Bravo Profiles: The Entertainment Business

This ambitious British-produced six-hour doc on the current state of the $70 billion entertainment biz is limiting but -- for what it tackles -- is smart and exhaustively detailed.

This ambitious British-produced six-hour doc on the current state of the $70 billion entertainment biz is limiting but — for what it tackles — is smart and exhaustively detailed. It never panders and will often prove illuminating even to a knowledgeable showbiz insider. The irony that it would take a relative Hollywood outsider like the BBC to produce TV’s most penetrating and cynical look at its own to date should not be lost.

On the other side of the coin, however, “Bravo Profiles: The Entertainment Business,” which aired originally in Europe, fails to completely realize the comprehensive promise of its title. It essentially peers through a microscope at celebrity culture in general, at the film industry and its marketing might, at TV’s latenight and daytime talkshow subcultures, at the pulse of Hollywood and satellite industries surrounding the Oscars and, curiously, at London’s burgeoning business in standup comedy clubs.

What’s missing is any mention of the American broadcast networks’ primetime TV war with cable, any mention at all of the music and Broadway stage industries — or of emerging technologies impacting showbiz, such as the Internet.

There is indeed a subtle been-there, done-that quality to some of the material and to the six-night project as a whole. It has some clear shortcomings in terms of inclusiveness.

But enough with the brickbats. For what it is, “The Entertainment Business” delivers a captivating, fast-paced, energetic, warts-filled ride that pierces many sacred cows while painting a vivid picture of an industry that treats its “haves” like royalty and trashes its “have-nots” and wannabes with relentless regularity.

Producer-directors Gina and Jeremy Newson make clear the fact that this is not a game for anyone interested in emerging with his or her genitalia — or psyche — intact.

It’s also evident from the outset that the Newsons were able to court some phenomenal A-list participation, due perhaps to the fact it was originally being made for European auds. And perhaps for that same reason, the comments carry a rare candor from some unexpected mouths: Tom Hanks, Johnny Depp, Winona Ryder, Catherine Deneuve, Bruce Willis, Faye Dunaway, Leonardo DiCaprio, Julia Roberts, John Travolta, Will Smith, Mel Gibson, Drew Barrymore, George Clooney, Nora Ephron, Richard Dreyfuss, Claire Danes and Matt Dillon.

Opening hour, “Celebrity,” is perhaps the doc’s most revealing seg, speaking with stars as well as journalists (Nikki Finke), directors (Alan Parker, Renny Harlin) and talent agents to cover both the magic and evils of celebrityhood.

It opens with the ritual humiliation of 2,000-human cattle calls to ruminations on fame’s elusive, fleeting pleasures and pains to the exasperation wrought by the paparazzi.

Aspiring young actors are seen responding to an ad seeking “the next Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder.” Two thousand show up; none are hired. Depp and Ryder wonder aloud why anyone would want to be the next them, with Depp imaging it “a curse.” DiCaprio, meanwhile, expresses his puzzlement at journalists who feel they can “define you in two paragraphs when you can’t even define yourself.” And Barrymore worries about going out in public unaware that “a huge booger” is hanging from her nose.

As the paparazzi huddle to get their shots, they inform, “If it’s a big, long-stretch limo, it’s a nobody — it’s a tourist.” Dreyfuss relates a story about how he was once soaking up what he called “the celebrity murmur” that accompanies his presence when he noted that the mur-mur was actually for Klaus Von Bulow.

“Fame is evil,” Dreyfuss concludes. “It’s heady, poisonous, toxic.”

Second seg, “Late Night Talk,” focuses primarily on Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien, revealing Leno to be the Mr. Nice Guy of reputation and O’Brien to be screamingly, effortlessly funny. It peers behind the scenes at the talk machine, rehashing the Leno-David Letterman “Tonight Show” war in great detail. (Letterman and Tom Snyder opted not to participate).

Hour rolls through the latenight chatfest biz from makeup to writers meetings, rehearsal to greenroom wait. We hear from guests Kate Capshaw, Sigourney Weaver, David Duchovny, Wesley Snipes, Robin Williams and, most amusingly, Janeane Garofalo as she travels in her limo to a “Conan O’Brien” taping, signs autographs and waits for her couple of minutes in the big chair. She speculates that latenight guests “must make up anecdotes, talking about their kids and picking up all of those toys. Why aren’t they just honest enough to admit that they’re not normal people and they pick up no toys?”

