to die
Into lawyers who charge so much it’s cheaper to plead guilty
Into a country where the jails are full and the madhouses closed
Into a place where the masses elevate fools into rich heroes
Born into this
Walking and living through this
Dying because of this
Muted because of this
Castrated
Debauched
Disinherited
Because of this
Fooled by this
Used by this
Pissed on by this
Made crazy and sick by this
Made violent
Made inhuman
By this
The heart is blackened
The fingers reach for the throat
The gun
The knife
The bomb
The fingers reach toward an unresponsive god
The fingers reach for the bottle
The pill
The powder
We are born into this sorrowful deadliness
We are born into a government 60 years in debt
That soon will be unable to even pay the interest on that debt
And the banks will burn
Money will be useless
There will be open and unpunished murder in the streets
It will be guns and roving mobs
Land will be useless
Food will become a diminishing return
Nuclear power will be taken over by the many
Explosions will continually shake the earth
Radiated robot men will stalk each other
The rich and the chosen will watch from space platforms
Dante’s Inferno will be made to look like a children’s playground
The sun will not be seen and it will always be night
Trees will die
All vegetation will die
Radiated men will eat the flesh of radiated men
The sea will be poisoned
The lakes and rivers will vanish
Rain will be the new gold
The rotting bodies of men and animals will stink in the dark wind
The last few survivors will be overtaken by new and hideous diseases
And the space platforms will be destroyed by attrition
The petering out of supplies
The natural effect of general decay
And there will be the most beautiful silence never heard
Born out of that.
The sun still hidden there
Awaiting the next chapter.

Thomas Paine

Thomas_Paine_portrait_900x6006

“When it shall be said in any country in the world, my poor are happy; neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want, the taxes are not oppressive; the rational world is my friend, because I am the friend of its happiness: when these things can be said, then may that country boasts its constitution and its government.”– Thomas Paine

The cynic says it’s impossible.
The optimist says its the way it should be.
The pragmatist says its a goal worth striving for.

Getting older means, ideally, that you are learning more and more. And the more I learn the more frustrated I become at the way things are versus the way they ought to be. It’s never to late to change things, that much I believe. George Bernard Shaw famously wrote “Youth is wasted on the young” and I truly wish the 24 year old could have the knowledge and experience of the 44 year old. Then there may be some real possibility for change. Until then…

SOME LINKS FOR YOUR THURSDAY

Thomas Paine

Good Night Democracy

Lessons Learned About Being Open

Richard Wolff on Bill Moyers

Not All That Glitters Is Gold

OAT

Artists Take Note

Should You Work For Free

Cheers!

Signature

Some Wednesday thoughts.

You may in fact be richer than a country in Africa.

US government suing Standard & Poor for $5 billion in response to the financial crisis and yet Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, BOA, etc remain untouched.
This is like suing Nielsen for NBC’s “1600 Penn” debacle.

Am I the ONLY one amazed that Radio Shack is still in business?

Jeff Zucker, newly anointed head of CNN, strikes again!
SERIOUSLY, does ANYONE really consider this man a visionary?

Marc Boal on “Zero Dark Thirty”:
“I’m not trying to have it both ways. It is both ways,” Mr. Boal says. “Saying it’s a movie is a fair and accurate description. Saying it’s a movie based on firsthand accounts is a fair and accurate description. That’s what gives it its power.”

Gangster Bankers: Too Big to Jail by Matt Taibbi.
Perhaps the government should simply give out complimentary K-Y.

Competition is often a good thing. In this case, it could be a revolutionary thing.
I am kind of convinced people are publicly down on Netflix but privately watch EVERYTHING they do. You know why? BECAUSE THAT IS WHERE WE ARE HEADED!

My thoughts on broadcast television and its future.

Sorry Sean “Puff Daddy, P. Diddy, Diddy” Combs, it is NOT all about the benjamins. Corporate culture rules the day…Stay classy Zappos.

The digital conundrum.
It begs the question, exactly how much money do rich people REALLY need.

