Friday, 30 May 2008

Hollywood Babble On & On #104: The Hollywood Hillbillies

A tip of my saucy Marcel Marceau beret to Defamer's article, which led me to this blog, which contained this quote about Hollywood:
“It’s a community that’s so inbred it’s a wonder the children have any teeth.”
Now not only is the quote itself inflammatory, and accurate in its metaphorical way, the really important element is who said it, and although I've made that point before, it wasn't me.

It was Barry Diller.

Anyone who knows anything about the corporate history of Hollywood of the last 40 years knows the name Barry Diller. He started at a mail-room job at the William Morris Agency, then had a peripatetic career in executives suites from ABC TV (where he pioneered the made for TV movie), to Paramount, 20th Century Fox (created the Fox Network) and onto cable television, and other business ventures.

He's also considered the corporate Yoda for a whole generation of Hollywood's top executives from Michael Eisner, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Dawn Steel, and legions of others.

So I guess it's time for me to do one of my impromptu history lectures, this one about the history of nepotism in Hollywood.

Now back in the early days when the studios were nothing more than a hardscrabble collection of independent mavericks fleeing west from the monopolistic machinations of the Edison Trust, nepotism was fairly common.

Many of the early studios were family businesses, and members of the fa
mily were groomed to manage those businesses, and some started out at the bottom, as gophers, and mail room boys, and then were supposed to work their way up to assisting executives, then middle management, then onto the executive suite. In theory, they were supposed to take their roles seriously, since the ongoing success of the studio, was supposed to be their family's legacy to the future.

In theory.

In theory, communism works, as a wise man once said.

Of course basing hiring/promotion decisions on genetics over merit wasn't the best system, many of the businesses suffered, and were then bought up and/or taken over by shareholders. Now since most "legitimate" corporate shareholder types of that era looked at the movie business as both beneath them and Byzantine even by Wall Street standards, they let a certain amount of meritocracy into the system. Men, sorry, it was a boy's club, in theory, started out at the bottom, and worked their way to the top, learning every aspect of the business (production, distribution, marketing) along the way.

But as the movie business grew in both fame and money under this apprenticeship system, a new system started, a system I call White Man's Affirmative Action.

Basically, Studio Boss-A didn't work his way up the ladder in the traditional way by learning the biz from the bottom. He got his post because his Uncle was part of the golf-foursome of CEO-B, getting him a job as an assistant to corporate President-C, which if he survived more than 6 months, led to a vice-presidency, and then a rapid rise to the top as those above him took their golden parachutes and popped off the corporate Hindenburg.

(I know I exaggerate and simplify, but this is a blog, not an essay)

Now there are times when this new system works, love him or hate him, Diller, who got his job at the William Morris Agency this way, was very successful at his job.

But when a studio's hiring pool is shallower than a puddle, and the people have no personal emotional investment in the studio's success beyond their next bonus check because it's just a minor cog in a big media machine, a toxic mindset congeals the industry. They stop caring about how their product plays in Peoria, thinking only of how it plays to their peers in Hollywood, Malibu, and Beverly Hills (What I call The Axis of Ego).

And there's no new blood and new ideas coming in to shake things up, because when the odds of winning the lottery are better than the average person's odds of getting a senior position at a studio, no matter how hard they work, they just aren't going to try.

And to top it all off, the people in charge are completely blind to the situation. Because they're surrounded by people from the same shallow pool, and either have the same shallow ideas, or don't dare speak any different, for fearing of having their own lack of merit uncovered.

Maybe since Diller's been out of Hollywood for a while, he's taken the old blinders off.

Maybe someone in charge in Hollywood will too.

But I'm not holding my breath.

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