Is that really it? After all the backtalk and whispers, the tears and the screaming fits, we expected high drama of the Miramax-Disney divorce. Not the anticlimax of a solemn choreographed speech over conference call. But that’s how Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s long nightmare ended-late on Tuesday, March 29, with a call, accompanied by Disney chair Dick Cook, to several dozen reporters. Harvey took a deep breath and unleashed the demons he’s been harboring for years-and a rosy vision of his future at the helm of a giant media behemoth named the Weinstein Company.
Taking care of business, Mr. Cook announced that the brothers would be leaving Miramax, and its library, behind at Disney. Then, Mr. Weinstein took the opportunity to let off a little steam, detailing some of the slights he felt while trapped in the Disney regime.
“First, we’ll start with the Bravo/IFC situation,” he said, dovetailing into a description of his plans for a “fully integrated multimedia company.” “I think Bob and I are incredibly entrepreneurial, and I think in our new role we’ll be more entrepreneurial. We brought a cable company, at I think a very modest price, to the [Disney]. We were turned down on that. We also had the ability. Lord of the Rings- we understand that decision. That’s a movie situation. Artisan Entertainment-we had ability to buy that company with other people’s money, to own their video library. And there was some frustration in our efforts in that situation.”
And then Mr. Weinstein let go with his final parting shot at Michael Eisner, who was recently succeeded by Bob Iger.
“Let me say that I think at the new Disney, I think that those entrepreneurial efforts will be met with a stronger response. So that’s the irony of this deal. What I think that Bob and I were trying to do was take the Miramax outfit and turn it into a $5 billion asset-as opposed to what I believe is probably a $2 billion asset today.”
Forget those quaint notions of being the next Louis B. Mayer-the Messrs. Weinstein seem to harbor Murdochian dreams.
“The notion of Bob and I being so-called independent producers is not what were doing. We’re building a multimedia company just the way we always envisioned it would be.”
And, of course, they’ll have help along the way. The brothers Weinstein have put together an “honorary advisory committee” filled with old allies, beginning with Steve Rattner, head of the Quandrangle Group, and Cablevision’s Jim Dolan (these days, Mike Bloomberg’s biggest nemesis). Then there are the money guys, Dirk Ziff of Ziff Brothers Investments and Paul Tudor Jones. And rounding out the cast is Tarak Ben Ammar, a media mogul and advisor to Rupert Murdoch and Silvio Berlusconi, J. Crew chairman and C.E.O. Millard Drexler, movie producer Arnon Milchan, Triarc chairman Nelson Peltz, and well, Robert Redford and Paul Newman.
“Any board with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, as far we’re concerned, is a good group of people,” he said, laughing.
The Son Also Rises
When his first son was born 22 years ago, Governor George Pataki named him Teddy, after Teddy Roosevelt, the trust-busting Rough Rider and one of his inspirations to enter politics. The young Pataki is currently a strapping popular senior at Yale, where he is following in the footsteps of not only his father, a 1967 grad, but also his sister Emily, who graduated in 2001. (And his younger sister, Alison, is a sophmore at the college.) While there, he’s certainly earned the admiration of his parents. Last August, when he finished his Marine Corps training which could earn him an officer’s commission (and a trip to Iraq) when he graduates from Yale this May, his father crowed, “We’re just very proud of him.” Until now, perhaps.
Like many of his fellow students, Teddy is a member of thefacebook.com, a collegiate Friendster where students post profiles listing their classes, their dorms, their favorite music (Def Leppard, Led Zeppelin, Metallica), movies (Lord of the Rings, Black Hawk Down) and books, and in which they form groups according to their interests. The young Pataki is one of three officers-his title is “United States Marine and Professional Killer”-of a group entitled “AMERICA! … FUCK YEAH!!!” which describes itself as: “We are Americans. We can do what we want when we want to and can say whatever the fuck we want about foreigners. ‘Suck my balls world’-America. Those who are proud to say they love America and will fight anyone who threatens her. We’ll help anyone who is ashamed to be an American pack if you’ll just leave and promise to never come back.”
Soon after, “in response to those loonies at AMERICA! … FUCK YEAH!!!,” another group of Yale students formed the group “YEAH! FUCK AMERICA!!!”
Their officers, “The Udder Offensive” and “North Korean Pussy,” seem slightly more ironic in their posturing. And in an embodiment of the kind of obsessive self-reflection that seems to define the contemporary American liberal, they are also members of the latest group in the saga: “Fuck the ‘Yeah!!! Fuck America!!!’ Group!!! (No Touchbacks).”
Within that group, however, a serious discussion flared up when “North Korean Pussy” posted a quotation from Hermann Goering: “The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and for exposing the country to danger.”