Why is Facebook’s e-commerce offering so disappointing?
Umm, because Facebook is relatively useless. Just because you have the eyeballs doesn’t mean you have the engagement.

Well, well, well, perhaps SOMEONE in television has an idea of the future.

Thats all folks

Many thanks to Jason Hirschhorn.

Those People

seth

12.2.13 POST FROM SETH GODIN:

At a recent seminar, a woman who helps run a community college stood up to ask a question.

“Well, the bad news,” she said, “is that we have to let everyone in. And the truth is, many of these kids just can’t be the leaders you’re describing, can’t make art. We need people to do manual work, and it’s those people.”

I couldn’t believe it. I was speechless, then heartbroken. All I could think of was these young adults, trusting this woman to lead them, teach them, inspire them and push them, and instead being turned into ‘those people.’

You know, the people who will flip burgers or sweep streets or fill out forms all day. The ones who will be brainwashed into going into debt, into buying more than they can afford, to living lives that quietly move from one assigned task or one debt payment to another. If they’re lucky.

No, I said to her, trying to control my voice, no these are not those people. Not if you don’t want them to be.

Everyone is capable of being generous, at least once. Everyone is capable of being original, inspiring and connected, at least once. And everyone is capable of leading, yes, even more than once.

When those that we’ve chosen to teach and lead write off people because of what they look like or where they live or who their parents are, it’s a tragedy. Worse, we often write people off merely because they’ve been brainwashed into thinking that they have no ability to do more than they’ve been assigned. Well, if we brainwashed them into setting limits, I know we can teach them to ignore those limits.
__________________________________________________________

F*CK THE PEOPLE WHO CALL THEM THOSE PEOPLE (my thought, not Seth’s)

Business Lessons in “The Walking Dead”

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DALE
“I like what, uh, a father said to son when he give him a watch that had been handed down through generations. He said “I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire, which will fit your individual needs no better than it did mine or my father’s before me, I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you may forget it for a moment now and then and not spend all of your breath trying to conquer it.”

Business academia and film theorists have often cited “The Godfather” as a film that can exemplify the “top down” business philosophy. And for a long time, that was the standard business practice. In the “top down” world of the Mafia, the decisions pushed down from Vito Corleone, and then Michael Corleone, were then executed (pun intended) by the families underlings. This is pretty much the perfect representation of that type of hierarchical business structure which is all but ingrained in corporate America. But both the Mafia and corporate philosophy have changed so much since 1972. And while the Mafia is still somewhat beholden to the “top down” paradigm, large corporations have attempted to shy away from the “top down” philosophy, albeit unsuccessfully.

There are two upsides to corporations continued inability to adapt and move beyond a militaristic “top down” regimen. One, they have quarantined great minds and two, technology is evolving ever more rapidly which is in turn providing ample opportunity to those quarantined minds. As these technology companies continue to compete with the staid monolithic companies new business ideas and practices are coming into play; ones that are less dictatorial and more empowering to the lower strata.

AMC’s “The Walking Dead” is the perfect cinematic allegory for these new and continually evolving business philosophies. Where “The Godfather” represented the structured classical business model, “The Walking Dead” exemplifies the always in flux and fast moving modern day business model. The zombies represent the drones suffering through the myopic cubicle culture of large corporations and Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his group on the run represents the “on the fly” philosophy of the tech companies or start ups.

Just as Facebook has Mark Zuckerberg and tumblr has David Karp, the zombie apocalypse survivors on the run have Rick Grimes. He is the determined and focused leader who isn’t afraid to step up, accept the challenges, make the hard decisions and lead his group toward someplace safer, if it exists. If there is a better allegory for entrepreneurship on television, I would like to know.

Rick Grimes is the consummate leader. He recognizes the importance of empowering other members of his group, he redistributes responsibility, encourages other members to take risks and work within their strengths as long as it serves to benefit the group. Grimes will make the ultimate decision but not without consideration from the group, like any good leader would.

Some leadership lessons to be learned from “The Walking Dead”:
(This list is neither all inclusive nor definitive.)

