Spent much of last week in L.A. taking meetings (I love that vernacular) with performers, artists, writers and execs in an ongoing effort to spark new energy into Just For Laughs, as it goes through its re-vitalization/re-building/re-birth process.
And after all of ‘em were over and done, what I was left pondering over a late-night glass of wine was this classic “chicken or egg” conundrum, albeit show business-styled:
What’s more important:
The Talent or
Showbiz projects seem to come in two forms:
- You have a strong performer with a (one hopes) unique point of view, and you build a concept around him, her or them.
- You have a strong concept with a unique spin, and you build it by filling it with performers.
In my meetings with writers, we kicked around easy-to-understand/hard-to-forget, high-concept TV and live show ideas that would make stars out of those chosen to deliver them (for example, look what American Idol—high concept—has done for Ryan Seacrest and Simon Cowell).
In the get-togethers with talent, they were the nucleus, the shining supernova around which everything would have to evolve. (For example, putting together a show for Red Carpet fixture Steven Cojocaru would have to, at some level, incorporate his wild persona, his flamboyance and his universe of fashion and superstars.)
The difference between the two can be likened to the world of fashion, I suppose. Concept-based is like ready-to-wear; designers dream up and make the clothes, and bodies fill ‘em. Talent-based is like made-to-measure couture; tailors take your measurements, and create something just for you.
What I find intriguing is the circular effect of both concepts. Going back to the American Idol example, the concept created stars (a la Seacrest, Cowell, Kelly Clarkson et al) who went on to be big enough to become somebody else’s focal point. In many cases, these focal points become production entities who, of course, try to find the next killer concept…or superstar. And so it goes.
What also struck me were the parallels between showbiz and the VC-driven, start-up business world, something I became quite engulfed in during my 11 years co-driving the Airborne Mobile bus.
In most cases, VCs are looking for that “never been done,” forward-thinking concept that’ll bring a many-multipled return on their investment. Yet, of equal importance is the management team that will deliver on the concept’s vision and financial promise. Ideas without execution are ephemeral and worthless.
But once said management team has a hit, they—either collectively or individually—become industry “stars” that ideas are pitched to, or formed around, to see if lightning can strike twice. Or three times. Or…
So here’s what I learned—there’s no “right” answer to the bold, red conundrum atop this blog post.
But when push comes to shove, and when the last drop of wine has been sipped from the stemware, I must admit that I’m a “concept” guy. And that’s only because there may be too much talent to go around.
Perhaps Howie Mandel said it best at the CMA Conference earlier this year. He explained that back when Happy Days was a Top-5 show, you knew everyone in it. Never mind lead actors Ron Howard (Richie Cunningham) or Henry Winkler (The Fonz, ‘natch), but you knew secondary and tertiary players like Donnie Most (Ralph Malph) and Anson Williams (Potsie Webber) by name.
Then he asked:
“Who’s the second lead in CSI?” (Arguably America’s most popular show of the past 10 years.
Nobody had the answer.
While they need and rely upon each other in an ultimate co-dependency, a concept without a star can live longer than a star without a concept.
Which is why I’ll be pushing some very high concepts this week at TV meetings in Atlanta and live/Internet programming meetings back in Montreal.
And who knows? Maybe one of them will be the next big thing that’ll galvanize a nation. Or two. Or…
Hmmm, this type of thinking could make me…a star ;)
To leave you, this musical philosophical statement from one of my favorite bands of all time--Sparks: