Guest post: Advice for Rocketboom from a pro

I’m not one to run guest posts at Buzzmachine. I have an overdose of blather all by myself. But when I can get someone who wrote for two of my all-time favorite shows, Letterman and Cheers, to write for me, well, I couldn’t pass that up.

Last night, I got email from Fred Graver, executive producer of VH1′s Best Week Ever, who has become a glancing friend thanks to blogs; he and I last saw each other when I introduced him to Amanda Congdon and Andrew Baron of Rocketboom in a fun lunch. Fred was emailing about a few things — mainly how a certain site that shall go nameless screwed them when it stole their very cool Apple commercial parodies, and how he was planning to blog himself, at long friggin’ last. Fred and I also chatted about the doings at Rocketboom and I could tell he had interesting things to say. And so, because he’s still blogless, I asked Fred whether he wanted to write a post here. Fred is a pro: Emmy winner, web pioneer at disney and MTV, and now producer of Best Week Ever on TV and on the web. Here’s his veteran’s take on Rocketboom:

* * *

My god… I know that the web is supposed to rewrite all the rules of media. But who among us believed for a second that it would rewrite the rules of human nature? Obviously, Amanda and Andrew did.

I can’t for the life of me figure out all of the details of what actually happened — for two people who make their careers opining on the web, neither Amanda or Andrew have done a very good job of being “transparent” about the goings on at Rocketboom.

Here’s what I do know — based on a lovely lunch that Amanda, Andrew, Jeff and I shared last December: Andrew had the idea for Rocketboom. He placed an ad on Craig’s List for an actress. Amanda (among others) answered. He hired Amanda.

Note to Andrew: have you ever DATED an actress? My god… at any point, did you ever think that you were going to get someone who wasn’t totally self-absorbed? That’s what they DO! That’s why we pay them the big money!!! But we don’t tell them they have some control over our business!

Over lunch, Amanda asked me about agents… and rightly so. Let’s face it — she comes across as interesting, engaged, fun to watch. And the agents — CAA and William Morris, particularly, were interested. Amanda was intrigued that Trent (Pink is the New Blog) had an agent and had recently made a deal for a tv show in development… she was anxious to see what she could do.

Given that Andrew was sitting to her left, she was very respectful about linking her star to Rocketboom. Andrew, in turn, was also respectful of everything Amanda had brought to his endeavor. In retrospect, I’m not surprised that the issue both of them site, ad nauseum, is “moving to L.A.” Show business was the “weasel under the table” (as Harold Pinter would put it) in their relationship.

And at this point, I freeze the image on the screen and ask you all… how is this different from anything we’ve seen in the past 300 years of show business? If you’re having ANY trouble understanding what’s going on here, read Trav S. D.’s brilliant history of vaudeville, “No Applause, Just Throw Money.” The phrase “Hit the bricks, kid, I got a million of you” was born at the same tame as the phrase “Ladies and Gentlemen, on with the show.”

Producers (myself included) make our living off of building a stage. We build it out of a concept, script, cameras, props, and actors… and hope and pray for an audience. At the very end of the equation (for most of us) there is money. (And rarely at the beginning… which is why Amanda and Andrew both get huge grace points in this story. It’s clear that two people who were overjoyed at splitting a forty thousand dollar check after months of work weren’t in it for the money.)

The problem with the internet -and a thorny problem it is – is that the phrase “I got a million of you” can be uttered by everyone in the equation – actor, writer, producer. There’s a million stages now, a million actors, a million writers. EVERY ONE of them can command an audience. Every one of them can start a show.

God love it.

But there’s going to be a tiny bit of hell to pay before we sort out the equation of who runs what. And Andrew and Amanda are paying the first dues for all of us. What follows is a little bit of advice for both of them that hopefully will make the next few weeks or months easier.

