Amusing Times

I’m listening to the amazing podcasts by Ricky Gervais, star of Office and Extras, brought to us by Guardian Unlimited. Ricky and mate Steve Merchant prod the empty space inside Karl Pilkington very round head about monkey news and “the penile habits of Papua New Guineans.” It’s weird and hilarious and popular.

Could you imagine The New York Times doing this? I can’t. Any American paper or news organization would fret over brand and credibility: “Well, who’s fact-checking and copy-editing this monkey news?”

But in Britain, I imagine the Guardian editors coming up with this idea and saying, “Brilliant, let’s have a go!” The Guardian respects its readers-turned-listeners enough to get the joke and getting Gervais to amuse them is quite the coup. So this opens all sorts of horizons for a newspaper as news-and-entertainment venture.

When you think about it, why shouldn’t The Times have produced Seinfeld: sophisticated New York jokes for sophisticated New Yorkers? ntourage would have been a hit for the LA Times. Maybe the Washington Post should make the sitcom based on Ana Marie Cox’s book. EBut don’t get stuck in my sitcom rut: Just make a podcast, like Gervais’ or a vlog like Rocketboom or simply promote those who do. Maybe your credibility is about sharing the good stuff. Maybe your brand is about becoming a gathering place for people of intelligence who share interests and taste…. and a sense of humor.

On second thought… Newspaper people are not, as a rule, a barrel of monkeys.

(Full disclosure: I write a column for the Guardian but they don’t pay enough for me to suck up to them. I just like the Gervaiscast.)

: A QUESTION inspired by this comment: Who should play Maureen Dowd in the sitcom that is The Tiems?

  • Duneview

    When sitcoms get preachy and political (M*A*S*H comes to mind) their ratings drop like a rock. It’s just the wrong forum for overwrought wailings. You don’t go to the Harvard Law Review for holiday recipes, nor should you seek out foreign policy speculations on My Name Is Earl.

    Lately, the N.Y Times seems to have its hands full just getting the news straight, nevermind building brand extensions. I think they should stick to their knitting before wandering onto a sitcom set.

    Besides, Modo’s woeful love-life whinings provide enough humor.

  • http://livejournal.com/users/eh_notsomuch Eh… not so much

    I listened to part of Episode 5 yesterday on the way home. I don’t know that I want to listen to 6 full episodes of Ricky and Steve taking the piss out of Kyle (he can’t really be that stupid, can he?), but Ricky’s laugh is fantastic! You can’t help but roar along with him!

  • http://alkali19.blogspot.com alkali

    Apropos of the Times and whether they have a sense of humor, Tom Tomorrow has an amazing story regarding his recent (solicited) submission of a political cartoon to the NYT:

    Finally got a response from the well-meaning art director, on January 5: he’d had a chance to meet with the editors, who liked [Tomorrow's] piece a lot, but there was just one small problem, the op-ed page has a new policy–

    –(drumroll, please)–

    No caricatures.

    Again, I kid you not. In case the sheer aching absurdity of this somehow eludes you, let me spell it out: the New York Times was soliciting work from a political cartoonist for the op-ed page without mentioning that caricature is no longer welcome on that page.

  • green_nigel

    As an Englishman living in New York, I couldn’t agree more. I don’t think anyone can accuse the NYTimes of having much of a sense of humor, not from what I’ve seen anyway. The magazine’s Funny Pages section is anything but. The Old Grey Lady indeed. It can be so…boring. I’ve lived here three years and still can’t get over the fact they won’t print the word “fuck.”

    The comparision with The Guardian might be a little unfair. The Guardian is very left-of-center in many respects. I’m a big fan of that but realize it’s not for everyone. Every newspaper should emulate it’s online model, though. The Guardian is streets ahead and it’s entire content is free. I mean, who wants to pay to read David Brooks?

  • http://www.laurencehaughton.com laurence haughton

    It’s interesting that you would mention Seinfeld in a post about the creators of “The Office.” Both shows were the creation of people who didn’t have any sitcom experience, who liked to make fun of other people (and themselves) and were completely “accidential” successes (among other similarities).

    And maybe that is why the NYT or any other media player (radio, TV, or newspaper) can’t innovate in any part of their business…

    They don’t look for the right attitudes or potential they insist on “experience” or using someone “famous.” They don’t tolerate anyone who makes fun of them or their old ways of doing things. And they dread mistakes so much that they avoid spending money on anything experimental (like podcasts).

  • http://www.gapingvoid.com hugh macleod

    Unlike most big papers, The Guardian is owned by a private trust. This gives them room to make mistakes, unlike a publically-traded, quarterly-focused organ.

    Sovereignty matters. Discuss?

  • http://www.alarm-alarm.com Peter

    Modo = Julianne Moore. Not even a contest.

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  • Tom

    The thing to note here is that prior to signing on to do the Guardian podcasts, Gervais along with Merchant and Piklington had been doing the same thing they do in the podcasts – natter on about whatever they feel like talking about and giving Pilkington as much grief as they can come up with – for a number of years on the British radio station XFM (*not* to be confused with XM satellite radio!), where they’d go off on various tangents between playings of pop music tunes. If I understand it correctly, it was their early success with this in the late 90s that ultimately gave them the cred at BBC to do The Office. And even though they went on to do two series’ of Office shows and then Extras, they still get together just to do the radio thing.

    This is a guess, but I have to figure that the jump from XFM to The Guardian was due to one or more of the following reasons:

    1) They got a better deal from The Guardian than XFM could give them;
    2) XFM has “moved on” and dropped the show (hard to believe but it could happen);
    3) Gervais and Co. could not come to an agreement with XFM in terms of scheduling;
    4) With the podcasts, the gang gets to just talk and does not have to interrupt their tangential conversations and Pilkington pillorying for such annoyances as having to play pop tunes. There may also be less restricted with regard to *what* they can talk about as well.

  • Colin Jackson

    It’s simpler than that Tom – the Guardian is national, XFM is a local London radio station. Given Gervais’ state of sudden wealth, it’s unlikely they’re doing it for the money. As performers, I expect they simply want to reach the largest audience possible. This they promptly did by getting into the Guiness book of records for the most downloaded podcast (ever).