Trespassing across the battle lines of cyberspace, a member of “AMERICA! … FUCK YEAH!!!” responded: “You’d have thought the Hitler-Bush comparisons would have gotten old by now. Alas, apparently not. If you are deluded enought [sic] to say that America is the equivalent of Nazi Germany, get the hell out, we don’t want you.”
North Korean Pussy’s response: “I am not in any way saying the American nation is quasi-fascist. It’s you guys who are.”
At press time, the discussion was still raging on.
Flacks Frozen Out
The fashion world being one of clean lines and dirty fights-and Heatherette being that world’s most notoriously, um, colorful designers-when news that the boys had unceremoniously fired their publicist floated across The Transom’s desk last week, we got a tingly feeling all over. Either the dandruff shampoo is working (’bout time!) or there’s a good old-fashioned fashion catfight out there, just in time for spring!
So, pray tell: Is there a great story behind the severing of ties between club kid designers Richie Rich and Traver Rains and their former publicist Mauricio Padilha-or what?
“Yes,” said Mr. Padilha, a co-owner of the popular fashion publicity firm Mao P.R. “But for the time being, I have no comment.”
Not so Aimee Phillips, the designers’ best friend and in-house P.R. lady for the last three years, who took over the fashion team’s whole publicity operation when Mr. Rains and Mr. Rich canned Mr. Padilha earlier this month.
“You might say the great story is that important editors were standing out in the freezing cold during Fashion Week because Mao doesn’t know how to put on a show,” she told us. “We didn’t make a formal announcement because we didn’t want any bad blood here. But I knew Mauricio was gonna be a brat about this.”
And then, just like a publicist, she corrected herself: “If everything is happy and amazing, people don’t leave P.R. firms. I’m happy. Richie’s happy. We’re all happy over here now. It’s a family. We just like to keep everything positive. No negative energy.”
Ms. Phillips, who was trained in the Susan Blond school of kill-‘em-with-kindness ambush P.R., takes over during the brand’s first big retail push. Heatherette, known for their celebrity fans (including Paris Hilton, who walked in their Fashion Week show this winter) and their bubble-gum designs, have in the past sold small quantities to scattered storefronts around the country. But this year, Nordstrom and Henri Bendel have picked up items from the Heatherette line, and Mr. Rains and Mr. Rich’s designs will be sold in all 50 states come this fall, Ms. Phillips said.
Anchored in a showroom on Seventh Avenue, the Heatherette pair are also opening a storefront on 57th Street and looking for a publicist to focus on the West Coast, Ms. Phillips said. “A lot of the stuff we want to do now is celebrity-driven, so it’ll be helpful to have someone out there who can rep us,” she said.
And when it comes getting publicity for your expanding operation on this coast, sometimes the best thing you can do is fire your publicist.
As Ms. Phillips said, “Richie is a P.R. machine. He understands P.R. better than most people I know.” Amen.
“What’s Purim?” asked Rob Corddry, the baby-headed correspondent of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, early Thursday morning. A mere 12 hours later, Mr. Corddry found himself transplanted from the screen underneath your cable box to a stage of roughly similar proportions underneath an Upper West Side temple performing in a Purim spiel.
The spiel, a re-enactment of the Old Testament story in which Queen Esther heroically saves the Semitic people from certain death at the hands of the evil Haman, was organized by the writer Rob Kutner, another Daily Show staffer.
Mr. Corddry, who describes himself as Jewish “by injection,” had been briefed prior to the affair by his wife Sandy who is, presumably, Jewish by a more traditional method. She made a special point to warn him of the customary booing of Haman, considering that Mr. Corddry is used to the genial applause and self-satisfied laughter from the studio audience of The Daily Show.
The event, a fund-raiser for Hazon, a Jewish environmental organization, was standing room only. The audience, who shelled out $15 for admission, was also generous with its response. The actor who played Haman, Seth Herzog, received one of the biggest laughs of the night during a quick change as he transformed from the evil Haman into a similarly natured Paris Hilton employing little more than a blackout and a pair of break-away pants.
The audience was as wildly costumed as they were easily pleased. Resplendent in a royal blue skirt and matching jacket, Nigel Savage, who runs Hazon, described Purim as a sort of “Jewish Mardi Gras.” While Mr. Savage gave his welcoming speech, Mr. Corddry noticed two audience members dressed as enormous catsup and mustard bottles, “Is there time to hug them?” he wondered aloud.
The show was comprised of sketches based on familiar television programs such as: “Desperate Matriarchs,” “Pimp My Steed” and “The Semitophobic Life.” The funniest sketch of the evening, however, was the parody of Lost called “Farloyrn Gegangen,” penned by Rob Kutner with the assistance of Eddy Portnoy. This sketch, performed entirely in Yiddish, achieved comedic mileage because of, rather than despite the fact, that none of the actors understood a word of what they were saying.
