January 2012
Volume 32 No. 1

January 2012
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My Two Cents

As our friend Russ Kagan (those who don't know Russ raise their hands!) says when greeting friends, "didn't you get the memo [about wearing the pink Ralph Lauren Polo shirt]?"

Before I get to the issue at hand, let me digress and go on the record about the most popular outfit for the typical stylish international TV executive, of which I'm a convert: Button-down Ralph Lauren Polo shirt (preferably pink) with a Hermes necktie and laced-up leather shoes. If it's cold outside, the coat has to be Burberry, as does the scarf.

Now, on to another sort of memo to the top-level executives who will be delivering speeches at NATPE: Please remember that we are not in the brain surgery business and that the entertainment sector is not a life or death industry.

The Motion Picture Academy, for example, has finally discovered that humor is far more appreciated at the Oscars than profound statements, and comedian Billy Crystal will be emceeing the February 26 telecast. So, it should be crystal clear to NATPE's show runners that a dose of humor could benefit an international market as well.

Lately, I've been listening to speeches by TV execs that are enlightening, informative, profound, thoughtful and visionary, yet…boring, lifeless, and devoid of the kind of humor that makes a speech memorable and inspirational. Today's keynote speakers should model their style after Sir Winston Churchill, who in the midst of a war did not lose his spirit and sense of humor. As he said on November 10, 1942 during the Battle of Egypt:

"Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." Or when he said: "A politician needs the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn't happen."

How about former Italian Prime Minister and media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi, who, while under investigation for corruption, bribery, embezzlement, Mafia collusion, tax evasion, abuse of power, conflict of interest and sex with an underage prostitute, and in the midst of an Italian-led financial crisis that threatened to bring the European Union down, was quoted as saying (I'm paraphrasing): "Let do the bunga-bunga and call our political party, Pussy Power [Forza Gnocca]."

Or even Cameron Diaz, who, when tensely asked by the bad guys in the thriller Night and Day why Tom Cruise's character did not kill her, answered, "Because he doesn't like me."

Besides, today's audience is constantly multi-tasking — another sign of widespread Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). In the dark conference rooms, the audience signals that a speech is becoming boring when shafts of light emanate from their smartphones, like the blue beams in Avatar. Not that having ADD is a bad thing –– it's actually helpful to hypochondriacs: when convinced that they're going to die, before calling 911 they quickly get distracted by other thoughts.

The point is that an infusion of humor is so important that even churches are now resorting to comedy in order to amuse dispirited congregations (the so-called "Christian Comedy"). In our case, trade shows such as NATPE should invite comics to introduce a special speaker, have a roast of TV executives (i.e., picking on someone with humor, like the White House journalists do with presidents), or even invite comics from local comedy clubs to explain (possibly without expletives) the facts of life in the TV industry. As long as they understand that bad gay jokes work in Tallahassee, but not in Miami Beach.

We'd all like to see the human side of top-level TV executives, who normally seem remote and aloof, are difficult to reach on the phone and even more unapproachable in person. We should not only be familiar with their temperamental reputation, which usually –– despite the help of internal and external PR spin doctors –– tends to overshadow their other good characteristics.
In show business, the "show" is an integral part of our business. Let's make sure that trade organizers at least acknowledge it with humor.

Dom Serafini