This piece pretty much speaks for itself but keep in mind I write this to read them so the italics, the caps, etc. are more cues for me as I’m reading than proper written form. Also, I wish the story about NBC wanting to do a sitcom with the Muppets had come out last week because, boy, it really sells my point better than anything. (I had lots more to say about the NBC/Muppets arrangement on Twitter today.)
This week, NBC Nightly News announced it hired Chelsea Clinton as a correspondent for “Making A Difference,” its series of heartwarming feature stories. This was really good news because woo! Someone in media is hiring! Or rather, someone…is hiring.
Before I sat down to work on this piece I thought “This is not a big deal. The real issue here is the larger story about how NBC’s news and entertainment divisions are completely lacking in ideas that aren’t brought to them by a bold-faced name” – an idea I promise you I’ll get back to in a moment. But then I finally read the New York Times report that broke the story and I can understand why media critics, bloggers and people on barstools everywhere all turned into little howler monkeys over the news.
Back in July, “an intermediary” contacted Steve Capus, the president of NBC News to tell him Chelsea Clinton was “kicking around what she wanted to do next.” This is amazing for a couple of reasons: 1) In 2011, someone can describe looking for a job with the same words I used in 1997 to discuss hippies on the quad…
And 2) If you found yourself both in need of a job and employing an intermediary wouldn’t you just lay off the intermediary and save yourself both the money and the trouble of getting a job?
But it gets worse. The president of NBC News starts the conversation – and I can’t emphasize this enough THIS IS THE PRESIDENT OF NBC NEWS – by asking “What are you interested in doing?” This is the equivalent of him sliding a piece of paper over to her and saying “We’d like you to take this piece of paper and write down a number…and a job description…and the number of weekly spa appointments you’d like us to make for you. And that! Is our final offer.”
The article goes on to say that “One person close to Ms. Clinton said she had been quietly raising her profile for some time, though the public had not been completely aware of it.” which again says to me you really ought to think of firing your intermediary but also if there’s anyone to blame for the public’s lack of awareness of Chelsea Clinton’s profile-raising…that person is Chelsea Clinton. Not only did Chelsea refuse to make herself available for comment after NBC’s announcement, she also – while in the process of campaigning for her mother’s run for the Presidency in 2008 – refused not only questions from the national press but also a question from a 4th grade reporter for Scholastic News who dared to ask her how good of a First Man her Dad would be if her mom was President. To that question, Chelsea replied: “I’m sorry, I don’t talk to the press and that applies to you, unfortunately.” Burrrrnnnn….
To be fair to Chelsea, she did participate in a press release. In it she said “I hope telling stories through ‘Making a Difference’ will help me to live my grandmother’s adage of ‘Life is not about what happens to you, but about what you do with what happens to you.’ ”
Look, I don’t want to shit on anybody’s grandma…but that kinda crap is what privileged people say when they don’t need to do anything but wait for things to happen to them. The president of NBC News said “Hey, do you want a job?” And Chelsea said “Yeah” and now, Chelsea, you’re going to do be on NBC News because of something that happened to you after your intermediary made a phone call when you were “kicking around what to do next.” When you are Chelsea Clinton or the children of Tim Russert or John McCain or George W. Bush, life is only about what happens to you. You don’t actually have to go out and make stuff happen. You just wait for someone at NBC to say “Hey, do you wanna work here?”
Because when you’re NBC, you hope that familiarity doesn’t so much breed contempt as it does ratings. This year, NBC famously rolled out three shows to much fanfare: The Playboy Club, a show about pretty much what it sounds like; Prime Suspect, a reimagining of a popular British television show and Whitney, a sitcom built around a woman best known as the sidekick of Chelsea Handler, the late-night cable TV comedian. The Playboy Club was cancelled after three episodes and Prime Suspect is dead as well though Whitney is still around despite…I swear I tried to come up with an explanation here or a joke or something but seriously no one knows why the fuck this show is still on the air.
This insistence on television as a security blanket even extends to NBC’s midseason replacements. In a list of upcoming shows on nbc.com are shows based on a book by Chelsea Handler, a reality show about wild and crazy senior citizens starring Betty White, a reality show about fashion starring Elle McPherson and finally a show called The Firm which, yes, is based on the John Grishman novel WHICH CAME OUT ALMOST 20 YEARS AGO.
Unfortunately for NBC, cliches – especially the one about familiarity and contempt – are often true for a reason. New York magazine’s Vulture blog recently released…uh, a slideshow that detailed Nielsen’s recent ratings book and the news was not good for NBC. The network has zero shows in Nielsen’s list of the 40 most-watched shows on TV. Zero. Out of 40.
If you listen to my dad, the problem with America is it doesn’t make anything anymore. NBC has a similar problem. Its fortunes rise or fall on the strength of brands it has little connection to and that mean more to most people than the network itself with the exception of Chelsea Clinton’s future colleague Brian Williams, the current NBC Nightly News anchor and host of the newsmagazine show Rock Center, which is such an awful title you have to imagine that Brian Williams Is Handsome, Smart And Such A Nice Boy was running a close second. NBC’s made Williams into an almost one-man viral video generator, having him appear on The Today Show, Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock and Jay Leno. For a network devoid of product it can call its own, this is an incredibly smart move. According to Vulture’s…slideshow, under Williams, NBC Nightly News is averaging more viewers than all but two of its shows. Sure this is like raving about the turd with the most polish on it, but the fact remains NBC’s most important brand is its news. A brand it decided was best served by the addition of Chelsea Clinton, who once refused to answer a 4th grade reporter’s question.
Maybe if NBC’s lucky, she’ll agree to stick around until Malia and Sasha get tall enough for the camera.