Andrew – you are the producer, the entrepeneur. You put up the idea, you put up the energy, you put that ad up on Craig’s list. You were / are amazingly generous in calling Amanda your partner. (I suspect you feel a little bit like your proposed marriage on your first date.) Screw the apologies. You own Rocketboom. Take a lesson from Dick Wolfe – the franchise (in his case, Law and Order) lives. The actors come and go. Put another fucking show on the web and move on. (To continue the bad marriage metaphor… what the hell were you thinking, bringing in mediators!??!?) Move ON! On the other hand… it’s been a year or so… what else are you going to do with this brilliant idea? Boom some more things, it’s about time.

Amanda – I’ve got two words for you: Martha Quinn. You’ve got a tough road ahead of you. You’re going to have to create a franchise for yourself. Get to work – the clock is ticking and 90 days from now, it’s going to be “what the fuck happened to Amanda Congdon?” (OH… and 90 days is about the time it takes for amandacongdon.com to load… might want to look into that.) I think you’re wonderful on camera, and would LOVE to do something with you at MTV Networks. But the poor little girl act (“I’m at my parents house in Connecticut?” … poor choice of state, my friend) is going to wear thin really fast.

Finally… a word or two from a VERY old warhorse… None of us are so good at this as to warrant this kind of public display of bullshit. What I’m obsessed with right now is feeling that two kids in a dorm somewhere in San Diego are going to release something on YouTube that’s going to blow us ALL away… Amanda, Andrew, myself, Jeff… we all have to be ready for the next generation of web media — something that’ll be as powerful as “Real World” was to MTV: the thing that made Martha Quinn look like… well, Martha Quinn.

* * *

Thank you, Fred.

Now my advice: I am rooting for both Amanda and Andrew. I like and respect them both and I am confident that they will go on to create more amazing things, given the boost of the last amazing thing they created. Valleywag sent out a survey asking who was at fault in this thing. I say that the Blogosphere — and Hollywood — are both no-fault states. Doesn’t matter. That’s show biz.

I spoke with Andrew this morning as he scurries to get a new Rocketboom up. I emailed Amanda with Fred’s post and said I know she’ll do well. I’ll offer them both my help. And they get my advice whether they want it or not:

The web and Rocketboom gave you both not just fame but also a platform to create, neither of which would have been at all possible only five years ago. You showed other people that they, too, can create amazing things. So go on and make the next thing. It may not be amazing at first, but I’ll bet it will be.

: LATER: One reaction to Fred’s post in comments and emails that Amanda proved to be more than just another pretty actress. Yes, I’d say so.

: The new Rocketboom with Joanne Colan is up and I think it’s good. The opener has her ducking a barrage of tomatoes, successfully. And I am a sucker for a British accent.

  • AJ

    Well Mr. Graver has made some interesting points, but I for one am embarassed for him simply because he comes off as uninformed. Over the past week it seems the web community has already given most of the advice we see here today, from people that aren’t Pros. More importantly, everyone but Mr. Graver seems to understand that Amanda is far more than a “self-absorbed” actress. Mr. Graver implied here that Amanda was “the face” of Rocketboom, with little involvment in the actual writing, production and creation of the show. The New Media community knows that this is entirely false but it’s clear that Mr. Graver subscribes to “The Baron” old media philosophy that an attractive female can only be a host and a face, and not more.

  • http://spap-oop.blogspot.com tish grier

    The split between Andrew and Amanda seems to be the kind of thing that happenes in lots of creative (and regular) relationships– two people who have other ideas of what they want for themselves, but did not want to lose the bird-in-hand. In that case, most humans put a stranglehold on what they have until one or both can’t take it any longer.

    Boom. just like any really bad breakup.

    Rocketboom had a following for many reasons, and both A&A’s future success will probably hinge more on how the re-invent themselves rather than how the re-package what they already got.

    And AJ, women still have to deal with the whole “pretty face” thing in our society…not much has changed fromt he “old baron” days, no matter what we try to fool ourselves into thinking. I didn’t believe it myself until I hit middle-age. Fred is, unfortunately, right about the clock ticking thing. Amanda needs to move real fast.

