Martini Shot

I enjoyed writer/producer Rob Long’s “Martini Shot,” a new weekly radio commentary on the Industry that airs on KCRW. One of his comments really struck home…

people in this business love their souped-up vocabulary: we “green-light” things, and dump things in “turnaround” and “negative pick-up” and “pitch” and make “pre-emptive strikes.” And we love our creative talk too. We like lots of “character journeys” and “story integrity” and “deeply humanistic values.” Our slang is so vivid and energetic that’s it’s hard to remember that these phrases are used mostly when people are alone in their cars. Although it comes up a lot in meetings, too. I remember a network executive telling me once that while she liked our script, she wanted to see if we could “platform our heroes sooner in the piece, so the audience could begin to celebrate with them earlier in their journey.” Okay. Sure. Not a problem. Just platform the…thing….with the….journey and the…stuff.

Recently, we got a note asking us to have a detective “unpack the clues more extensively.” Within days, we found ourselves also being alerted that “there were more emotions to unpack in this scene, now it is Bob’s to command rather than his to assist and we think that could be amped.”

Your Show Belongs to US

This ad ran in today’s VARIETY:

An Open message to:
Irene Chaiken & Showtime Networks
We listened. We subscribed. We watched.
We then became the driving force behind The L-Word’s Season One success and unprecedented renewal.
So why aren’t you listening?????
Marina Ferrer, as played by Emmy-worthy Karina Lombard, is a vital part of your success!
Over 4,400 Showtime subscribers can’t be wrong:
For More Information, visit or
Paid for by Save Marina! Campaign and Karina Lombard fans Worldwide

I’m not bothered by fans expressing their enjoyment of a particular actor or character… what ticks me off is the tone of this note. It is so similar to the kinds of emails and letters we get from a vocal minority of fans every day…

Some fans think they own the show and the characters, that we are their employees, that they are the executive producers of the program they are watching. Note the key line in the ad: these fans aren’t just watching the show, they have christened themselves “the driving force behind the shows success,” not the acting, not the writing, not the direction…not the tens of thousands of other viewers who aren’t part of their newsgroup. I also like the line” “So why aren’t you listening?” In other words, these fans are chastizing the producers for not doing as they were told.

I must have missed the revolution. When did TV shows stop being the creative expression of a handful of artists… and instead the property of the most fanatical viewers? Since when do David Milch, John Wells, Steven Bochco, Dick Wolf or even Irene Chaiken need “fan permission” to make creative decisions on their shows?

Don’t worry, Marina fans. If they boot her, you can still have the last word. You can keep her alive in the fanfic!

The “Journalistic Integrity” of VARIETY, Part III

It just keeps getting better…

A week after Peter Bart wrote about how he would have protected Michael Ovitz from ruining himself if the ex-agent had given his interview to VARIETY instead of VANITY FAIR….the VARIETY editor writes today that:

After 15 years of editing Daily Variety, I will regrettably admit the following: I do not believe every word that’s published in my own newspaper.

Join the club, Pete.

He blames the problem, like Brian Lowry did few days ago, on people lying to his reporters. He forgets to mention his own questionable journalistic ethics, which he presumably imposes on his staff. Here’s a gem from the controversial Los Angeles Magazine story on him a while back..

BART HATES TO TAKE NOTES. “I don’t like to,” he says. “I just find when you take out a notebook, it just changes the atmosphere.” Nevertheless, in his column he frequently quotes conversations he has had with Hollywood figures. The quotes, which he also inserts in reporters’ stories, are nearly always unattributed. He often dictates them off the top of his head, which may explain why some of Variety’s anonymous sources sound a lot like Inventive Peter.

He may hate it when people lie to his reporters, but apparently he doesn’t mind lying to reporters himself, like this whopper he told the LA Magazine writer….

Consider what happened when we discussed the infamous Patriot Games incident of 1992, when Variety film critic Joe McBride wrote a blistering review of Paramount Pictures’ Tom Clancy adaptation. The studio, apoplectic over the review’s potential dampening of interest among overseas exhibitors, pulled its advertising from Variety. Bart got mad, but not at the studio. He decreed that McBride would no longer review Paramount films.
The New York Times wrote a story about the McBride dustup that said Variety staffers were aghast that their boss would curry favor with Paramount. The article quoted from a private apology that Bart had sent to Martin S. Davis, the studio’s then chairman and CEO. “Marty Davis and I have known each other for 25 years,” Bart told the Times. “I simply dropped him a friendly note.”

Nine years later, however, when I first ask Bart about the note, he insists it never existed. “I never wrote any,” he says, adding that he disliked Davis intensely, so “the idea that I would contact these people was bizarre.” How to explain the Times story, written by veteran reporter Bernard Weinraub? “It was a reminder to me about the nastiness of journalists toward each other,” Bart says, shaking his head.

