Jamboree: Carville's Last Crusade; Netflix Numerology
A new doc depicts the famed strategist's desperate battle to stop Trump
In the department of sure-to-be interesting things: documentarian Matthew Tyrnauer is completing a fascinating project he’s been shooting for the past year. He’s followed the steps of James Carville — the Ragin’ Cajun who burst to fame as the principle strategist of Bill Clinton’s 1992 victory and star of another documentary about that campaign, RJ Cutler’s The War Room, which gave viewers an unprecedented look at the workings of a modern presidential campaign. Carville went on to become the foremost spokesman for a brand of working-class, economically-focused progressive politics which has fallen out of favor with the Democratic party elites since then.
Tyrnauer, whose previous credits include Valentino: the Last Emperor and Where’s My Roy Cohn? captures Carville in the documentary at the other end of his career in presidential campaigns, as the lion of Democratic politics embarks on one last crusade to stop Donald Trump from regaining office. In the path to that, the film chronicles his thus-far quixotic fight within his own tent to persuade President Joe Biden to step aside as his party’s candidate.
Among the revelations I found most interesting: the War Room quarter of Carville, Stephanopoloous, media advisor Mandy Grunwald and pollster Stanely Greenberg begin most days with a four-way conference call, 30 years later.
The film does not yet have a distributor but is about to hit the streets.
The Penske Globe Floggers
Back a week or two ago, the question lingered: how are the Penske publications going to cover the Globes owned by their company like this is totally normal?
The answer is they just will.
And frankly, why should that be a surprise? Within Official Tradeland the capacity for irony or self-awareness went up in smoke long ago.
One can understand the confusion though, and why the notion of breaking every single rule in the book of journalism ethics in one swoop might have caused some awkwardness in what are ostensibly, still, even in 2023, outlets of journalism.
In buying the Globes and then allowing its outlets to cover it without anything more than the pro forma disclaimer after paragraph 37, Penske Media owns the show that Jay Penske’s reporters are covering, in publications which the studios that want to win awards at that show are obliged to buy ads and participate in an endless parade of award season shenanigans. All as its reporters predict the outcome, an outcome decided by — you guessed it — their Penske Media colleagues in its Golden Globe members division (reminder, now for profit).
To be sure, nobody’s actually seen anyone hand people giant envelopes of cash. But short of that, is there a red line that isn’t trampled in this?
The whole thing is such a jaw-dropping debacle that it defies imagination, and would make one hope that even the awards pundit class would have an ounce of shame here.
But no, of course not.
As the awards were announced, pundits of the trade monopoly trooped out not just to comment on the nominations but to hype and elevate the importance of a show, as its in-house marketing arm, that has been on the brink of being wiped off the planet.
Nothing to see here folks. At every pillar of Penske Media, the Globe nominations were given with full Royal Visit treatment, with pre-interviews, tune in info, snubs and surprises, reactions from the nominated and of course, endless awards punditry.
Scott Feinberg at Penske Media’s THR:
“The first Golden Globe Award nominations issued by the new Golden Globes organization — an overhaul of the late Hollywood Foreign Press Association, with a lot of new members, new rules and a new broadcasting partner in CBS — were issued early Monday morning, and you know what? They’re pretty unobjectionable.”
Unobjectionable! Not bad. Who could object to unobjectionable?
“My sense is that by becoming a much larger and more international voting body than it used to be — there were roughly 100 voters last year, all based in the L.A. area, and there were 302 this year, the majority not — the Globes has become higher-brow and more of a barometer of the Oscars than it used to be. (Disclosure: Golden Globes producer Dick Clark Productions is owned by Penske Media Eldridge, a joint venture between Penske Media Corporation and Eldridge that also owns The Hollywood Reporter.)”
Note the disclosure. There’s nothing you can’t do or say if you just put in a line of disclosure. Like reaffirming that your boss’s new baby is — sound the fanfare — “more of a barometer of the Oscars than it used to be.” Which in awards punditry is the very highest compliment you can bestow. If Jay Penske in just one year can make the Globes a more reliable barometer, well then he’s a showbiz miracle worker on a scale of Cecil B. DeMille.