  • Lead by example – Subscribe to an ethical and moral code you want your team to have. And then follow it. A title does NOT denote a leader.
  • Empower your group– Let others in your group take charge. Not all decisions are going to work and as a leader you may not like them, but you have to let them happen.
  • Take Responsibility – The decision may not be yours and you may not have supported it, but you approved it…it’s yours. Own it.
  • Teamwork – Gotta have it. You won’t survive in a zombie filled world, or the real world, without it.
  • Transparency – Critical to helping your group stay alive and understand your vision.
  • Coach – Pull you team up and let them in to help them understand what is working and what isn’t working.
  • Get Your Hands Dirty – Don’t rely on your team to constantly dig the graves. Get in there and do it with them.

One thing both “The Godfather” and “The Walking Dead” have in common is that they both suffer from some gender role problems. While “The Godfather” keeps women out of the day to day operations entirely, “The Walking Dead” represents a modest nod to the women’s movement as women are allowed to fight, when necessary, allowed to carry guns but are still expected to cook and clean. Even though Rick Grimes is a modern leader, his trusted right hands have all been men, to date. The difference being, of course, “The Walking Dead” women do fight and contribute to the decision making process, but are not necessarily part of the leadership. This is sad fact of many corporations today; but not all.

The “top down” philosophy shown in “The Godfather” still has some merit as a business practice to people who have family owned business but it should have no place in today’s corporate environment. Unfortunately, whether spoken or unspoken, the practice still permeates that world.

Where corporate culture may not have evolved as much as it should, at least cinematic storytelling has evolved to a point where it can represent some more solid and modern business practices. Certainly, the more fluid and transparent leadership shown by Rick Grimes in AMC’s “The Walking Dead” is representative of a more modern and ideal work place and points to a substantive move away from the “top down” practice of “The Godfather”.

Who says you can’t learn from a television show about zombies?

WD

Zero Dark Thirty

ohb-lobby-cia-memorial-wall-219

Good art has the ability to transcend beliefs and capture emotions. Once in a lifetime a work of art comes along and is able to do just that as well as define a moment in time. Zero Dark Thirty is such a movie. Now, I won’t extol the virtues of this movie because this isn’t a movie review. But I will say:

  • This is the best movie of the year. Make no mistake. I don’t suspect it will be recognized as such because it is too politically charged.
  • How Jason Clark got overlooked for an Oscar nomination is a sin. I suspect this had more to do with the actions of the character more than the performance. Rest assured, this is a performance people will pick apart for years.
  • Anyone kicking up dirt about the torture scenes would be missing the point. It’s a dramatic device used to move the story forward and convey the screenwriter and directors personal philosophy. In other words, it’s art. Did those things take place? Yep. No one denies that. Are the scenes an accurate description? It’s not relevant, it’s a movie.
  • It tells the story we need to hear as Americans. Is it 100% factual? No, it’s a movie. Are there elements of truth? Yes.
  • If you don’t see this movie, you are missing a defining work of art with every artist involved operating at the top of their game.
  • Art should connect with you emotionally and personally and this movie does both.

There is a scene in the movie where the Jennifer Ehle character of Jessica goes to Camp Chapman, a key CIA facility in Afghanistan, to interview a high ranking Al-Qaeda operative in the hopes of getting him to flip and give up Osama Bin Laden.  The scene ends with an explosion. That happened.

On December 30, 2009 seven CIA operatives were killed at Camp Chapman in Afghanistan when a man, who was considered trusted enough by base security not to be searched on arrival at the gate, detonated a suicide bomb in the camp. Some of the names of those killed are:

Elizabeth Hanson
Harold Brown
Scott Roberson
Jeremy Wise
Dane Paresi

Harold Brown hired me in January of 2001 to work for a company called Shareholder.com. At the time I lived in San Francisco and the company was headquartered in Maynard, MA. After a couple of phone interviews and an interview with the San Francisco office Sales Manager, Harold made me a job offer. I accepted.

I flew into Providence, Rhode Island on a Sunday night to begin three weeks of training at the Maynard, MA headquarters.

