LIKE MILLIONS OF AMERICANS, I spent an unhealthy amount of time the last couple of weeks in blob-like repose watching football on television. Only most of the time, my mind kept drifting inexorably back to Hollywood.
Despite popular psychobabble about how we learn everything we need to know in kindergarten, the truth is you can glean every show business lesson worth knowing from viewing sports. Using the same kind of math that produced the BCS rankings, here are the top five parallels:
- You’re only as good as your last season: Ridiculous as it is to expect a turnaround before a new chief can fully put his or her stamp on things, owners doling out millions feel they’re entitled to expect something to show for their outlay. Moreover, media scrutiny has kept pace with escalating salaries and the often unrealistic pressure for immediate results.
Given this win-right-now mentality, it’s no wonder eight NFL coaches have received the heave-ho this season, including Bill Callahan, who coached the Raiders to last year’s Super Bowl. Mortality rates are nearly as high in the college ranks, where Nebraska’s head man won 75% of his games and still got bounced. And while the revolving door seldom spits out an instant winner, making a change at least looks like someone’s responding to a problem, which always plays well with fans and/or stockholders.
Back in the 310 area code, Sandy Grushow left the Fox Broadcasting Co., with Daily Variety describing his 3½-year run with Fox Entertainment prexy Gail Berman as “the longest-running entertainment administration since Fox’s founding.”
In short, if patience is truly a virtue, the gates of Hell should have swung wide open.
- Awards honor careers: Whether it’s the Heisman Trophy or the Oscars, awards invariably take into account all kinds of factors that have nothing to do with who was most deserving. (An exception would be the Golden Globes, which, my instincts say, sensibly base winners on their Q scores.)
Feel-good stories about overcoming adversity and past accomplishment inevitably help sway voters. Based on this logic, Peter Jackson should clear room in a place of honor not so much for “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King” as for the aggregate feat that is the entire trilogy.
For that matter, give him the Heisman, too. He deserves it more than that kid from Oklahoma does.
- Real talent will have its way: True stars are preciously rare, which is why prima donnas are tolerated.
For all the lamentation about soaring costs, then, major luminaries and their reps will always find someone willing to ante up. And usually, when they fail, someone else gets fired. Hey, it’s good to be king.
Oddly enough, News Corp. violated this rule during its stint as a baseball owner. Letting popular Dodger superstar Mike Piazza wing off to greener pastures represented the kind of bone-headed maneuver you wouldn’t expect from a company accustomed to paying the likes of Jim Carrey or Russell Crowe the handsome salaries they earn for putting asses in seats.
- Complacency isn’t an option: Because stars possess limited shelf lives — whether it’s “Frasier” or “Everybody Loves Raymond,” Brett Favre or Michael Jordan — nobody can rest on his laurels. Even franchise players eventually recede into mediocrity or become too expensive to keep, with the constant need to reload continually opening the way for shifts in the balance of power.
As a result, everyone must desperately seek the next rookie capable of supplanting the aging veteran who’s beginning to lose a step. As a bonus, said rookies will briefly qualify as a bargain — until they become insatiably demanding monsters, of course, otherwise known among agents as “the circle of life’s blood.”
- In an age of free agency, don’t bank on loyalty: Realizing that they generally enjoy short-lived careers, stars will seize the best deal. Gone, for the most part, are the days where the biggest names can be counted upon to stay aligned with a given team or studio throughout their career.
- And now, a shameless plug for our sponsor: Hungry for ancillary revenue from deep-pocketed corporations and advertiser tie-ins, today’s entertainment vehicles straddle a fine line that asks how much cash can be gleaned from annoying sponsorship arrangements without triggering a revolt among paying customers. The hope is we’re all so hooked on the Lakers, or “American Idol,” that we won’t flinch at the “Ford Focus” moment or Cingular Wireless promotion sandwiched between free throws.
So far, marketing gurus are skating by on this score, but if they assume there’s no breaking point, well, as Pete Rose would say, don’t bet on it.