Someone is going to have to explain this to me. I tend to think of myself as reasonably intelligent, a man with his finger somewhere near the pulse of things, but I can’t quite wrap my head around this one. They are apparently turning this FIRE AND FURY book into a TV series, which I understand from a conceptual point of view, but not from a practical one, and therein lies my confusion.
I don’t need to tell you what this book is, obviously, so I won’t get too much into that. Let’s instead spend our time together today, without being remotely political, talking about the specifics of adapting it, what it might entail, and why it seems to me like a colossally stupid idea.
On the one hand, any time you have a book that is the kind of sensation that Fire and Fury is you’re going to take a serious look at adapting it to either the big screen or the small. Happens all the time, and always has. The powers that be see big-time book sales and it makes them lose all reason and accountability. They become blinded by the dollar signs flashing before their eyes, even if there is no rational reason for them to do so. This part I get. The thinking behind it is sound, or it would be, if it were happening in a vacuum. But it’s not, and that’s where my concern kicks in.
Obviously, this is not going to be any kind of reality show, which means that they’re going to take something that even the author admits is not a hundred percent accurate and further fictionalize it into something even more absurd. That’s all fine, and the end result might even be entertaining, but there’s a far bigger issue at hand: namely, who is going to watch this thing? We are inundated with news from this administration that, love it or hate it, takes up an enormous amount of any given day. We’re surrounded by it, pretty much everywhere we look, and the entertainment industry isn’t giving us any breaks from it, either. There is simply no respite from the constant deluge. Entertainment works as an escape, but if this specific entertainment provides no such opportunity — indeed, it provides the exact opposite — then where is the upside?
There is something else that’s important about this that I think can’t be understated. From what I understand about the book, it portrays the Trump White House as incompetent. But, see, people don’t want to watch a show about an incompetent president. They want to see their TV presidents taking charge and doing well, and so they like The West Wing and Designated Survivor and House of Cards. 1600 Penn, meanwhile, didn’t even last one season (the argument could be made for Veep, but, she was only briefly president, and those farcical bona fides had already been well established). Throw in the fact that this would be about the real president, and it doubles the jeopardy.
That’s why I can’t imagine anyone actually sitting down to watch this show. What kind of entertainment value is it going to give? Are people going to “Hate Watch” it, either because they can’t stand what’s going on in this country or because they love it? Who are the folks who want to sit down for an hour every week and get dramatizations of this stuff? Seriously, I’m asking.
“But, Neil,” you say, “what about Primary Colors? What about Recount? What about Game Change? Those all did well, right? Primary Colors got a couple Oscar nominations and both of the others were HBO movies that won a bunch of Emmys, and they were all based on real stuff. What’s the difference?”
Really glad you asked. In fact, Primary Colors did get two Oscar nominations (for Elaine May’s adapted screenplay and Kathy Bates’ supporting performance), but the $65 million movie lost a ton of money. Even though the book was a fictionalized account of President Clinton’s successful 1992 run, was written to be a movie, and was about a beloved president, it still failed at the box office. The other two TV movies did indeed get good ratings and won awards, but they were each only two hours long, not ongoing series. I think we can all recognize the enormous difference there.
Also, and this is the most important part of all this, each of the three projects hit screens years after the events they portrayed. Primary Colors came out in 1996. Recount came out in 2008, eight years after the 2000 election. Game Change was 2012, four years after John McCain disastrously chose Sarah Palin as his VP. In each case, there was distance. We would have no such luxury here.
The Fire and the Fury would be on the air while this administration is still in the White House. I mean, conceivably, of course. Let’s assume that Trump lasts his entire first term, and I’ll ask my question again: Who is going to want to watch, for entertainment’s sake, a real, current, White House that cannot tell its ass from its elbow? Fans of the president won’t watch, because they’ll be offended. Haters won’t either, because all it will do is anger them even more than they already are. So… again, someone please explain to me why this is a good idea.
Endeavor Content, the financing and sales arm formed last fall between sister companies WME and IMG, is behind this, having spent upwards of seven figures for the right to put a package together to then sell to a network or streaming service. I imagine someone is going to bite on this, for the same reasons listed above: that it’s a bright, shiny object of a property that, once turned around and put in the hands of an experienced creator who will find him or herself money-whipped into cooperating, will translate to good ratings. From Endeavor Content’s perspective, it makes sense, because someone will be shortsighted enough to bite on this, making this expenditure totally worthwhile. For them.
A big part of this business is being on the right side of the con. Moving a bill of goods to an investor who wants to be a part of Hollywood. Suckering someone into a deal that’s not actually good for them. Convincing a producer or director to cast an actor who is wrong for the part but might bring some kind of financial upside that never materializes. Selling a cinematic property to a buyer who has no chance of recouping an investment. These kinds of things happen all day every day here, and this is just the most obvious and blatant one this week.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not condemning the industry or denouncing the potential deal that may or may not occur. Far from it. That would be like denouncing the lion for hunting the gazelle. What I’m doing is questioning whether or not, in this particular case, it’s something that needs to happen. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.