Over the next three weeks in Maynard and one week in San Francisco, I got to know Harold Brown pretty well. Some of the things I remember about Harold were:

  • He loved country music.
  • His passionate explanation to me of the importance of Dale Earnhardt and why he mattered in NASCAR (and his ability to laugh at my “Isn’t NASCAR just rednecks turning left?” joke)
  • Harold was honest and a genuine God rearing republican.
  • He was a married father of three who loved his family as much as he loved his God and country.
  • Harold was fearless and a natural born leader.
  • He was a man who had faults and was neither ashamed to acknowledge them or embarrassed by them.
  • Harold was always willing to actively listen and engage in a dialog even if his mind was made up.
  • He had a terrific sense of humor and a laugh that was loud and infectious.
  • Harold loved structure.

Easily my favorite personal moment with Harold involved us driving to meet my San Francisco counterpart when she flew out to Maynard one week after I did. He picked me up at the hotel and we immediately got to talking about music. At the time there was a bunch of hubbub about Marilyn Manson being a devil worshiper or something inane like that. Before we got too involved, I had to stop this, so I said “Harold, you and everyone who talks about Marilyn Manson is missing the point. It’s bad music. Done. That is it, nothing more than that. It is musically, artistically and culturally insignificant. It simply doesn’t matter and the more you talk about it, the more credence you give it.”

He thought about it and started again and I interrupted him, “Stop it. It doesn’t matter. There is no value in discussing it. If you simply ignore him and the music, it will end up where it belongs. Nowhere.”

We sat in silence for a minute before he started again. And once again I interrupted him, “Harold, seriously, stop. Wait a minute, do you like the song?” The Harold Brown smile I had come to know over the  past week crept up on his face. I laughed and said “So like it, who cares? It’s a song not a belief system.” But we were apparently not done with our discussion.

Harold shuffled around looking for the song again (seriously, I have no idea what it was) so he could explain what he liked about that damn Marilyn Manson song. He eventually found it and we went back and forth. Harold had an uncanny ability to get me to see and appreciate his perspective, even if I disagreed. On that trip to the airport, I learned a lot about Harold. What resonated the most was his passion and just how genuine and real he was. Not one ounce of pretense. Harold and I were different, wildly different, but I know that didn’t lessen any of the respect or like he had for me or I for him.

About six months after I had started Harold left Shareholder.com to go do something with the National Guard and what it was escapes me but I do recall him wrestling with his decision. About six months after that, I left and moved to Los Angeles. Over the years, I would think of Harold and wonder what path he took, especially after 9/11. I found out in late December 2010 when I did a Google search and discovered he was killed the year before in the Camp Chapman attack. On that day, while I did not know the other six, I can say with complete certainty, we lost one of the good ones.

Did Harold Brown do or participate in things I may find questionable? More than likely. But I feel a little better knowing that he was one of the guys doing them.

I’m learning that if you live long enough, history begins to impact you. For me, the goal should be to impact history.
Harold Brown impacted history.

Untitled Tailgate Series

Tailgate“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.
– George Bernard Shaw

When I came up with the idea a few years ago for a tailgating reality show, I thought I was on to something. The idea came to me when my very good friend took me to see U2 in Boston. We arrived in the stadium parking lot at about 2:30 to meet with her friends, eat and have a drink or two. From what I remembered, tailgating at a concert consisted of warm beer, weed, passing a bottle of Jack Daniels and playing Frisbee. Being that we had all aged out of that behavior, I had no idea what to expect. I presumed just some beer and burgers…turns out it tailgating had evolved.

It never occurred to me that tailgating had progressed beyond sporting events and into concerts and to such a degree that actual meal courses were involved, wine carefully selected and days of preparation. My hosts had what I considered to be a pretty elaborate set up. There was a cheese station and a salad station for us to nosh on while the steak was completing its marinade process, which involved an almost scientific configuration of spices and a “special sauce” that had been soaking for “no less than 48 hours”. My hosts were also kind enough to give me an introductory lesson on wine pairing for tailgating. (HINT: Boone’s Farm or MD 20/20 are no-no’s)

As I looked around, there were other people with more elaborate set-ups and I even noticed some old school trusty Weber hibachi set ups, but by comparison, my hosts set up was par for the parking lot. I started thinking there were stories to be told here. Lots of stories. And while I didn’t necessarily have one of those “AH-HA!” moments, I definitely had a “Hmmmm, this is interesting” moment.