  • http://conservatism.crispynews.com/ ashok

    Is our online activity supposed to transcend show business, or feed into show business, or both?

    The “enabling” of the Internet, I must confess, is scaring me a bit. I’m a writer that blogs, so the more people are in motion here, the lesser chance I have of having an audience, even as more people come on (and, just as quickly, get off).

  • Heather Green

    Get Fred a blog right away! I love his voice and insights.

  • AJ

    I dont understand, all his “insights” have already been blogged by people last week. I just dont think he gets it.

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  • http://www.copyblogger.com Brian Clark

    I liked reading Fred’s thoughts… but AJ does have a point. Chartreuse nailed the “Amanda is a VJ” analogy and posted a big ol’ picture of Martha Quinn almost a week ago:

    http://chartreuse.wordpress.com/2006/07/06/rocket-boom/

    But I suppose validation is nice from someone with Fred’s cred. Let’s hear more!

    And shame on Gizmodo… whoops!

  • adslfan

    maria menounous moved from ET to Access Hollywood. nobody seems to
    care and Amanda is probably way more popular than Maria at this point.

    jumping from 1 website to anohter is super easy .

    one of the digg guys can move to mypace

    jason c the weblogs guy moved to aol and became part of the mainstream
    media ..

    jeff can movie and become dell’s blogger if dell gives jeff a computer
    that doesn’t break down

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  • jaded_viewer

    Supporting Fred’s perceptive comments on talent vs. production, isn’t Amanda Congdon just this year’s Daisy Donovan?
    Daisy’s now a regular actress but as you may have forgotten her roving reporter/ executive producer stage, here’s a shrine to remind us all:
    http://www.angelfire.com/tv/11Show/Daisy/Information.html

  • http://words.einsteinslock.com Shelley

    “More importantly, everyone but Mr. Graver seems to understand that Amanda is far more than a “self-absorbed” actress. Mr. Graver implied here that Amanda was “the face” of Rocketboom, with little involvment in the actual writing, production and creation of the show. The New Media community knows that this is entirely false but it’s clear that Mr. Graver subscribes to “The Baron” old media philosophy that an attractive female can only be a host and a face, and not more.”

    Other than the use of ‘actress’, which is outmoded, what Mr. Graver says of an actor like Congdon can be said of all actors everywhere, regardless of sex. How many times have we heard of the Talent leaving this show or that over ‘creative differences’? I would say he’s spot on in this regard.

    I found his writing to be refreshing and entertaining. Unfortunately, Mr. Jarvis’ writing immediately following negated most of the charm.

    Neither of the RocketBoom people was very honest, I see little to respect, as both sounded rather pathetic in their po’me thrusts and counter-thrusts, and both milked the ‘fans’ for all their worth. There is nothing, at all, inherently noble about any of this…include the venue. As Mr Grazer rightfully points out: this is nothing but show biz, and these two are nothing more than the ‘it’ couple of the moment. Just like…I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten their names. But you know who I’m talking about.

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  • James Cooney

    we all have to be ready for the next generation of web media — something that’ll be as powerful as “Real World” was to MTV

    I know he meant in terms of that it changed MTV’s positon in media, not how it changed it, but I must say:

    If “The Real World” is what the next generation of web media holds for us, I want out now.

    Cheers.

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  • http://franzstehrn.blogspot.com franzstehrn

    so where is your actual piece of advice, Jeff? hot air is all there is in this post!

  • http://knowingart.com PJ at Knowing Art

    Stage this, n00b.

  • http://www.hollywoodchills.blogspot.com Langdon Bosarge

    Wow – I felt like I was reading the script for a soap opera! A really good one I might not be embarassed to admit watching. Thanks for the “dirt,” and for the honest words from a producer. As an actor/writer, those thoughts are gold to me.

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