WHO REALLY IS RESPONSIBLE?
I woke up Monday morning to hear the news, oh boy.
The NBC executive who coined the phrase, "Must See TV" had died.
His name was Don Ohlmeyer.
A veteran of NBC Sports, Mr. Ohlmeyer was also the man responsible for having Norm MacDonald fired from SNL for too many jokes about his friend, OJ Simpson.
What about this smells wrong?
And how surprised is Dan Holm going to be?
DAN HOLM IS THE WRITER/PRODUCER WHO SAT DOWN AND WROTE THE PHRASE, "MUST SEE TV"
Of course, the success of NBC's famous Thursday-night promotion is going to the executive who happened to be sitting in the chair when it all happened.
In TV, nobody celebrates writers.
Except maybe the other writers.
And as the story is told, Mr. Holm didn't exactly trot out "Must See TV" as the powerhouse tagline to promote Thursday nights.
The story goes that Mr. Holm used the phrase in a promotional script. A gentleman named Vince Manze, who ran the network's promotional agency, saw the genius in it and cherry picked it for greater things.
This happens all the time. For one of my own clients, I've written a tagline that began its life buried in a piece of body copy.
THAT TAGLINE IS WORTH FAR MORE THAN THE CLIENT EVER PAID FOR IT
But it also required the ability to recognize its value, and be plucked from body-copy obscurity, and thrust into the spotlight as a defining statement for the brand.
And nobody's going around saying, "Hey, look at the tagline Blaine wrote!"
They're going around, repeating the tagline.
It belongs to the brand, not the person who wrote it.
And that's OK. If I go to my grave being known only for the brand tagline for a specialty product for the construction industry, it's going to be a grand disappointment.
I'd prefer to go to my grave for being known as a fabulous dancer.
But I digress.
Credit for copywriting notwithstanding...
FOR A WHILE, "MUST SEE TV" WAS A BRAND JUGGERNAUT FOR NBC
That was the era of the coveted Thursday-night viewership domination.
Shows like Mad About You, Wings, Seinfeld, Friends and ER all happened during that period.
And certainly, much good did come out of NBC during Mr. Ohlmeyer's tenure as president of the network's west-coast division.
That said, the gentleman also had a reputation.
Mention of that reputation probably won't be popping up in any of the obituaries-and it's a reputation for a trait that is so common in marketing.
The Fabulous Honey Parker has seen it repeatedly in her career in Big-Agency Advertising.
I've seen it repeatedly during my career in Small-Business Advertising.
THAT REPUTATION IS ONE FOR BEING A PREVENTION DEPARTMENT
Depending on the environment, sometimes it's called The Advertising Prevention Department.
In the case of Mr. Ohlmeyer, it might be called the Programming Prevention Department.
According to the Infallible Oracle Of Everything, Wikipedia, Mr. Ohlmeyer's reputation at NBC was that he was "...not the inspiration behind NBC's hits in this period, but was often a roadblock they had to work around to make them happen."
The article goes on to say that he insisted the hugely popular NBC drama, ERwould get destroyed by Chicago Hope at CBS.
Of course, ER went on to win a total of 23 Primetime Emmy Awards, 124 Emmy nominations (making it the most nominated drama program in history), and picked up 116 awards in total during its tenure.
AH, BUT WHAT ABOUT BEING BASHED IN THE RATINGS, AS PER OHLMEYER THE ORACLE?
Besides being a critical powerhouse, ER spent a couple of seasons as the most watched show in North America, and for years fought with Seinfeld, another NBC show, for the #1 ratings slot.
Mr. Ohlmeyer also didn't want to give the go ahead to Will & Grace.
He insisted a TV show with gay characters couldn't reach a large mainstream audience.
As the highest-rated sitcom among adults 18-49 from 2001 to 2005, and winner of 16 Emmy Awards out of 83 nominations, it seems that Mr. Ohlmeyer's nose for what people would buy was not 100% dead accurate.
And this is not a slam at all at Don Ohlmeyer.
Far from it, in fact. He helped make some amazing things happen.
BUT IT'S A CAUTIONARY NOTE FOR ANYONE PUTTING CREATIVE WORK INTO THE ETHER
And the cautionary note is perhaps best illustrated by a line given to us by a CoupleCo interview subject.
If you don't know, CoupleCo is a nascent project being launched by The Fabulous Honey Parker and me.
It will start life as a podcast about and for couple entrepreneurs, and grow into other media.
We were interviewing a couple who have a photography business, and are a raging success.
We asked each of them, "What is the single most important piece of advice you could give a couple who wants to be in business together?"
Without hesitation, he said, "Don't think your opinion is always right. Because 99% of the time, it's not."
AND THAT IS A FINE BIT OF ADVICE FOR ANYONE
Especially in a business where one either has to help create a brand, or has to put that brand before the public (I'm talking to you, all you writers and small business owners-you're all in this together), fear and ego are your enemies.