I spent the next couple days thinking about it and doing a little research and found that there were a couple of tailgating shows already, one on deep cable, one on the internet and one in development (all three have since disappeared). So I started percolating the idea and bouncing it around to some trusted people, who told me it was a great idea. After a few meetings, I, along with the help of a couple of friends, decided to shoot a sizzle reel to help put some visuals to the concept.

We set out on a very cold January day to shoot the New York Jets tailgating action. As cold as it was, the die-hard fans were out. There were some pretty interesting folks and we got some relatively decent footage. I knew we didn’t capture A+ footage, I knew we got enough to cut together a decent two minutes.

While we edited, I wrote out a one page treatment and registered it with the Writers Guild of America, just to be safe. I was confident it was a pretty good idea whose time had come.

With the help of one of my former bosses, we began the Sisyphean task of trying to gain access to shop the idea. We had a decent sizzle, a good treatment and an absolutely solid concept. But, as we fast learned, access to production companies and network decision makers is challenging at best, especially if you are an unheard of and untested producer. After a few months of this flagellation, we shelved the idea. Turns out, I should have stuck with it.

Last week the Travel Channel announced Tailgate Takeover, which will be hosted by Adam Richman, of Man v. Food fame, and produced by Sharp Entertainment.
From the Travel Channel press release (emphasis mine):

The series will spotlight the best tailgating across the U.S. at sports, concerts, festivals and fairs, among other events. The network ordered 13 half-hour episodes that will officially debut this summer.”

this is from my treatment:
“The type of people tailgating, be they football fans, NASCAR fans, horse-racing fans or U2 fans vary as much as the food they are pre-gaming with.”

Suffice it to say, I was floored. Is it 100% verbatim? No, of course not. But it is seemingly about 99% the very same concept that I had. Look, I know my idea was not ground breaking, and it was not revolutionary, and I do not profess to be the first with that idea, BUT what separated mine from the others was that it didn’t focus on solely on football and/or sports. My idea idea was to cover any event where tailgating took place. I decided to see if I had any recourse through the WGA or elsewhere.

As I suspected, and learned, the burden of proof would be on me, as it should be, to prove any infraction. One, I would have to prove a link between my WGA registered Untitled Tailgate Series and the Tailgate Takeover producers, Sharp Entertainment. Easy enough for reasons I won’t discuss but it involves a fractured friendship. Two, you can’t copyright an idea. Three, Sharp Entertainment can easily say they had this in development prior to my registration. Four, I don’t have any records of who received the sizzle reel and treatment or any signed confidentiality agreements.

The likelihood that I have any recourse is slim. But more importantly, the probability I would do anything if I did is virtually nil. What would I gain? Nothing. I’m fairly convinced suing someone is not the best way to get a leg up. Sure, it bums me out that Tailgate Takeover strongly resembles my concept, but I find marginal pleasure in knowing I was onto something and that I did everything I was supposed to do. I stand by my concept and still think I could sell it; but if television continues to teach us anything, it is that ideas are only as good as your access.

So, I wish Sharp Entertainment well with Tailgate Takeover and send them an open invitation to contact me directly (keithrhiggons@gmail.com) to discuss other ideas.

Sharp Entertainment press release: http://tinyurl.com/bf66z3g
My Sizzle Reel: http://tinyurl.com/aujtz3u
My WGA Registration at the top of the page.
Treatment upon request.

1600 Penn

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Quality is not an act, it is a habit.
–  Aristotle

If quality is a habit, “1600 Penn” shows us that NBC seems to have considered quality a bad habit. The stinking pile of dung that was tossed onto the masses last week with “1600 Penn” proves NBC has either renounced quality entirely or is hell bent on destroying the very idea all together. “1600 Penn” is so staggeringly bad it makes “The Big Bang Theory” seem like sitcom Tolstoy. I sat through 44 minutes of the most mind numbingly inane television I have seen in years and watching two complete episodes of this show makes me think it could replace water-boarding as a coercive interrogation device.