O’Brien, for one, harbors no illusions about why he remains on the air: He makes money for NBC’s parent company, General Electric. “I’m probably more profitable to GE than the turbines they sell to India,” he speculates. Leno notes that talkshows of his ilk are cheap to produce. And he loves what he does, noting rather bizarrely, “In my job, I could run into Hitler and he’d seem very nice.”

“Daytime Talk,” the show’s third installment, focuses primarily on Jerry Springer and Ricki Lake (showing in one way how long ago this thing was shot — Lake was still hot). It opens with Springer crooning a tune about talkshow hosts from an unknown stage and fright-eningly shows how shameless the producers of these shows are in revving their guests and audience members into an artificial frenzy.

“Talkshows have become the community of the ’90s,” declares Gail Steinberg, exec producer of “Ricki Lake.” Perhaps, but this hour reveals more than the folks behind the shows might have liked: fake props on hand for weddings in case there is a marriage proposal, choreographed mayhem (particularly on “Springer”) and clueless attendees saying things like, “It’s always nice to see people in pain.”

Springer, however, remains unrepentant: “Not everything we do is to bring peace to Bosnia.” No, some is geared more to bring war to Chicago.

In the fourth hour, “Premieres & Junkets,” the nuts and bolts of the film industry’s marketing machine are given full exposure. Folks like Bette Midler, Samuel L. Jackson, Denis Leary, Jim Carrey, Keanu Reeves, Dustin Hoffman, Jennifer Tilly, Courteney Cox, Cameron Diaz, Andie MacDowell, Kurt Russell and Meg Ryan discuss how the necessarily evil of the film-promoting junket takes its toll on their patience and their soul. The media, as the middle portion of the entertainment food chain, is simply doing its job to keep the wheels of the industry greased.

Journalist/author Finke shows up to lend a bright perspective to the push-and-pull of access and control and the increasingly contentious nature of the scribe-publicist relationship. “You’re always interrogated now about what you think of a movie right after the screening,” Finke complains, “and if you admit you don’t like it, you won’t get within miles of the star. Sometimes, you just have to lie.”

Show also illustrates the difference in the way junkets and premieres differ on the other side of the Atlantic in a disorganized London event hyping the re-release of “Quadrophenia” in Britain. Comments one industry observer: “In the United States, with the average film costing $36 million to produce and $13 million to market, we can’t afford any of that foolishness. Everything counts here.”

Project begins to lose some steam and focus in hour five, “Oscar Day/Oscar Night,” when folks including James Woods, Geena Davis, Quentin Tarantino, Goldie Hawn and Kevin Spacey lend their perspectives on the surrealism of the Oscar experience: the hair, the clothes, the trade hype, the fans (camping out for three nights in the bleachers) and the publicity juggernaut and party crush after it’s all over.

It’s an interesting enough inside look at Academy Award mania. But its tie to the four hours that precede it is tenuous at best. And that goes double for the sixth and concluding stanza, “One Night Stand-Up,” which serves up chat from Jackie Mason, Robin Williams and unknown comic Greg Proops while peering incongruously at London’s sprouting comedy clique.

This seg is simply dull and notably out-of-touch with the quick-cut precision and rich detail of the other hours. It’s almost as if the Newsons had one last hour to fill and didn’t quite have the material to do it. So it loaded it up with all sorts of platitudes about standup being “the loneliest part of show business” and how dying onstage is “worse than death” and comedians have no props save for what’s in their head and blah blah blah.

Yet merely because “The Entertainment Business” concludes with an odd whimper is no reason to avoid it entirely. This is, in the main, an impeccably mounted, information-rich, superbly shot piece of filmmaking that bores in unflinchingly on its subject while retaining the requisite quotient of humor.

This is, after all, not rocket science of which we speak. It’s a lot more complicated than that.

Tech credits are first-rate.

Bravo Profiles: The Entertainment Business

Bravo; Sun.-Fri. Oct. 4-9, 9-10 p.m.

  • Production: Filmed in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and London by Freelance Film Partners in association with BBC TV. Producer-directors, Gina Newson, Jeremy Newson; production, Leonie Amond, Lucy Cooke, Marsha Fitzpatrick, Vickie Shinton, Tamara Swinglehurst, Elaine Lipworth, Gary Trewin.
  • Crew: Camera, Rick Caine, Jody Eldred, Tim Knight, Harry Wiggins, Jeff Hodges, Mark Molesworth, Frank Hanes, Janice Arthur; production coordinator, Gill Foden; editors, Rod Iverson, Trevor Smith, Justin Badger; sound, Chris Phinikas, David Miklyng, Greg Rothschild, Rocky Sabini, Mike O'Brien, Jade Carmen, Phil Reed. 6 HOURS