Again: Fear And Ego Are Your Enemies.
We've talked about this before.
We will talk about it again.
Fear says things like, "Oh, I can't do that, it'll insult someone."
We've literally had a client be afraid of a piece of copy that talked about how hard it is to read a menu in a dark Chinese restaurant.
Without using this exact phrasing, the client said he was afraid it would be considered a micro-aggression against Chinese people.
WHAT HE DIDN'T REALIZE IS IT HAD ALREADY BEEN RUNNING FOR YEARS
We were asking him to approve not the entire advertisement, but just an edit to the advertisement.
It had been on the air for seven years. In those seven years , no one had ever called him on his politically incorrect micro-aggression.
As for Ego, that's the little voice in your head that tells you things like, "Yes, those are the rules for other people, but I'm above that."
Or, "I don't like that so nobody will."
Ya know what?
I love olives. Happy to eat them.
Ya know what else?
Honey Parker hates olives. Will not eat them.
We will never come to an accord over this. It's just the way things are.
ONE THING WE DO AGREE ON IS THAT WE DON'T ENJOY WILL & GRACE
We are not the Will & Grace audience.
But we do not begrudge the TV viewing public its fondness for that NBC sitcom.
And we admit, it was well done.
And one of the brightest spots for us is Megan Mullally's supporting role as Karen Walker. This character is described (in know-it-all Wikipedia, of course,) as "'a spoiled, shrill, gold-digging socialite who would sooner chew off her own foot than do an honest day's work.' She is also a promiscuous borderline alcoholic/drug addict with an often tenuous grip on reality and very few morals."
Really, Ms. Mullally is just damn funny, and a stellar comic actress.
SO, WHAT ABOUT THE SMALL-BUSINESS OWNER?
After all, TV programming is an incredibly complicated big business. What can the small-business owner take away from this mayhem of convoluted mega-business mishegas?
Well, don't be afraid of good creative.
Don't let Fear & Ego rule your decision making.
And ultimately, it helps to turn to one of NBC's iconic leaders, the late CEO and Chairman Grant Tinker, who also co-founded MTM Enterprises with his then wife, Mary Tyler Moore.
Mr. Tinker was known for his distinctive approach to all things business, "First be best, and then be first."
Of course, that requires defining the word, "Best."
What is best?
That's a topic for a whole different screed.
But be guaranteed, it isn't fueled by fear or ego.
If you'd like to know more about couples who are not ruled by Fear & Ego, check out this teaser video for what's to come at CoupleCo...
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
WHO KNEW LITTLE JOSEPH LEVITCH WOULD BECOME WORLD FAMOUS?
He would also become a fixture in American households on Labor Day weekend.
But first, he'd have to get past that childhood illness.
It's hard to know what the illness was.
He would never speak about it.
All we know is that, repeatedly abandoned by his parents during his childhood, he was left in the care of his Jewish grandmother.
And grandmother's cure for the mystery illness has nothing on traditional Jewish penicillin.
INSTEAD, SHE PLIED HIM WITH BACON
Who knows where the long lost Jewish bacon cure has disappeared to, or when we lost it.
But as an adult, he admitted that in an attempt to ward off whatever disease it was that was attacking her grandson, grandma would cram little Joseph's mouth full of bacon.
In a different place and time, this might have led to a career as a professional eater.
"Megatoad" Matt Stonie holds the world record of 182 bacon slices in just five minutes. Six pounds. About 11 full packages of bacon. That was 2015 at Daytona, smashing the standing record set in 2010 by "The Human Vacuum" Mark Lyle, which was just 54 slices.
But Joseph didn't seem to have much interest in a career as a professional eater.
But he kept up his bacon regimen.
One celebrity friend, interviewed in GQ Magazine back in May, says he'd seen the guy sit down to breakfast, order 24 slices of bacon, and eat them all.
PROFESSIONAL EATING ASIDE, JOSEPH FOLLOWED IN HIS PARENTS FOOTSTEPS
The reason they left Joseph with his bacon-wielding Jewish grandma was because they had an itinerant lifestyle.
They were vaudeville performers.
Mom played piano.
Dad was a song and dance man.
Sometimes, little Joseph would appear in the act. At age 5, he launched his performing career singing, "Brother, Can you Spare A Dime."
But mainly, his parents left him with grandma.
It made him very insecure.
AND IT LED TO A MONUMENTAL PERSONAL BRAND
Determined not to be left behind, Joseph became ambitious and driven.
He began developing his own stage act.
As the spotlight continued to shine upon him and his fame grew, he was very shrewd about controlling his career.
Unlike so many in his profession, he kept a tight rein on the direction of his career and the ownership of his material.
He ultimately became a multimillionaire.