Bill Pullman plays Dale Gilchrest, a father of four children who also happens to be President of the United States. Scientologist Jenna Elfman plays the first lady, Book of Mormon alumni, and co-creator of the show, Josh Gad plays buffoonish first son Skip. Skip comes across as the retarded red headed step child of Chris Farley’s “Tommy Boy”, sans the charm and affability of Farley. Martha MacIsaac plays bookish first daughter Becca and the rest of the cast is rounded out by a hackneyed version of a sitcom family and seemingly competent side players. This show is so bad that it is almost as though the dark lord himself, Satan, pitched this idea in an attempt to further push the population down the rabbit hole of mediocrity.

The first two episodes revolve around the bookish Becca telling her father that she has become pregnant after a reckless one night stand. Hilarity does not ensue. In all fairness, this is a pretty solid premise for comedy and in more skillful hands, it may have even been funny. In “1600 Penn” it’s just formulaic tripe. To describe those scenes in any way would take me back to a place I am incapable of going, just trust me, they’re awful. However, the scenes between Pullman and MacIsaac are engaging; in fact, those scenes are the only good thing about the show. Sadly, that accounts for maybe 90 seconds of 44 minutes over the two episodes. The remaining 42 minutes and 30 seconds are filled with pedantic writing and performing, with Josh Gad’s Skip leading the idiot brigade.

It would be easy to blame the three creators, Josh Gad, Jason Winer and Jon Lovett, for this show. But this show is so dreadful that to hold only three people accountable would be intellectually impossible. The lions share of shit heaved onto, into and around this show has got to come from NBC programming “notes”. If history is any indication, this degree of banality has NBC programming octopus prints all over it.  So, the plausibility that three seemingly talented people could be solely responsible for such simplistic dreck is beyond any scope of comprehension. Now that doesn’t excuse the creators because, in the final analysis, the decision to say “no” or “We’re not doing that” rests with them and in failing to exercise that, that makes them ultimately responsible.

I recently wrote about something I call Creative Corporatism and “1600 Penn” serves as a text book example of this idea. As the name implies, it is the concept of Corporatism directing creativity. Hollywood, and television in particular, has a long history of meddling with shows to “make them better” and sometimes it works, like when the note was given to add a female character to “The Seinfeld Chronicles’”. But when those notes fail or seem to serve any purpose, as they seem to have here, well, then it just becomes a shit show. Literally. Corporate shills have one responsibility, nay two, and those are to serve the shareholder and to keep their job; they don’t have a responsibility to create formidable and compelling television. Sure, we all want that, but sadly, I am not convinced they do.

Maybe I am wrong about “1600 Penn” and it will turn out to be a huge hit. I don’t know, but based on the 44 minutes I saw, “1600 Penn” is a giant turd on the face of American television and should be cancelled post haste.

No time like the present.

seth

“Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.”
– Thomas Jefferson

This guy looks like a lunatic, right? I guess he is to some degree…if you define lunatic as someone with radical ideas. I’m not gonna give you Seth Godin’s bio but I will say he is an interesting cat. Some of what he says may come across as pedestrian, but a large majority of what he says provides some of those “A Ha” moments many of us long for. Especially if you battle with the banality of day to day existence and the desire to do something more, something different.

So, I thought I’d share with you one of his recent blog posts that I found particularly interesting:

WHO GOES FIRST?
Initiating a project, a blog, a wikipedia article, a family journey–these are things that don’t come naturally to many people. The challenge is in initiating something even when you’re not putatively in charge. Not enough people believe they are capable of productive initiative.

At the same time, almost all people believe they are capable of editing, giving feedback or merely criticizing. 

So finding people to fix your typos is easy.

I don’t think the shortage of artists has much to do with the innate ability to create or initiate. I think it has to do with believing that it’s possible and acceptable for you to do it. We’ve only had these particular doors open wide for a decade or so, and most people have been brainwashed into believing that their job is to copyedit the world, not to design it.

