Getting Into and Out of Trouble in Hollywood

Schadenfreude is running rampant this week as NBC stumbles with “Marriage Ref,” Simpson’s suit gets rejected

Last Updated: March 3, 2010 @ 1:25 PM

More than “Your deal guarantees the corporate jet,” “They will always remain friends” or even “Of course Conan will agree to 12:30,” I’d argue that the industry’s most-used lines are: “What were we thinking?” and “How can we get out of it?”

For those of us obsessed with following others’ WWWT/HCWGOOI, it’s been a stellar week on all fronts.

Example 1: After two weeks of great ratings and solid praise, NBC mangles its Olympics audience goodwill by cutting out of the Closing Ceremony for the "sneak peek" premiere of Jerry Seinfeld’s reality show “The Marriage Ref.” The Twitterverse is furious.

WWWT? Grow up: NBC doesn’t care. A scheduling decision of that level isn’t made spur-of-the-moment by a weekend operations person. It’s more likely that Seinfeld, the network’s 900-pound canary, had a contractual clause guaranteeing a hard 10:30pm start come hell, high water or inflatable beaver.

HCWGOOI? With no reprimands or apologies coming since Sunday night’s move, it’s clear NBC planned on cutting out of the Closing Ceremony days earlier and was unconcerned about backlash. They want to keep Seinfeld happy. They know Canadians are genetically incapable of anger. Since virtually all “Ref” viewers came via the Olympics broadcast, the audience resentment over the interruption has exacerbated the show’s poor reviews. But if “Ref” improves, all will be forgiven.

Example 2: In a story about network news, the New York Times quoted two unnamed, purposely generic ”TV veterans” claiming that CBS has spoken with CNN star Anderson Cooper about an anchor job. And incidentally, CBS lead anchor Katie Couric’s $15 million contract expires next year.

WWWT? This little sentence in the Times artfully played right into multiple self-interests. Get out your scorecards – it has nearly as many potential beneficiaries as there are creditors to the Michael Jackson estate.

For starters, by having someone plant this, CBS could benefit from the equivalent of free focus-group research: They could gauge industry and public sentiment for a scenario where Couric leaves and Cooper takes over. (Floating such scenarios this way is as much an industry tradition as spending Christmas in Maui.) This also could send a message to Couric and her reps that everyone’s replaceable and/or everything’s negotiable…particularly when she’s brought little ratings growth amid  massive layoffs and cutbacks as well as mounting staff tensions.

Might the unnamed TV veterans have been instead on Team Cooper? Perhaps. The anchor and his reps played the CBS card during the 2007 renegotiations with CNN that led to his current contract, so it’s comfortable familiar territory to them. And that contract, too, should be expiring soon.

Don’t discount leaks coming from talent agents who handle other network news personalities. That segment of the business is starting to show signs of action again, with various reps and their clients making agency moves. And with several plum anchor slots in play in the near future – including Couric’s, Cooper’s and Larry King’s – with no real heirs apparent, any smart agent would want to start a public game of speculative musical chairs as soon as possible.

HCWGOOI? Both CNN and CBS issued denials. (Interestingly, as additional proof, someone at CBS also pointed to a recent statement by news president Sean McManus denying any conversations with Couric about adjusting her salary. Of course, he meant the current contract.)

But this HCWGOOI revolves around an entertainment industry version of “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” Talent meet with their competitors all the time as contracts near conclusion. And most talent deals have clauses prohibiting such actual discussions until a small window of time, to explore options, opens.

So the carefully orchestrated circumstances of such meetings – A casual conversation stemming from another more official purpose? A get-acquainted cocktail? A coincidental pairing at a dinner party? – and the heavily lawyered-up language used to precisely describe the nature of the dialogue that occurred have often meant the difference between a job change and a breach-of-contract suit. Worth watching: What’s said in coming months. And what’s not.

Example 3: It’s announced that O.J. Simpson, his former sports agent and the father of victim Ron Goldman have all agreed to donate the suit he wore at his murder acquittal to the Smithsonian Institution. Lawyers for each side publicly pontificate on its cultural relevance. A day later, the museum called “America’s Attic” – whose acquired oddities include the top hat worn by Lincoln when assassinated and 1272 dry-mounted specimens of lice – says, “Thanks but no thanks.”

WWWT? Do you think someone representing this group might have quietly approached the Smithsonian to confirm its interest before rushing out to make the announcement?

Just when we believe we’ve exhausted our knowledge of all O.J. trivia, we now learn the rights to the infamous suit, shirt and tie have been at the center of a 13-year legal battle between Simpson, agent Mike Gilbert and victim rights advocate Fred Goldman. Gilbert is credited with concocting this idea and has been the wardrobe-keeper throughout the dispute, nobly calling the suit “a part of history. … People should be able to see it and reflect on what went so wrong for someone who had everything.”

HCWGOOI? Oh, please. It’s not like they’re donating Simpson’s brain to Harvard.

With this very public dissing by the Smithsonian, the trio claims they will now seek another “museum or institution of higher learning” to take the items. Thankfully, the Hard Rock wasn’t on the list.

Here’s the only HCWGOOI possible: Take a match. Go to a safe location. And burn the suit, shirt and tie into a pile of ashes. Then let us all know. And promise us that O.J.’s shoes, socks and boxers are nowhere to be found.

Flackback will explore the art and artifice of entertainment PR.  The author has 25 years' corporate experience and has finessed everything from a celebrity's drunken surprise marriage to his best friend's 16-year-old daughter to a 20-minute advance warning that her company's president was being fired. And she sees little difference between these scenarios.  She's chosen candor over a byline.