WE’RE GOING TO REALLY CHANGE channels this week, turning the remote control toward politics, sports and entertainment to explore a little something that, lacking any other name, we’ll call “the currency of fame.”
What is the currency of fame? In a nutshell, it’s the fascination people successful in one field have with those who achieve fame in another arena — a theory best explained, if memory serves, by former Laker star Michael Cooper, who said the relationship between the team and the movie stars who populated the Forum in its heyday was based on the fact that “we all want to be them and they all want to be us.”
The currency of fame puts Arsenio Hall courtside at Lakers games, and Magic Johnson in the front row at Earth, Wind & Fire concerts. Rodney King (yes, that Rodney King) turned up at a Dodgers game as the guest of several players. Last week in New York, the Knicks-Chicago Bulls series brought out Spike Lee, Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Murray and Woody Allen. The Clippers didn’t establish their local credentials until Billy Crystal started frequenting home games.
No one is immune from such cross-pollination, as Dan Rather’s fawning over Bill and Hillary Clinton at CBS’ affiliate meeting demonstrates. Politicians like California Gov. Pete Wilson line up to have their pictures taken with Charlton Heston and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and vice versa. After all, if you can put Ben Hur, El Cid, Moses and the Terminator in your corner, why not?
WHY BRING THIS UP NOW? Because the Hollywood-Washington connection, with a Democrat back in the White House, has become the story of the hour, leading to charges about President Clinton’s fascination with showbiz. The story has placed special emphasis on the role of the television production community — the same community that beat up on then-Vice President Dan Quayle, tag team-style, at last year’s Primetime Emmy Awards.
“Nightline” recently devoted an episode to the Clinton-gone-Hollywood issue, following articles in the New York Times, Washington Post and New Republic that generally disparaged the fitness of Hollywood types when it comes to public-policy concerns.
Then there’s the White House travel flap, involving producer Harry Thomason in a scandal that’s proven if nothing else an embarrassment, smacking of nepotism and cronyism at a time when the president has bigger fish to fry and budgets to balance. To be fair, Thomason and his wife, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason , have been defiant of efforts to label them part of the “Hollywood community” or imply anything untoward in the presidential access of showbiz types.
As the “Nightline” segment pointed out, there’s nothing new in ties between famous people from different fields. What the program overlooked was that it’s precisely their status, the currency of fame, that forges those ties.
Not only can a movie star identify with the sort of public attention a Michael Jordan or Magic Johnson endures, but there’s an undeniable tendency to be drawn to someone who achieves notoriety in an area you cannot. For Jordan, there’s no trick to hanging in the air and dunking, but directing a movie would be a foreign language. For Spike Lee, Jordan’s aerobatics can be savored only from a distance, with neck tilted straight back.
This obvious point seems to have been missed by many pundits in their analysis of Clinton’s so-called fascination with Hollywood. The president, despite protestations to the contrary, probably is a little bit star-struck, just as actors, producers and even network anchormen are enamored with him. Let’s face it, producing TV shows has its allure and economic rewards, but there’s a big difference between writing “Evening Shade” and having your finger on the button.
The lion’s share of the TV industry and the new administration have no doubt suffered some mutual, momentary giddiness from this new power equation. Still, the moment (and the story) will pass — just as the Lakers’ days of glory have come and gone, leaving only a few of the Hollywood faithful behind.
Fame, in a sense, is like one of those exclusive country clubs: The public resents politicians for joining simply because not everyone can belong. That’s something for those at the heart of this latest controversy to remember, at least until Andy Warhol’s promise of 15 minutes in the spotlight for everybody finally comes through.
We now return you to our regularly scheduled television column.
DAY FOR NIGHT: ABC officials had reason to smile over results for the Daytime Emmy Awards telecast, which garnered the highest rating ever (a 16.4 rating, 27 share) for that showcase.
The show fulfilled the best prospects of the format: It was suspenseful, sentimental and a little bit dopey — in short, everything an awards show should be. Exec producer Curt Gowdy Jr. brought just the right touch to the proceedings (even catching Susan Lucci’s hint of a reaction when the trophy for lead actress was announced), limited each acceptance to one spokesperson, crafted clever taped pieces and brought the two-hour show in on time.
The telecast paves the way for ABC’s Primetime Emmy broadcast in September under a new four-year deal with the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. The Emmycast last aired on one of the Big Three networks in 1986, when the awards drew a 23.1/36 on NBC. A well-produced show might blot out the memory of last year’s critically blasted event, as well as ease some of the lingering ill feelings harbored by the networks shut out of the Emmy deal.
In any event, the Primetime Emmys can certainly take a page from their Daytime brethren — and perhaps make good on ABC’s pledge to “return the stature to the statue”– by trying to borrow a little day for night.