That used to be your job. It’s not, not anymore. You go first.

If you want to do something, do it. Try. No, it won’t always work. It may end up being dreadful. You may be racked with self doubt and fear and that is totally normal. No one hits a home run the first time at bat. No one. Believe in yourself and what you are doing and eventually you will find your voice, whether it is jewelry making, singing, photography, writing, painting, beer making, etc. You may need an editor or mentor to help guide you, but if you feel the need to create, do it. You’ll get there.

In the words of Yoda, “Do or do not, there is no try.”

SETH GODINS BLOG

Music Industry’s Obi Wan Kenobi

obie

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I love music. Today’s commute consisted of Gordon Lightfoot and mid 80’s LA rockers Broken Homes, how’s that for a blend? For me, music has provided me with more than a soundtrack to my life, it’s given me almost as much joy as a kiss from a puppy (good God, did I really just write that?). It is one of the more powerful mediums of artistic expression because of its’ capacity to reach and impact so many…when done well.

Excluding my personal feelings on the state of music today, the business that surrounds it has been in a tailspin down a rabbit hole for about 14 years now. More alarming to me is the bevy of young and developing artists who still feel that being on a major label is the crown jewel. It’s a level playing field for the majority of artists these days, especially musicians. If you fancy yourself a musician, an insider, a music “biz” professional(?) or just a fan and you are not reading Bob Lefsetz, you are doing your self a grave disservice. Come to think of it, if you are in any sort of creative pursuit, you should be reading Lefsetz because you can extrapolate some serious jedi advice (and opinions) from The Lefsetz Letter.

Here are some recent highlights from my personal creative Obi Wan Kenobi:

Network news was killed by cable news which was killed by the Net. People want the latest on demand. And you’re dropping an album every year or so? And the radio is eking out the music track by track, if you’re lucky? In today’s world you want to be in the public eye constantly. I’m not saying you should make less music, just that you shouldn’t see it as an album.
http://tinyurl.com/3wtry4

From radio to newspapers to movies it’s old world thinking, a circle jerk trying to perpetuate something that’s dead. The sooner old media dies, the clearer the landscape will be. Radio is not coming back. Newspapers will not survive in print, and most won’t survive at all. And while we’re at it, CDs are history and physical books are goners. The fact that something still exists does not mean it isn’t over. If you’re discussing piracy, the death of the CD, singles and streaming, you’re wasting your breath. The modern music world is not like Congress, there’s no consensus amongst an elite. Instead modernity is an endless rushing river controlled by nobody. If you’re doubling down on old media, you’re probably investing in the PC business and feature phones.
http://tinyurl.com/a6c8cmd

So if you think lining up trophies, diplomas from the best schools and your parents’ network of friends, is the key to success, you’re sorely mistaken.
It all comes down to you.
http://tinyurl.com/98abq6j

And know that if you’re down the food chain you’ve got to earn entrance. Knocking on the door is not enough, it’s closed to you. How can you open it? If you think persistence is the key, you’re reading too many self-help books. What do you have that the person above you needs? A record exec is only interested in your music if it can make him money. Instantly. If it can’t, if you just want kudos and encouragement, stay away. Money is always a good entrance point. But few have it. You’ve got to find your entrance point.
http://tinyurl.com/a9385pn

There’s great music today, there is in every period, but why were the sixties and seventies such a fertile era, why did we get not only the Beatles and the Stones, but the entire British Invasion, the San Francisco Sound and the great acts of FM radio?
http://tinyurl.com/burwk2n

Lay it out there. Then not only is it behind you, you garner respect from those who care, for being forthcoming, for being honest.
Dishonesty is for politicians. But dishonesty has crept into not only the musicians, but the music itself. The biggest records of all time have been honest, whether it be “Jagged Little Pill” or any random Eminem album.
http://tinyurl.com/aclj6uh