“Who needs a beer?” cried Rabbi Mark Ankcorn, esteemed leader of the congregation, as the show wrapped. Decked out completely in the gear of English football club Arsenal, from his cleats to his Arsenal yarmulke, the young blond rabbi distributed Mike’s Hard Lemonade and He’brews to the well-deserving cast.
Mr. Corddry, when asked if he would return to perform in the spiel again next year, replied, “Oh, yeah, sure,” then paused, “I’m really busy next year though.”
Good news, New Yorkers! After years of being pummeled ceaselessly by advertisers hawking all manner of soul-squeezing effluvia, it turns out it was all a big MISTAKE! The good folks on Madison Avenue were never out to subvert our thought-processes or drain our wallets! No, no, no! They just wanted to be our FRIENDS, maybe even (giggle, gasp), if we’re willing to let ‘em in, our FAMILY!!!
Not buying it, eh? Don’t worry, neither was most of the audience at Monday night’s Advertising: The Persuaders, a panel discussion moderated by PBS Frontline’s ace documentarian, Douglas Rushkoff. Based on Mr. Rushkoff’s recent Frontline special of the same title, the Persuaders panel pitted ad industry bigwigs against hotshot media and social critics, in what The Transom had hoped would be a knock-down, drag-out fight for America’s soul.
But with the Zen-like Rushkoff moderating, things never got too catty. In the ad man’s corner was Keith “we want to be your friend” Reinhard, the chairman of global ad giant DDB Worldwide, and also creator of the award-winning McDonald’s jingle “You Deserve a Break Today.” Mr. Reinhard looked every bit the slick salesman, in black-tailored suit and colorless silver-and-black tie, smiling gregariously as he dodged nearly every question regarding the possibly negative impacts of living in an ad-saturated society.
“We feel we have a responsibility not just to lift sales but to lift spirits as well. I know you’ll laugh at this”-The Transom froze in mid-smirk-“but it’s true. A lot of people like to sing the jingle, repeat the slogan.”
Mr. Reinhard went on to use a scene from the late Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman to illustrate his point. The Transom wasn’t quite sure how the image of Willie Loman kicking a refrigerator illustrated consumer contentment, but we still wanted to take Mr. Reinhard out for three fingers of Scotch after the discussion. He’s just that jolly.
With Mr. Rushkoff playing objective moderator, Mr. Reinhard’s main nemesis on the panel was Mark Crispin (“Not Your Token Liberal”) Miller, author of Boxed In: The Culture of TV and professor of media studies at N.Y.U. With his ruffled brown hair, thinking-casual sport coat and permanent expression of wry bemusement, Mr. Miller looked more like a Cheshire cat than a stuffy intellectual, and he was having none of Mr. Reinhard’s sunny spin on the ad industry:
“Advertisers spend a lot of time and energy lobbying Washington to get what they want. Food product companies don’t want to list their ingredients; they don’t want national studies done on childhood obesity. Nestlé wants you to mainline that shit. They want you to eat it with every meal. If I was the president of Nestlé that’s what I would want, too.”
Hovering in the middle of the debate was panelist Barbara Lippert, an award-winning advertising critic for Adweek. Ms. Lippert first earned our admiration when she described the ad industry as “a creepy old guy lusting after young people,” but she lost us after continually referring to various moronic ad campaigns as “brilliant.”
The panel did manage to agree that political ads had gone to the dogs, and even Messrs. Reinhard and Miller concurred on where to lay the blame: shoddy campaign consultants.
Mr. Reinhard, looking no doubt to shift the responsibility of educating voters off his own back, brought up former John Kerry consultant Bob Shrum’s comment that voters get their news from People magazine and Entertainment Tonight. Mr. Miller stopped his Cheshire routine long enough to dig some claws into Mr. Shrum:
“It’s sobering to me that a top Democratic aide would make such flippant remarks. That kind of thinking-‘They’re idiots, they’re stupid’-is more akin to fascist thinking than democratic.”
After Mr. Reinhard dodged Mr. Rushkoff’s query about the negative impact of ads, The Transom decided to stir the pot. We marched up to the mike and asked Mr. Reinhard if the ascension of TiVo and other ad-zapping technology did not prove that consumers today do indeed “deserve (and strongly desire) a break today” from the ad blitz?
“Oh, I think TiVo is great! It just challenges us to be more creative in how we offer entertainment and information!” Roger, dodger.
But while Mr. Reinhard played the eternal optimist, younger employees of the ad industry were left to figure out just how his concept of advertising as uplifting words from a beloved uncle would translate into reality.
“We do need to do more to elevate society as opposed to playing into stereotypes,” said Laurie Seltzer, a freelance ad copywriter in the audience. “But I would’ve liked to hear more about when and how that’s going to happen in the future.”
We would’ve loved to hear that too, but we had to rush home in time for Entertainment Tonight.