Edited by Joel Topcik -- Broadcasting & Cable, 10/29/2006 7:00:00 PM
Freston and Chernin Kill—With Hired Guns
Last week's roast of ex-Viacom CEO Tom Freston at New York's Center of Communications looked like a night at the Improv. Host Stephen Colbert was in full bluster, but it was Freston himself and News Corp. CEO Peter Chernin who killed.
Both are known to be funny guys, but this time, they had professional help.
Freston pals say his bit was largely crafted by Mark Katz, best known as the Clinton White House's joke man. Katz, who also wrote for the short-lived ABC sitcom Madigan Men, is now "resident scholar" of the Sound Bite Institute, which specializes in humor routines and speeches for corporate bigwigs, including Time Warner chieftains Dick Parsons and Jeff Bewkes.
Katz charges between $10,000 and $20,000 for an elaborate bit. "He's worth it," says a onetime client. "His stuff can be gold."
Freston, who was ousted last month by Viacom Chairman Sumner Redstone over his apparent lack of a "digital strategy" (read: failure to buy MySpace), got laughs when he outlined his new "personal digital strategy": buying a computer and posting clips to his MySpace page.
Chernin cited Freston's tenure at MTV for creating "a generation of self-absorbed, celebrity-obsessed, book-burning Peter Pans with a sense of entitlement that is only matched by your $75 million severance package."
Far from coy about getting help on his spiel, Chernin says he called on several writers under contract to Fox's network and TV studio: "There's $16 million worth of talent behind this."
NBC is a big fan of user-generated content. But the "user" part still makes them a bit uneasy.
Since inviting fans of its comedy The Office to post their own promo spots to video-sharing site YouTube over the summer, the network has largely indulged the "mashups" that litter the site, including those celebrating the romance between the show's characters Pam and Jim. Except one.
While most are treacly music-video tributes to the characters' unrequited love, "Pam & Jim Uncensored" edits in dialogue that lets the two cut to the chase in frankly sexual terms that we won't even attempt to paraphrase here. The clip was posted in September; this month, NBC asked the site to remove it.
Network executives were unavailable to comment, but Office Executive Producer Ben Silverman says he enjoys the creative efforts of the show's fans.
"Oh yeah, I see them all the time. They're hysterical," he says, although he hasn't seen the yanked clip.
Noting that he and his colleagues considered "seeding the Internet" with their own mashups, Silverman says, "We definitely could not have seeded something like that one."
Thinking about dressing up as the late Hunter S. Thompson for Halloween? If you're in the business of getting press materials from the Starz cable network, you're in luck.
For its new documentary Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride: Hunter S. Thompson on Film (premieres Dec. 12), the creative minds at Starz shipped 1,200 cardboard mock-ups of an IBM Selectric typewriter filled with the iconographic accoutrements of the father of gonzo journalism: orange-tinted aviator glasses, a canvas fishing hat and a plastic cigarette filter loaded with a Dunhill cigarette.
The press kit is the latest in a succession of elaborate promo materials for the Liberty Media-owned network's original programming. Most recently, Starz sent out a "body bag" and a T-shirt bearing a gory chest wound to promote its documentary Going to Pieces: The Rise and Fall of the Slasher Film.
"Everybody's sending out so much stuff, you got to get noticed," says Starz Director of Programming & Entertainment Publicity Steve Belgard, adding that the kits are created by in-house designers.
Apparently, the legal department didn't object to sending tobacco across state lines, but it did put the kibosh on plans to include a bottle of Flying Dog Brewery's commemorative Gonzo Porter.
We guess tabs of LSD and a loaded .44 Magnum were out of the question.
With John M. Higgins, Ben Grossman and Anne Becker
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