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Setting the Bar for Provocative Opinions Really Low…

Best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell, no stranger to provocative opinions, is at it again. During a recent interview in Toronto, Gladwell said that people a half-century from now will revere Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates but will have no clear memory of his longtime tech rival, Apple chief Steve Jobs.

Is that really a provocative opinion?

Does anyone really think Steve Jobs is going to be remembered 50 years from now? I wouldn’t bet too hard on him being remembered 25 years from now.

Gladwell thinks that Bill Gates might be remembered for his philanthropy. Not too likely. Philanthropists don’t get remembered. Not unless they put their names on buildings and even then it’s a wash. How many people use Carnegie libraries and have any idea what that means. There were philanthropists who did much more to fight disease and aren’t remembered.

“We need to be clear when we venerate entrepreneurs what we are venerating,” Gladwell said in Toronto. “They are not moral leaders. If they were moral leaders, they wouldn’t be great businessmen.” AJDTZGU26Q7E

Aren’t moral leaders just people who promoted themselves really well? Isn’t Gladwell just a guy who promotes himself really well?

The same things that can be said about Jobs and Gates apply to most public personalities. They’re overrated, they’re sharp at seizing opportunities and they picked the right moment to get ahead.

Conan O’Brien Please Stop

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop is the documentary chronicling O’Brien’s post Tonight Show tour which was about his breakup with NBC. His recent viral commencement address and now documentary, more of the same. Being booted from Leno’s old timeslot in favor of Leno gave him a fire in his belly and a new identity. It also made him a one note character.

The old Conan seemed smart and self-aware. The new Conan is obsessed with being forced out of a timeslot and learning to get over it. It’s comedy as therapy, which is funny with some comedians, but not with him. Maybe it’s because Conan’s downfall is hard to relate to. The energy of sticking it to your boss brought people over to Team Coco, but go behind the scenes and you’re looking at a guy who was put in a position he wasn’t ready for, walking away with a 45 million dollar golden parachute and then building a career on insisting that he’s the victim.

I’m not one to argue with a successful media strategy. But I doubt I’m the only one tired of it. Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop raises and partly answers the question of why a rich guy who has been successful beyond any realistic ambition is still obsessed. And the answer isn’t great. The contrast with Jerry Seinfeld who ran through the top comedy half-hour on television and amiably walked away to do standup is telling.

The sad thing is that the job Conan wanted and wants was wrong for him. He’s a funny writer. A very funny one. But he’s not a talk show host. He managed to hang on to his goal of having a late night show to host, and he almost managed to draw the right lesson from it in his commencement speech. Failure is liberating, but Conan didn’t liberate himself from having to be a celebrity and chat with celebrities. He put himself right back in the same cage.

Should Roger Ebert Still Be Reviewing Movies?

Forget, should Roger Ebert have ever been reviewing movies. He shouldn’t have, but his reviews at least used to be plausible. They were things that looked like reviews of movies. Not your uncle’s random stuff typed on a page. Now that’s exactly what it is. Your uncle musing about stuff and then commenting on a movie. Reading these things now is just embarrassing. And I’m not sure anyone does.

It’s not just about Thor. It’s about every review Ebert does. The Thor review is almost passable. Ebert actually at times comments intelligently on the movie and the source material. Even if the whole thing is drowned by his asides and his extended recap of most of what happens in the movie. But that’s rare.

Ebert has taken to Twitter. His condition has made him a media personality. But his reviews which were always sloppy, have stopped even trying to pretend that they’re anything but his random impressions composed in a few minutes or less.

The Mel Gibson Comeback

Comeback? Not so much. The Beaver was a smart way to position a Gibson comeback. Have him play a nutjob who learns to reconnect with his family. A redemption story for the character fitting in with the redemption of the actor. The whole idea plays on the gullibility of audiences who have trouble telling apart the actor and the character. The problem. An indie family drama starring a guy who’s alienated women just a little. Women who aren’t Jodie Foster or Whoopi Goldberg.

The Beaver didn’t flame out completely in its opening. A four grand per theater average isn’t bad. But Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams had a seven grand per theater average, and it’s just Herzog wandering around a cave with a flashlight on his head. Curiosity alone should have brought in more people.

But Gibson has another problem in that department. His crown of crazy celebrity redemption has been completely stolen by Charlie Sheen. It’s hard to get anyone to pay attention to Gibson’s attempted comeback, when Sheen is around. Foster and the producers were counting on getting people interested in Gibson. But now he’s been eclipsed by Sheen. And for all his demented behavior, Sheen is actually more likable than Gibson. Sheen and Gibson are both substance abusers with huge egos, but Sheen has never pretended to be a saint. And even his domestic violence incidents come without the pure unfiltered ugliness of the Gibson tapes.

Maybe Schwarzenegger Should Just Retire?

Being involved in a new Stan Lee cartoon is like parachuting on to the Titanic. It’s not really a great move. And can Arnold Schwarzenegger get any more cartoony than he already is? Hasn’t he been playing out a cartoon character of himself in live action format all along.

Then there’s the dignity question. Schwarzenegger ran for Governor of California after a string of bombs or underperforming movies. He didn’t have it then, so he probably doesn’t have it now either. And he’s older and less in shape. Okay so a cartoon character dodges that bullet. It lets him voice a permanently younger version of himself. But where’s the audience?

This just looks like an 80’s cartoon, complete with bad rap and dated visuals. And who exactly is the audience? Does any 9 year old really want to see this? Most adult cartoons are self-mocking, but this doesn’t seem to be. It’s unintentionally funny. And a 3D feature film based on this? No way.

