Sumner Redstone isn’t letting some of the worst press of his career stop him from getting what he wants.
Nearly a year after reports suggested the Viacom chairman engaged in questionable behavior, the TV show that triggered the embarrassing episode is actually seeing the light of day, albeit quietly.
Not a single media outlet noticed Wednesday when MTV issued a press release announcing the launch of unscripted series “The Electric Barbarellas.” The show follows an all-girl pop band–the very same group Redstone was reportedly so enamored with that he ordered the network to create a reality show around them despite objections from executives including MTV Networks CEO Judy McGrath, according to The Daily Beast.
That story got even more attention when Redstone left a threatening message on now-former Beast reporter Peter Lauria’s voicemail assuring him it was OK to reveal the source within his company who divulged the “Barbarellas” backstory.” Lauria posted the voicemail on the Beast website, which led to even more humiliating stories intimating Redstone mixed business with pleasure like a New York Post dispatch suggesting the octogenarian exec had a twentysomething woman put on the payroll at Showtime, a cable channel owned by Redstone-controlled CBS Corp.
You might think all that might have killed prospects for “Barbarellas” making it to air, but apparently not. Which isn’t to say MTV seems thrilled to have Redstone’s pet project. Consider some telltale signs of residual resentment, like the fact that MTV issued the press release for the project just a week before its May 4 premiere.
Plus the release only specifies the producers from the production company that created “Barbarella,” Go Go Luckey Prods., and not any of the MTV executives responsible for shepherding it to air, though that’s standard for the network’s programming announcements.
“Barbarellas” has only a six-episode commitment and a late-night time period, 11 p.m. While it’s not unheard of for MTV to schedule original programming in that hour, it’s the 10 p.m. period the network clearly reserves for its pride and joy, from “Jersey Shore” to its upcoming “Teen Wolf” remake.
Could it be that MTV is doing just enough to convince Redstone his beloved “Barbarellas” is getting a fair shot but not administering quite the level of care the network bestows on would-be hits?
That said, “Barbarellas” was promoted on air Thursday during “The Real World,” priceless exposure considering the series turned out to be its highest rated episode in three years.
Reserve judgement on “Barbarellas” until it unspools next week, though the commercial does give some indication MTV probably isn’t going to be submitting “Barbarellas” for Emmy consideration. As this trailer indicates, it’s as unapologetically trashy as “Shore.” But instead of letting cameras track upstanding Italian-Americans, “Barbarellas” is about a gaggle of Lady Gaga wannabes who know it takes controversy to get noticed.
The first episode seems to be about the Barbarellas single “Girls,” a poignant ode to same-sex attraction that would make Katy Perry and Jill Sobule proud with lyrics like “I’m not looking for a relationship, just curious/we don’t have to be in love, it’s not serious.”
If that doesn’t get attention, the Barbarellas have taken to another timeless method for generating publicity: picking a Twitter fight with reporter Lauria. As @THEbarbarellas tweet with what may or may not be self-mockery, “Hopefully our skankiness was up to your expectations.”
Don’t bet on a Redstone cameo in “Barbarellas,” but wouldn’t that have been nice? After all, there’s a love story to tell here, about one man who stands by his women through thick and thin. Question Redstone’s personal life if you must, but give him this much: he’s not afraid of commitment.