Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Golden Globes and the Glory of Ryan Seacrest

It's hard out there for a red-carpet interviewer.

Frankly, most people suck at this job. The newbies, still green behind the ears (I'm looking at you, Ben Lyons) tend to wax synchophantic and get all swoony over the celebs. (Although with the way that E!'s Giuliana Ransic was creaming her jeans over Brad and Angie waving at her, you'd be hard-pressed to remember she's been around awhile.)

Most tend to fall into the vapid vat of "ooh, celebrities, aren't they pretty?" with an occasional twinge of "how does this help my career?" thrown in (Ross Matthews). Which is where the whole "What are you wearing?" debacle originated. When in doubt, ask about their dress.

We can thank (or hate forever) Joan Rivers for that. Rivers, easily the worst red-carpet interviewer in history, who in addition to being vengeful and spiteful and mean, had the annoying habit of forgetting who these damn people were, what they'd been in, what relevance they had to anything, and being long schooled in the comedy of "talk about what you know" started asking about the dresses.

Now, that's all anyone gloms on to. Props in this awards season so far go to Melissa Leo. "What are you wearing?" "My tux," she said non-plussed. I loved her for that.

No, it's a very difficult balance a red-carpet interviewer must walk. If you don't care, you're Joan Rivers. If you care too much, you're Star Jones, and asking everyone to come on The View or ogle her wedding plans.

Truthfully, the red carpet has not been a safe place to walk since Steve Kmetko and Jules Asner held court. Now, THEY knew how to ask the right questions. They knew how to keep the celebritydom in check. Since they've been gone, we've had a vast wasteland of interviewers, most caught up in dress mania, few giving anything of substance at all.

Sam Rubin must be commended as a good interim host. He asks good questions, but even he tends to the fake and air-kissy.

What a surprise, a revelation, even, it was this weekend to see the "my God, this man is everywhere!" host, Ryan Seacrest doing a bang-up job on the red carpet for the Globes. After awhile, I had the unusual sensation of thinking, I really want to hear what Ryan asks this one. Never a comment out of place, never a synchophantic note. All was in order.

He not only appropriately juggled each celebrity (apologizing to Natalie Portman for making a pregnant woman walk up some stairs), he made the most of every moment: bringing Jimmy Fallon and Jason Segal up to sing a song. He knew people's credits (whether because he actually knew, or because he had a great producer whispering in his ear, I don't care—he was on it). It felt real.

I realized when watching him that Ryan Seacrest on the red carpet is the new breed of celebrity interviewer. He made them feel comfortable, being asked inane questions. He even got interesting answers out of them. Because of that, he made us feel comfortable watching, instead of wanting to throw something at the TV. I was grateful to him for that.

Whatever the tenuous balance is: between curiosity about things that are none of our business, and learning more about upcoming projects, and asking how someone is feeling at that moment, Seacrest was really the best in a very long time. In fact, during awards shows, I am normally a maniac with the remote, madly switching back and forth between E! and TVGuide and NBC and whoever else is covering it, because none of them are doing it very well.

Seacrest changed all that. The social-media-friendly celeb interviewer really is on to something here with the tenor and caliber of his interviewing, and I'm truly looking forward to his SAG and Oscar coverage.


Friday, January 14, 2011

On Obsolescence

The world changed for me around this moment. It was at a tech conference, probably Seybold, probably Boston, around 1993 or '94. The creator of Netscape had just showed us our first spinning globe, and had tried to explain the power in front of us, this new thing called the Internet.

There was talk, even then, about content creation. Rather than take in the majesty of being able to chat with someone easily on the other side of the world that Marc Andreessen was so enamoured of, everyone, even then, was trying to figure out how to make money on this thing.

One advertising schmuck steps up to the mic during question time and asks simply: "Why would anyone want to create their own content?"

That was the moment for me. The moment that held in the question all the ignorance and arrogance of old media that caused it to completely fall in the time from then to now. I could tell in hearing the question that it was the wrong question to be asking. I could also tell that old media and advertising types thought the question perfectly reasonable. In that moment, I couldn't tell why the question sat so oddly with me.

Let's look deeper.

At that moment in time, old media (MSM) had been spoonfeeding us what they considered important: books, TV shows, movies, records, newspaper stories, advertising campaigns. We, the big monoliths, know better than you. We will only give you what we see fit, and you will like it. Yeah, I can't imagine why anyone would want to change THAT status quo.

Their fault wasn't that they didn't see the importance of the Internet at that moment, they certainly did. They just never conceived (and truthfully many big companies STILL don't) that this new way of doing things made them irrelevant.

So when you ask yourself what must it have been like, when that buggy maker first heard about this newfangled "automobile" thing, I can tell you. The reaction, very likely, was the same. It doesn't matter. We're still going to be around. Everyone's always going to need buggies. Um, right?

That moment was nearly 20 years ago now. Here's what's changed, in case you missed it. Newspapers have died, most people get their news from Twitter and The Daily Show. Terrestrial radio has been replaced by Internet radio, Pandora and listening to downloaded music. People watch more TV on their computer or their DVR than what's actually broadcast in real time. Magazines, god love 'em, are still publishing, nearly all of them at a loss. Books have been replaced by ebooks and self-publishing. More people watch movies in the comfort of their home than in a multiplex.

And to that ad guy's next question: How are we gonna make money on this thing? Streams of Internet revenue now surpass every other medium. Last year, in the thick of the Recession, every other media stream lost money. Internet revenue was up.

This, then, is what's really going on. Millions of people lost their jobs in recent years. Those jobs aren't coming back. The world has changed completely.

Many of us, who trained in those industries, look around and see our skills as totally worthless. That's what's scary. Who needs a buggymaker anymore? Or a blacksmith? Typesetters? Printers? Worthless.

All of this was set off for me when I installed the new Mac OS, which comes with the new "App Store." There, among the shiny new apps, was one called "The Print Shop." My life flashed before my eyes. All those hours of creating business cards and letterheads and things that other people didn't want to bother with: there it is in one little app, for $50. Postcards, labels, banners, calendars, CD cases—any one of which we would've charged at least $50 to create for ya. There they were. Just pick your template, and boom!

So the answer, Mr. Advertising Guy, to your world-changing question: Why would anyone want to create their own content? BECAUSE THEY CAN.