Love him or hate him or yawn at him, Schwarzenegger has done what few have. And there’s no reason for him to go back and do this. He had a legendary movie career and he made the leap to governor. He can’t keep on playing action roles and he can’t do serious parts. He doesn’t need the money and might as well just enjoy the retirement.

Julie Taymor Steps Out

Julie Taymor got her reputation by taking the Lion King and adapting it into an unconnected show that was exotic enough that no one asked any inconvenient questions. Then she tried to do the same thing to Spider-Man, not set in Africa, but her own crazy version of Spider-Man, that was more about her, than about Spider-Man. If the production hadn’t been completely mismanaged, if performers weren’t getting hurt and Turn Off the Dark had original music for people to walk away with, she might have gotten away with it.

But it didn’t and she didn’t. Spider-Man is still one of the more popular comic book characters around. Tossing around symbolism and expecting people to feel humbled by the experience worked for The Lion King, but it was never going to work for Spider Man. People know who Spider Man is and they expect him to show up. Not Arachnia.

After all these years, Julie Taymor showed she never had a feel for the material. She wanted to make a show about the idea of Spider-Man, rather than about Spider-Man. Her idea of Spider-Man. And that’s where she went wrong.

Katie Couric as the New Oprah? Bad Idea

I don’t know why Katie Couric kept trying to reinvent herself, but if she’s serious about trying to replace Oprah, it’s a bad idea. Bad for her anyway. A salvation for CBS News which may be able to replace her with a less expensive personality who might bring some credibility back to the evening news. But Couric is as unqualified to be Oprah as she was to be Dan Rather.

The monster here is the Today Show, or that particular incarnation of it when it was such a dominant force boosting the careers of everyone associated with it and moving them up the Peter Principle career ladder. Its success made Bryant Gumbel think he was such a hot commodity that CBS thought buying him would let them beat Today. Didn’t work. Katie Couric’s Today presence made CBS think that audiences would follow her to the evening news. Didn’t happen either. Let’s not forget Jeff Zucker, the ultimate Today success story.

Katie Couric worked on Today because she was bland. Her voice went in one ear and out the other. That’s exactly why she doesn’t work on the news. And she’s just as qualified to be Oprah, who for all her obnoxious antics has a personality (even if it’s fake), Couric doesn’t. She’s a cheerleader who made a fine career of being pretty and reading things off a screen. She works in that narrow role of being someone it’s okay to listen to in the morning before you’re completely awake. She would be perfect doing commercial voiceovers. That’s it.

The Return of Tom Hanks?

It feels like years since Tom Hanks has been in a movie and that’s not far wrong. The goofy sitcom actor who turned into a comedy star in the 80’s and a serious and a major movie star in the 90’s, had become the new Jimmy Stewart and the biggest star in America, after Forrest Gump, Apollo 13 and Saving Private Ryan. And then in the 2000’s, it all went away. Bad choices and goofy roles finishing up with The Terminal, which even Spielberg and Hanks combined couldn’t sell audiences on. Except for animated movies like Toy Story and Polar Express, Hanks popped up in Charlie Wilson’s War and took a paycheck for the Da Vinci Code and its prequel.

But Larry Crowne feels like an attempt at getting back to the old Hanks everyman part, before the 90’s even, to the 80’s. There’s a little too much of the Community feel to it. The community college crowd is rounded out by specific types. And Julia Roberts and Tom Hanks look like they have zero chemistry, Hanks is pushing the dork factor too much and Julia Roberts has never been able to tone it down on screen.

But what’s strange is looking at the trailer for Larry Crowne and Super-8 and seeing how 80’s they feel. Forget Take Me Home Tonight, this is the real nostalgia kick.

Why Keep Katie Couric?

As Couric’s contract comes up, CBS has the chance to dump the blond albatross around its neck. Couric’s huge contract didn’t lead to big ratings. And Couric’s presence on CBS Evening News and on 60 Minutes has hurt CBS’s once solid news programming credibility. Couric was a mistake, the question is will CBS have the guts to dump her.

Keeping Couric means negotiating a pay cut. And that would be an admission of failure from Couric’s people and from CBS. But paying her another 15 million or giving her a raise would be nuts. Getting rid of Couric would give CBS a shot at revitalizing the brand again. This time with a more serious news personality. Someone who will actually go on the spot and has the cred.

Lara Logan is an obvious name being kicked around, if only for the contrast with Couric who is not a journalist, takes no risks and doesn’t know anything her earpiece or teleprompter doesn’t tell her to say. But there are plenty of others. Dumping Couric would be an admission of failure, but keeping her would mean paying a fortune for third place.

The Profitable Celebrity Breakdown

You’ve got to give Charlie Sheen credit for one thing. The profitable celebrity breakdown, a monetized twitter account and selling tickets to a live show, Sheen is making money off his public breakdown. Sure he’d be making more money if he’d skipped the crazy stuff and was just cashing 2 million per episode paychecks. A lot more money. But still Charlie Sheen has become famous in a way that he never was before. A year ago he was another 80’s actor who had settled down to show up in a sitcom. He was Jim Belushi. Now he’s on everyone’s mind.

Reality TV monetized the celebrity breakdown with an addiction show and humiliation versions of Big Brother for washed up celebrities like The Surreal Life. But you usually had to wait to do one of those. Now a celebrity melting down can take the show on the road. Why make people tune in to see an ABC or CBS news magazine, when they can go see the real thing live. It’s ugly and has the geek quality to it, the original chicken biting geek, not the one who has Star Wars figurines over his bed, but it pays.

This could open the door to live tours of The Surreal Life, in which washed up celebrities get up on stage and rant about things. That’s not really new. In LA that’s a one man or one woman show. But it’s never gone this high profile before.

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