Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Lamest Hollywood story ever

So I went to a meeting today with one of my agents at a big (but not the biggest) agency in town. I don't go there a lot, since agents are more into "rolling" the calls, as you may have heard. For a lower level client like me, that usually means a call on the cell phone during the walk from the urinal to the sink.

It's cool when I do go, since I get an agent's undivided attention for like 20 minutes. But there's one really bad part about visiting this particular agency: the parking. There seem to have enough parking spaces for all of the employees plus the many visitors who come by every day. So the agency's solution seems to be... make the parking spaces smaller.

My Toyota Matrix may be a little wider than a Ford Focus, but it's basically a normal size car. I swear, with the exception of the "large" spaces which are always full with SUVs, the "compact" size spaces (all the rest) are literally the width of a normal size car plus about 3". Which means if everybody parks perfectly and you happen to be skinny like me, you can just barely squeeze your body out the door. But inevitably somebody parks a little off and then everybody is off. Then the only remaining space when a visitor like me gets there at 11 AM is the most cramped space ever.

Today I managed to get my car into such a space thanks to a feat of precision driving I could probably never repeat, but it was literally the width of a Toyota Matrix plus half a centimeter. I could not open my doors at all. All I can say is, Thank God I have a hatchback.

Yes, I literally crawled over my backseat and out the hatchback. And when it came time to leave, I crawled back in the hatch. And let me tell you, closing a hatchback from the inside is a major pain in the ass. Who knew?

Yes, that's the glamorous life of a Hollywood power player like me.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Samuel L. Jackson + Woody = best birthday ever

Want evidence of just how easy it is to get celebrities to talk to you when you have a camera and microphone? Check out what happened when we took Dateline Hollywood's clueless film critic (and now red carpet reporter) Woody Wittman to the premiere of "Snakes on a Plane":

We shot this on August 17, my birthday, and I have to say watching Woody interview Sam motherf*cking Jackson is one of the best birthday presents I ever got.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Dateline Hollywood combats anti-semitism... by Screech

The latest blog to take a Dateline Hollywood story seriously and link to it as such: Anti-Semitism awareness blog. For our obviously satirical story about how Dustin "Screech" Diamond went on an anti-semitic rampage after the bank re-possessed his home.
I don't know if I should be proud... or ashamed.

(To read about the all-time greatest inadverdent hoax on Dateline Hollywood, see Franklin Avenue's account here)

Oh, and I decided I'm proud. Or at least amused.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Brian Unger... not Garrison Keillor

Are you listening to the Unger Report?

While I have to start off with the giant caveat that Brian is a friend, I still want to non-objectively but truthfully say that Brian's weekly commentaries for NPR are pretty damned funny. Not in a godawful Garrison Keillor / "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me" / "Car Talk" makes-you-want-to-stab-your-ears-out kind of quote-unquote "funny" that NPR listeners seem to enjoy on the weekend.

I'm talking actually smart funny stuff that someone who isn't 110 and doesn't have mugs from NPR pledge drives going back to 1979 in their cupboards can enjoy.

Last week's Unger Report, which wondered what the "good news" on former CNN reporter Daryn Kagan's new "no bad news" website might sound like, was a really good one. "The day after a drunk Mel Gibson blamed Jewish people for starting all the wars in the world," he reminds us, "CNN failed to report all the ethnic groups Gibson didn't blame. That was a good news day for the Mooti Mooti Aboriginal tribe of Australia. But CNN failed to report that news. As well as the bear whose habitat wasn't ruined by urban sprawl. Or the cat who looked at the tree and said: 'I'll climb that tree another day.'"

You can listen to it here. Or, better, yet, just podcast the Unger Report. Most of us aren't devotedly listening to NPR every Monday morning. So podcasting is the way to do it. Plus that way there's no chance you'll accidentally hear a promo for Garrison Keillor and drive yourself into a telephone pole just to make him shut up about fucking Lake Wobegon.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Why Joe Lieberman is like George W. Bush and Mickey Kaus

Brendan has a great post today that came out of a conversation we had last night about how Joe Lieberman is annoying for the same reasons as Mickey Kaus. As Brendan writes, Liberman (and Kaus) "seems to spend his time criticizing liberals rather than going after the Republicans who have made a mess of the federal government. In short, he's still fighting the 'new'/'old' Democrat wars of the 1980s-1990s."

But not only does Joe Lieberman neglect to criticize George W. Bush, he's starting to talk like George Bush. He's specifically picking up one of Bush's worst, most anti-democratic, rhetorical tricks, one we criticized extensively in "All the President's Spin."

Here's Lieberman talking at his primary concession / independent campaign launch speech on Tuesday:

I am disappointed not just because I lost, but because the old politics of partisan polarization won today. For the sake of our state, our country and my party, I cannot and will not let that result stand.

I expect that my opponent will continue to do in the general election what he has done in the primary … partisan polarizing instead of talking about how we can solve people's problems, insults instead of ideas. In other words, more of the same old partisan politics that has assailed Washington today.

This is a classic George W. Bush: accuse your opponent of engaging in "partisan polarization" because he disagrees with you. The definition of non-partisanship is of course, agreeing with Joe Lieberman or George W. Bush 100%.

Because Ned Lamont has substantive disagreements with Joe Lieberman -- especially on whether we should have invaded Iraq; how much the President deserves to be criticized for his poor conduct of the war; and whether we should set a timetable to pull out -- he is a partisan.