His energy could be frenetic.
He was endlessly creating.
When he was living in Los Angeles, his celebrity neighbors would find themselves drafted into impromptu film performances right in his living room.
The man who had once been insecure, bacon-stuffed little Joseph was very candid about his fame.
"I'VE HAD GREAT SUCCESS BEING A TOTAL IDIOT"
Yes, he said that. He called himself a total idiot.
Hard to know when or where he said that, exactly, because it has become pervasive.
It has even turned into an internet meme.
But it's impossible to argue either the success or the idiocy. At one point during his career, he was called the monkey to his peformance partner's role as the organ grinder.
But the "total idiocy" that built his success was fueled by tremendous insecurity.
It's probably one of the reasons that in his act, he was big and broad and usually playing to the back row.
He had eccentricities. Besides the bacon, that is. He never wore the same pair of socks twice. It's been reported that he'd change them four times a day.
AND HIS FANS LOVED HIM
At the same time, his critics hated him.
None of it changed the fact that he also cast himself as a great humanitarian.
For his humanitarian work, he was even nominated for a Nobel Prize.
In France, he was awarded a Chevalier in the Ordre national de la Légion d'honneur, the highest order of merit that country can bestow. It's essentially a knighthood.
The French have lionized him as an auteur.
When you see someone with this kind of raging success, it's hard not to think, Wow. They have it together, don't they.
BUT AGAIN: A CAREER FUELED BY INSECURITY
The Fabulous Honey Parker and I have a friend who grew up in the northeast. He went to prep school and spent time living in New York.
At one point, he became friends with Joseph's adult son.
They visited dad backstage in his dressing room at a performance.
It seems they were sitting there, waiting for dad to appear, fresh form the stage.
Our friend describes the door opening, and being engulfed by a whirlwind of narcissism and insecurity.
He described it as overwhelming.
Meeting this world-famous multi-millionaire, all he can remember experiencing was the man's self-doubt, harsh self-analysis, and his need for affirmation.
BUT WHEREFORE LABOR DAY?
The holiday that spawned this train of thought.
For a quarter of a century, Labor Day was the day that this man would launch a crusade to help children for whom the secret Jewish bacon cure was not enough.
During his tenure as Labor Day's ringmaster, he helped raise over two and a half billion dollars for children in need of more than bacon.
It was a cause that he took personally, and to which he dedicated himself annually.
EVENTUALLY, THAT STAR WAS EXTINGUISHED
Bad press, accusations, criticism, outdated attitudes, fragmentation of TV viewership--many things contributed to the death of the Labor Day manifestation of the cause.
But for 45 years, The Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon was a fixture on American televisions.
But like the arc of little Joseph Levitch's career, it was a huge success that eventually became the punchline to a joke.
And little Joseph Levitch, whose stage name became Jerry Lewis, built a stellar career on the foundation of a personal brand infused equally with talent and insecurity.
If you didn't see the news, Jerry Lewis went to the great telethon in the sky just a couple of weeks shy of Labor Day, on August 20, 2017.
He was 91 years old.
SO WHAT ON EARTH WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH SMALL-BUSINESS BRANDING?
Funny you should ask that.
I was asking myself the very same thing when I stumbled upon the mystic Jewish bacon cure.
I wanted to know more about the childhood malady that Josephs' grandmother fought back with bacon.
Can I use it?
Will it help me?
I'm very pro-bacon.
But the more I searched, the less there was about the illness.
But the more there was about the carefully built brand that was Jerry Lewis.
The environmental conditions and the family dynamic that led to his success as a one-man comedy empire were fascinating.
And it got me thinking about how often the quest for perfection shoots a small-business brand in the foot.
"DONE IS BETTER THAN PERFECT"
That adage comes to us from the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg.
And it shines a laser onto the hot spot that so often prevents a brand from ever getting off the ground.
Throughout my career working with small businesses in branding and advertising, it's impossible to count the number of branding efforts and advertising campaigns that have been derailed by fear.
Yet in Jerry Lewis, we have the sky-high success of a one-man brand founded upon and driven by fear.
Some might argue that the Jerry Lewis brand is built on cruelty and megalomania.
That's an easy, pop-psychology way to explain it.
It's also ignorant and dismissive.
NOTHING IS EVER THAT SIMPLE
But if you start peeking into the life that was Jerry Lewis, you see a flawed human being who built a quintessential small-business brand that eventually became world-famous.
He did it without venture capital.
He did it without a logo.
He did it without advisors or gurus or email marketing or sales funnels.
He did it purely through intellectual investment and sweat equity.
And, perhaps, bacon.
What's in your wallet?
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
Blaine Parker helps people sell their stuff. An advertising Creative Director and Copywriter at Slow Burn Marketing, he specializes in big-brand thinking for small-business marketing. He has the voice of a much taller man.