Everybody can play the lottery, but almost no one wins.
Almost no one wins making music. The odds are incredibly long. And if you think luck is key, you’re never going to win. You make your own luck. Through hard work!
So good luck.
Know that no one wants to hear your music other than you and your relatives. It’s ultimately got to be so good that people find you, as opposed to the opposite. Are you really that good?
http://tinyurl.com/a8a2u2l

There is some tough love in there, but make no mistake, it is love. Bob Lefsetz paid his dues working in the industry, so he’s not some flunky banging out an opinion in his parents basement. And he’s not always right. And you won’t always like it. It’s just his opinion. Depending on your age, you may agree more often than not. And if you don’t like what he has to say, let him know. I can assure you he reads every email, he won’t necessarily reply, but he will read it. He reads all his emails and the emails he posts is like a who’s who of music industry professionals (Seymour Stein, Irving Azoff, Jimmy Iovine, etc).

All of this may seem like a Lefsetz love letter, I can assure you its not. OK, maybe a little cuz I made the Obi Wan Kenobi reference (and I don’t even give a shit about “Star Wars”) but I don’t know the guy and gain nothing by helping get his message out. I’m just spreading the word because I continue to be amazed by people that I meet, both in the business and musicians, who have no idea who he is and that, to me, is unacceptable. I have yet to find someone writing as honestly about this stuff as he does. And honesty means something these days.

And for the love of God, don’t send him your stuff.
Cheers!
Keith

BOB LEFSETZ

Create like you’re dead.

tombstone

I get a kick out of being an outsider constantly. It allows me to be creative.
Bill Hicks

For those who read this with any sort of regularity I realize the last two posts have been kind of serious. Don’t worry, I’m returning to the penis and fart jokes now.

South African Nobel Laureate Nadine Gordimer said “A serious person should try to write posthumously.” The recently departed writer Christopher Hitchens simplified that by saying “Write like you are dead.” I picked up this gem from a speech to the 2012 Whiting Award winners by Jeffrey Eugenides and recently published in The New Yorker. Dare I say it is sage advice for anyone who likes to beat people about the pupils and/or ears.

There is this fantasy that creating something from nothing is all fun and games. It’s not. Don’t get me wrong, few things provide as much satisfaction as completing something you’ve created. But to think that when I, or anyone, begins the process we are looking forward to the nagging sense of doubt and worthlessness is untrue. Yes, yes, of course there are people who really look forward to it but for so many others, like myself, it involves coordinating responsibilities and time to fit it in, the ever present sense of failure, the always lurking internal grammar gestapo and the genuine fear of offending someone, getting it wrong, hurting someones feelings or the worst offense of all…a typo. Dare I say, fuck it.

The reason we create is because we are naive and arrogant enough to think we have something to say. I remember the feeling I got when I finished my first cogent piece of writing. I remember the first time I heard strangers laugh at something I had written. The immediate feeling is relief directly followed by satisfaction and finally, anxiety. The worst part about completing something and putting it out there to be judged is that you realize “Shit, now I have to do that again.”

It’s the “that again” that is the tough part. Once you have had a taste of people enjoying your work, you will invariably want to repeat the process that led to the first two feelings of relief and satisfaction. It’s natural. Fuck that. You don’t want to repeat yourself and you should want to continue to push yourself. Now, the odds of anyone repeating themselves are pretty good and it’s OK. It’s bound to happen thematically. The odds of you repeating something that has already been done, almost inevitable. Forget about it. And the goal of being better than any and everyone? Foolish, just be yourself. You may already be better or you may never be better, it shouldn’t matter. The important thing is the action of doing and completing. Others will always judge.

So don’t get overwhelmed by outside stimuli or your own internal noise. Don’t let the fact that your parents may read, see or hear your work and recognize themselves in it, don’t let the fact that you created a character that is different from your ex in name only, don’t let the fact that your favorite song is “We Built This City” by Starship stop you from continuing on your own creative journey. For many of us, we begin with the very clear understanding it’s never gonna lead to anything. We simply feel we need to do it and there is a great deal of freedom in that. The only thing harder than the act of writing and/or creating something out of nothing is holding onto that freedom and be true to your creativity.

So please, create like you’re dead. We need you.

NEW YORKER ARTICLE