AFTER LEAVING GOVERNMENT, public servants like the outgoing White House press secretary traditionally cash in by segueing to the private sector. To which Hollywood should say to the president’s soon-to-be-unemployed spokesman, “Scott McClellan, come on down!”
Based on McClellan’s stint in the Bush administration — where the image of a pinata frequently comes to mind — there hasn’t been anyone this suited to flacking for studios and networks since President Clinton’s Mike (“I’m not going to parse the statement”) McCurry, and before that Joe Isuzu.
Granted, Hollywood’s infatuation with Washington, and vice versa, is nothing new; still, few transplants would arrive as girded for battle as McClellan. As NPR’s Andrea Seabrook observed, “His whole raison d’etre was to obfuscate, squelch, conceal and mask the truths reporters sought.” Perfectamundo!
Admittedly, there would be a learning curve adjusting to a new town, but that’s nothing a fancy car with GPS couldn’t cure. More pragmatically, it’s hardly a huge leap from defending President Bush’s Iraq policy to concocting excuses for NBC’s “Celebrity Cooking Showdown,” and mercifully, only careers were harmed in developing the latter.
In fact, the Bush team should turn this opportunity into a cultural exchange program — tapping the talented folks charged with puffing up ratings for “This Week With George Stephanopoulos,” who recently noted that the last-rated program enjoyed “the greatest quarter-to-quarter growth of the Sunday discussion shows among the key demo … despite being rescheduled (due to sports) in … 7.66% of the country.”
Come on, that kind of quality spin doesn’t grow on trees.
Indeed, such creative number-crunching could easily be translated into explaining the yawning budget deficit or why 50 bucks to fill the gas tank really isn’t so bad allowing for inflation.
THE MOST PERPLEXING ITEM, meanwhile, is word that the short list of potential McClellan replacements includes Fox News Channel’s pompous pontificator Tony Snow, a top-notch Bush apologist. Honestly, what fiscal sense does it make to pay to put a guy on payroll that carries your water for free?
Of course, one could argue that McClellan did a terrible job bolstering the president’s image. However, that ignores NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen’s persuasive contention that McClellan ably executed the White House plan to engage in “strategic non-communication,” a rope-a-dope tactic designed to nullify the press through the banality of his answers and relentless repetition of talking points — chanting lines like, “We are focused on the priorities that the American people care most about and getting things done. … There are a lot of important priorities we’re working to advance. … And that’s where our focus is.”
This PR strategy, cleverly captured in the movie “Thank You for Smoking,” could also be called the “Star Wars” approach — deflecting an unfavorable question by saying, “These aren’t the Droids you’re looking for,” or, as applied to TV, “You don’t really need to know the ratings for ‘Huff’ or ‘Conversations With Michael Eisner.’ Now go about your business.”
Anyway, should McClellan need help navigating L.A., when in doubt, take Olympic Boulevard. Beyond that, he’s as well prepared as anyone to master this domain. Hell, I can see the reality TV show already: “The Spin Doctor of 90210.”
MAGNUM’ FORCE: During a Q&A regarding his latest CBS movie as Robert B. Parker’s troubled sheriff Jesse Stone, Tom Selleck was asked about the prospects of a long-discussed “Magnum P.I.” feature, which has languished through Universal’s ownership by Japanese, Canadian and French interests.
In one of those bracing moments of clarity, Selleck reiterated that if the project followed the path of most TV-to-feature adaptations — where, he said, a studio “spends about $100 million on explosions, and then makes fun of” the original — he’d sit things out and couldn’t in good conscience encourage “Magnum” fans to attend.
Rifling through the sorry history of such bigscreen transplants as “Charlie’s Angels,” “I, Spy,” “The Mod Squad,” “The Wild, Wild West” and “Starsky & Hutch,” Selleck has it right. Post-modern irony has its place, but despite several nice opening weekends, the TV-to-feature trend has yielded mostly terrible movies precisely because studios and filmmakers exhibit zero respect toward the source material. That’s why more people associated with the shows should adopt Selleck’s attitude when passed the remake pipe and just say “No.”