Charlie Sheen or Chuck Lorre?
(Year Seven of Robb’s Illustrious Career)
People sometimes ask me about “Reality TV.” They aren’t quite sure if it’s really such a big change in the business or why. They might know that I (and thousands of other TV production employees) got “squeezed out” of the industry by Reality TV, but they’re not sure what that means exactly. Here’s what I tell them:
In my first 4 or 5 jobs in the business (before Reality TV), my gigs lasted 9 months each. An entire office of production staff, including 6-8 WGA writers. In those 9 months we produced 13 hours of TV, and then we were unemployed.
My last job in the business was on a Reality TV show. The gig lasted 1 week. No writers. In that 1 week we produced 4 hours of TV, and then we were unemployed.
Stay with me here:
Everybody see Jon Stewart take on Jim Cramer last night? Stewart destroyed him. No, wait, that’s too easy – he actually did more than that. Stewart destroyed the financial press in this country. No, he actually did more than that. Stewart destroyed the media. And for someone who has built his entire life on the idea of writing for the media, that is quite a lot for me to say. Stewart destroyed everything.
How did Stewart do this? By being a grown-up. By actually believing that Cramer and CNBC and the financial press and the entire media is supposed to serve us. To be held accountable to us. He didn’t destroy Cramer so much as dare to live in a different world than Cramer lives in. That world that most of us have somehow found ourselves living in.
Cramer was saying that in the game-show world of the financial press – in the game-show world of the media – people can get caught up in the crazy game and make mistakes. Stewart just looked at him and asked him how he can be so useless and so shallow and so pitiful as to live in a game-show world. This shit is real. This is not a game show. Grow up.
The world financial system is not supposed to be a game show. The financial press and journalism are not supposed to live in a game-show world. Grow up.
My wife and I sat there open-mouthed. We had expected 30 minutes of light-hearted banter. What we got was the truth.
Sometimes you know something. You know it intellectually but you kind of take it for granted and it fades away into the background and then every once in a while – BOOM – it hits you again and it knocks you off your ass and you feel surprised. But more than surprised, you feel embarrassed and even ashamed that you were surprised. Because you already knew it. You were supposed to have already known it so you weren’t supposed to be surprised. That’s what happened last night.
When the show was over, in my knocked-off-my-ass stupor, I flipped to the Weather Channel. You know, to figure out what to wear to work in the morning. This is where my life really started to shatter. Did I get the weather report? No. I got a middle-aged woman standing in front of a weather map of the U.S. talking about twitter. The woman – who was supposed to be telling me about the weather forecast – was telling me that The Weather Channel has some relationship with twitter where people can tweet each other telling each other what the weather is like right now. This is where I lost it.
I don’t want someone – some random person – to tweet what the weather is right now. That is not news or expertise. What I want is a meteorologist, an educated expert – a grown-up – to tell me what the weather will be like tomorrow. Just like what I want from CNBC is a sober-minded, educated and expert financial analyst – a grown-up – to give me financial news. Not a game-show host. Does that make me a grumpy old man? Maybe. What it makes me is a grown-up.
But wait: that’s not really what this post is about. This is what it is about: youth culture is out of control and my life has to change.
Some say that before the mid-1950s, before James Dean, there was no youth culture. Or more accurately, there was no mass-marketed youth culture. There were troubled teens and adolescent ordeals, yes, but there was no mass-marketed idea of “cool.” There were no PG-13 movies, no TV shows, no alternative music. In the movies, people went from being “kids” to “grown-ups,” with nothing in between. Was this reality? No, but it was the media.
Then along came Elvis, and James Dean, and Bob Dylan, and the 60s, and the counterculture. These images were mass-marketed, and finally kids everywhere knew what they were supposed to do to be “cool.” Suddenly there was a global understanding of “us” vs. “them,” of a “generation gap” which had never been acknowledged before on a global scale. You still had the stodgy old grown-ups who were born before this and didn’t “get it” (like Nixon), but all the “cool kids” could be cynical and cool, sticking it to “the man.” Forever young. It became better to be “cool” than to be “square,” or respectable, or grown up. “I hope I die before I get old,” etc.
And here we are in 2009. Now the “cool kids” are all we have left. Everybody running things today – the government, finance, all our institutions – grew up after the advent of youth culture. They would rather be cool than be grown-ups, no matter how ridiculous or misguided their actions really are. So today weather experts would rather talk about twitter than give weather forecasts. Financial experts would rather live in a fast-paced game-show world than be bothered with the state of the real economy. You have to admit, it is more fun. It is cooler than the weather or finance. And the kids today might actually accept you and not look at you as “square” or “a grown-up.” Anything but that. We all know the “kids’ table” is much cooler than the “grown-up table.”
Watching that weather forecaster blather on about twitter, it dawned upon me that this is all the media is: trying to look cool to today’s youth. The only things they are going to do, the only movies or TV shows they are going to make, are projects that look cool to the youth culture, no matter how ridiculous or misguided they are on their face. This goes for everything – even weather, even finance.
Like I said, sometimes you intellectually know something but it still knocks you off your ass anyway.
I don’t want to be a grown-up either. It’s not as much fun as being a kid or living in a game-show world. But I am a grown-up. Somehow I’ve become one (like Jon Stewart). I don’t care about youth culture or about looking cool or Twittering or living in a game show. The stories I am interested in – and interested in writing – are not about youth culture, they are not for youth culture, they are completely uninterested in youth culture. And yet what I am is a writer. And I have built everything on the idea of writing for the media.
I have to tell you, I just don’t see it happening. In my 20s, when I had just moved to L.A. and had an agent and was pitching stuff and writing TV samples, sure. My culture was youth culture. That was me, and my Seinfeld sample was damn good. But now? I’m 40 and I just have zero interest in Twitter or American Idol or comic books. So I just don’t see it happening for me. It’s time to move on. Seriously.