A few weeks later I obtained a copy of the letter. Bart’s lie didn’t make sense. Had he forgotten that it was typed by his own secretary on Variety stationery?

Perhaps its embarrassing revelations like this that has inspired his policy of letting some interviewees change their quotes before publication (as he offered to do for Ovitz, as he admits in last weeks column)…

People who have worked with Bart say he would call his favorite sources–Guber, Ovitz, Weinstein, Evans, producer Arnon Milchan–and vet stories that mentioned them, letting them make adjustments. When confronted by the reporters whose bylines topped the altered stories, Bart would say he got better information after deadline. “This is my paper,” one remembers him saying. “I’ll do as I please.”

No wonder Peter Bart doesn’t believe what he reads in his own “newspaper.”

The Mail I Get…

This is a semi-regular feature where I share some of the, um, interesting mail I get.

I received this note over the weekend…I have no idea what he’s talking about. Maybe you’d like to try answering the question for him.

SeaQuest Episode Question

What is the episode number or name of the fish guy?

The actor who played the man with gills in the rear of his ribcage. It was an episode where the fish guy went out in deep sea to see about something when his gills closed and clam up causing him to drown. But not before the dolphin save him. (which always made me wonder the logic in this)

Second question, do you think there is the hope of them bringing the show back and letting Dean Cain be the fish man?

The “Journalistic Integrity” of VARIETY, Part II

On Tuesday, Variety editor/publisher Peter Bart wrote that Michael Ovitz made a fool of himself in his controversial interview with Vanity Fair… if Ovitz had talked to Variety instead, Bart would have made sure that Ovitz came off well. Bart’s column article explicitly stated what everyone already knows about Variety: that it won’t publish anything that might upset anyone with power in the Industry.

The very next day, in the same space that Bart revealed that the magazine had no journalistic integrity whatsoever, Brian Lowry had the gall to whine about how wrong it is for publicists and execs to lie to Variety reporters.

Leading the pack were the folks at Comcast and E!, who not only insisted for weeks that network prexyprexy Mindy Herman wasn’t going anywhere but were positively indignant that anyone would suggest otherwise — right until they announced her departure.

In similar fashion, Viacom president Mel Karmazin stated as recently as five weeks ago that he had no plans to leave the company — after endless gossip about his fractious relationship with chairman Sumner Redstone — before the rumor finally became reality Tuesday.

This casual relationship with truth — down to the Clinton-esque parsing of words like “is” — might sound like no big deal, especially when it comes to fending off pesky reporters. Yet I’d argue there is a potential price to be paid.

Why should anyone at Variety care? (For one thing, they never reported… as the LA Times did… about Mindy Herman’s questionable behavior at E!) Had Ovitz talked to Variety, would we have read a true account of what he said? No, because unlike Vanity Fair, Peter Bart would have sanitized what he said…for Ovitz’s own good. Did Bart care about the truth? Of course not. He cared about preserving his relationship with a powerful industry player. Why? Because the over-riding journalistic mission of Variety is to make sure the studios keep buying self-congratulatory ads in their publication.

That’s why you’ll never read anything even remotely approaching actual, roll-up-your-sleeves-and-dig-deep reporting in the pages of Variety.

More significantly, this comes when trust in the media and particularly the press has been rightfully shaken. Part of that stems from transgressions by reporters — the New York Times’ Jayson Blair, the New Republic’s Stephen Glass, USA Today’s Jack Kelly

Where’s Brian’s out-rage about Peter Bart’s admission that he would have protected Ovitz? About Bart offering Ovitz the opportunity to vet his quotes before publication?

Bart’s column certainly shook my trust in Variety, not that I had much to begin with.

Early in my reporting career, I remember asking a source about a rather unpleasant rumor that was making the rounds. “See, I’m never sure when I should lie to you,” he said, to which I responded: “That’s easy: Never — at least, if you want me to believe you ever again.”

All this brings to mind a favorite scene in “Excalibur,” where Merlin tells nasty King Uther why the world has caved in around him. “You betrayed the Duke, stole his wife and took his castle,” the wizard hisses. “Now no one trusts you.”

The same could be said about Variety.

Brian Lowry should read Peter Bart’s column … and then he might realize why its laughable for anybody at Variety to whine about not being told the truth.

Hens Are Supposed to Lay Eggs

From the San Diego Union Tribune

Zambian man commits suicide after sex with hen

7:52 a.m. May 28, 2004

LUSAKA – A 50-year-old Zambian man has hanged himself after his wife found him having sex with a hen, police said Friday.

The woman caught him in the act when she rushed into their house to investigate a noise.

“He attempted to kill her but she managed to escape,” a police spokesman said.

The man from the town of Chongwe, about 30 miles east of Lusaka, killed himself after being admonished by other villagers. The hen was butchered after the incident.