Bush does this all the time, especially in his first term when he often claiemd he wanted to "change the tone" in Washington. To quote page 114 of "All the President's Spin": "This formulation defined his own agenda as 'what's right for the people' and those who criticized him as 'acrimonious and bitter.' In practice, of course, 'changing the tone' is impossible unless one party simply gives in to the other. As Bush defined it, the standard would prohibit vigorous disagreement between parties -- the essence of democratic debate."

Joe Lieberman should just be honest about his substantive differences with Lamont and run on those. Lieberman is a centrist (right of center on national security, left of center on many domestic issues). So he should run as a centrist against Lamont the liberal. Then let the voters decide. Instead, he portrays his centrism as a holier-than-thou rising above the partisan fray. It's not only dishonest, but in an era when the Republican congressional leadership and President Bush have made have made bipartisanship as quaint as the Geneva Conventions, it's not very politically tenable. I suspect that's why the majority of Connecticut Democrats decided to lean to their left and vote for Lamont, rather than their right for Lieberman.

Update (2:30 PM PST): Wow it didn't take long for Lieberman to start copying even more of Bush's nasty spin tactics. Look what Mr. non-partisan said the very same day that authorities stopped a (seemingly) major terrorist plot:

“If we just pick up like Ned Lamont wants us to do, get out by a date certain, it will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England,” Mr. Lieberman said at a campaign event at lunchtime in Waterbury, Conn. “It will strengthen them and they will strike again.”

News flash, Joe: It wasn't insurgents from Iraq who were planning to blow up those planes. It was, according to the NY Times, "mainly British-born Muslims some of Pakistani descent." I highly doubt our staying in or withdrawing from Iraq would deter such terrorists. There's certainly no evidence connecting the two.

Notice Joe didn't exactly say they were connected. He just said a withdrawal from Iraq "will be takent as a tremendous victory" by the alleged terrorists who were arrested today. Of course that could be true. Who knows what they would think. That's not factually wrong. It's just implying a connection where there's no evidence at all.

Why, it almost reminds me of George W. Bush's tendency to imply a connection between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks, even though there was no evidence linking the two, by saying things like "we know that after September the 11, Saddam Huseein's regime gleefully celebrated the terrorist attacks on America."

Again, this is a nasty, dishonest, undemocratic rhetorical tactic President Bush uses all the time that we criticized at length in "All the President's Spin. Now that Connecticut Democrats have rejected him for being too close to W., Lieberman seems determined to prove them right by sinking to the President's level of spin.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Where The Long Tail comes up short

Since everybody's talking about it on the blogs and it's a totally digital thing, I thought I'd weight in on "The Long Tail," the new book by Wired editor-in-chief Chris Anderson. Luckily, rather than have to come up with something original for this blog, I can link to my review that ran in Variety today. (outside the subscription wall for your blogalicious pleasure)

In sum, I think Anderson nicely analyzes and summarizes the what, why, and how of the explosion of niche content on the Internet. But his attempt to analyze the business of creating hits, and argue that it is in decline, is completely unconvincing. It demonstrates a quite shallow understanding of how the modern entertainment industry works, in fact. Here's the "money quote," so to speak, from my review:

In a world where Grand Theft Auto sells millions of units, "American Idol" performances are available for download and you can watch "Pirates of the Caribbean" in the theater, on HBO, on DVD or on a PSP, Anderson seems to have it exactly wrong: Thanks to digital technology, more people are consuming more hits than ever -- on more platforms than ever.

My primary argument is in the review and I stand 100% behind it. But I also want to pile on a bit here, with something that he mentions in the book and again on his blog that really bothers me. This is Anderson's explanation on his blog for which hits will still prosper in the "long tail world" and which won't:

As I see it, there are essentially three kinds of hits, which we can call Type 1,2, and 3:

* "Top-down" hits created by the usual hit-making machine: major labels, major publishers, major studios, etc. Those fall into two categories:
o Type 1: Authentic hits: products that are excellent and resonate with a broad audience (think anything from Coldplay to the World Cup). These start big and stay big.
o Type 2: Synthetic hits: lame products that are marketed within an inch of their life, sucessfully getting lots of people to try them even though they're probably sorry they did. (think Garfield: A Tail of Two Kitties). These start big but quickly plummet.
* Type 3: "Bottoms-up" hits, that rise on word-of-mouth and grassroots support. (think Clap Your Hands Say Yeah or March of the Penguins). These start small and get big.

I think Type 1 hits will continue to do well. Type 3 hits will do even better, since the web is the greatest word-of-mouth amplifier ever created. But Type 2 hits will suffer, as the consumers spread the word of their suckitude faster than ever.

How is this anything other than subjective, post-hoc reasoning? What objective way is there to say which movies are "synthetic hits" and which are "authentic?" To take an obvious example, most critics slammed "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," a corporately-created sequel based on a theme park ride, and Disney marketed it within an inch of its life. How in the world is that not the definition of "synthetic?" Yet it's the biggest hit of the year, despite the long tail.

I can guarantee you that if it was a flop and somebody asked Anderson about it, he would say it's a "synthetic hit" that no longer prospers in the long tail world. Nonesense. There have been "authentic" hits and "authentic" flops and "synthetic" hits and "synthetic" flops since the entertainment industry began and there's absolutely zero evidence that the long tail has changed that one iota.