Of course, that sentiment that they’ve become a more reliable barometer is based on absolutely nothing, given that we have no idea who the Oscars are going to nominate. But given that they nominated a full 32 films for the various best picture categories, it is pretty likely that that umbrella will cover anyone Oscar chooses to nominate allowing them to claim barometer status.
Over at Variety, chief pundit Clayton Davis also found not a thing unusual about this whole arrangement and began his piece noting in the very first line, “The Oscar race is coming into focus with the Golden Globes nominations.”
See? Two awards pundits can’t be wrong. Even if they work for the producer of the show!
I’m sure if anyone dared question them they would say, Oh, no no. Conflict? You must be mad! They were free to criticize and to hold the show’s feet to the fire, no one told them not to mention the many odd choices and lingering controversies.
They just decided not to. Every single employee of Penske Media just looked at the Globes and the only word that came to mind was “barometer.” And they reported it as they saw it.
So many will read this and complain: why am I getting so worked up about taking the silly Globes — or any awards show — seriously. To which I want to make clear that I’m not and my position on this is well established.
What I’m taking seriously is the major, shall we say, monopoly conglomerate in trade coverage granting itself this lane where ethics need not be taken quite so seriously.
There’s always been a little bit of, well, it’s just awards. We don’t have to really be so uptight about it all. Which is...what it is, at this point you’re howling at the wind on that topic.
But when the monopoly conglomerate decides not just to have this little area where they will scrape some icing off the cake to keep going, but that they’re going to devour the whole 20 layers on their own, one has to wonder whether the “This is silly so it doesn’t count” exemption (a very real rule I leaned in my journalism correspondence studies at the Bryman College for Good Reporting) is large enough to cover this whole amazing maneuver.
Related: Scoop of the Week
As with any big move from Netflix, it leaves room for the conspiracy-minded (like myself) to decode manifold mysteries. This week The Service and Ted himself summoned the press for what seemed a shockingly mundane subject to warrant the time and involvement of the CEO himself — the unveiling of their new viewership report.
It might have been a mundane little spreadsheet, but with Ted’s presence, however, maximum coverage was obtained for the new report, heralded as Netflix finally opening the books and sharing all its numbers with the public.
A few thoughts come to mind:
• While this is a big trove for streaming business nerds, it’s a long way from opening the books. More like subbing one set of public metrics for another.
• That said, this is a lot of info and it clearly sets Netflix as the industry leader in numbers transparency. Which is a long journey from its early streaming years when it pioneered previously unknown levels of secrecy.
• What is the purpose? Getting advertisers to focus on engagement above all. Which I bet they will be successful at. Netflix has an amazing ability to get the industry and the media to accept its terms of debate and redefine the definitions along their lines. Part of the benefit of constantly playing offense, rather than the hunkered-down defensive posture of others, is that you keep the world trying to keep up the dance to your tune.
• The revelations also have a sort of shock and awe effect on the competition. Look how many different things we are doing and how much we are going of them in so many different categories and in so many different corners of the globe. It’s a little pre-shot across the bow at Disney when it claims in a few months that the combined Disney+ and Hulu bundle is now the #1 streaming service. Netflix then can lay out this spreadsheet and ask, if you’re so number one, have you got anything that looks remotely like this?
• However, the biggest effect of this might be the downstream impact of having these numbers out there. For the past decade everyone who worked in the streaming sector lived in this cozy world of data secrecy. During the strikes, many (most) complained about the lack of the numbers for their work, but the effect was that there was no downside to taking the streaming checks — if the show bombed, no one would ever know. Now, everyone will know. And if you’re an actor or a creator whose show doesn’t find an audience, or whose shows routinely don’t find audiences, expect to see these new Netflix engagement reports at your next contract negotiation. The effect of this: People will have to think a lot harder about these paycheck streaming jobs. That check might now cost you more than you can imagine.