Shooting from the hip in Hollywood
As all Hollywood big shots know, any idea that shows a glimmer of success warrants consideration for franchise or brand-exploitation possibilities. It’s natural, then, that with a combined six decades of showbiz experience between them, two of the town’s bigger shots -- Peter Bart and Peter Guber -- employed just such a strategy with their insiders’ take on Hollywood.
First came the UCLA seminar series, dubbed “Shoot-Out!,” then the Putnam book, “Shoot Out: Surviving Fame and (Mis)Fortune in Hollywood,” and now a new Sunday-morning talk and analysis show on cable’s AMC, “Sunday Morning Shootout."And who knows, if this program works out, Broadway might see “ShootOut, the Musical.”
Notwithstanding some vanity project trappings -- such as the billboards around town featuring the two Peters with their faces in movie-star proportions -- Bart has serious aspirations for the show. In fact, he’s not shy about associating it with the Sunday morning powerhouse: NBC’s “Meet the Press,” hosted by Tim Russert.
Russert “brings out the best in his guests,” says the Variety editor in chief, who says he modeled the show in part on “Meet the Press.” “He’s relaxed, informal and candid. On the other hand, the set is austere.... I think it can be a little more fun.”
No one wears a tie on “Sunday Morning Shootout,” a new type of insider chat show where the discussions don’t concern national or foreign policy, as on Russert’s program, but rather focus on issues in Hollywood. The show is shot on a set made to resemble a neighborhood coffee shop. The feisty but reserved Bart and the forceful and louder Guber, chief of Mandalay Entertainment and former chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment, rely on their many years in the business to attract some of Hollywood’s less glitzy and more forthcoming stars and filmmakers to the show.
The key to the relaxed atmosphere, says Bart, is that guests know “they’re not going into a studio with a total stranger.”
The show fills a void and mirrors what intrigues today’s moviegoers, says Robert Rosen, dean of UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television. “I think it’s a significant new type of commentary about the industry.
“People follow grosses and players now the way they used to follow only stars,” he adds. “This is different from a lot of talk show people who are there, basically in the mode of intimidation or adulation. Here it’s one of revelation.”
In the first show, which aired Oct. 12, actor-director-producer Edward Norton brought up provocative topics: that medium-size films are actually more profitable than blockbusters, and that the public believes many awards are bought. Also on that first show, 20th Century Fox co-chairman Tom Rothman almost committed a Hollywood no-no by appearing to come close to saying Norton’s Fox film “Fight Club” was profitable. Dustin Hoffman revealed his regret in last Sunday’s show over saying no to too many good projects. In thrust-and-parry style, the hosts disagreed with each other about smoking in the movies and whether film critics are really necessary.
The third segment, with guest Anthony Hopkins, will air at 11 a.m. Sunday and appear online afterward on https://movies.yahoo.com.
So far, the show has made a mild splash, with average ratings of 219,000 viewers nationally. It’s unknown how many of those are concentrated in and around Hollywood.
One of the challenges, the hosts say, is to keep the conversations interesting without crossing the line into “inside baseball.”
Guber, whose producing credits include “Batman” and “Alex & Emma,” has taught at UCLA for 30 years. He says he has his own challenge shifting from a speaker to a listener. “What worries me is: Can I be interested enough instead of interesting?” They say guests are culled from relationships they’ve kept over the years. “I go back and forth and impose on them the fact there’s an opportunity to share their insights and information with the next generation of filmmakers and people who love doing movies,” Guber says. They choose guests who they believe will be candid, self-deprecating and not “all sell,” Bart says. Indeed, Norton had no current project to promote, although Hoffman’s “Runaway Jury” was released two days before his appearance on the show and Hopkins stars in the soon to be released “Human Stain.”
At some point, Guber imagines, Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger will be invited.
In an industry based on illusion and widely characterized as honesty-challenged, an obvious question will be how much viewers ought to believe of what they hear. “The question ‘Is that really true?’ will keep coming up again and again,” Rosen says.
“It’s true of all the talk shows,” Bart says. “Over time, we’ll ask questions that are insightful and challenging enough that we won’t let people get away with some obvious curveball.”
But neither should viewers expect exposes, Guber says. “This is not the National Enquirer.... It won’t be to discuss ridiculous charges. Our audience isn’t interested in that.”
They have critiqued each show looking for improvements, Bart says. He’s learning to be more aggressive in keeping the guests on point. “As a print journalist, I like to let people ramble. You don’t have that luxury on television.”
In the hosts’ favor, Rosen says, is that “both of them are outspoken, very articulate and forthright.... When they’re speaking, it’s with the perspective of engaged players. It gives it an added sense of credibility and immediacy.”
While Bart and Guber have been around long enough to provide history and context, each has his own scars. In 2001, Bart was suspended from his post following allegations that he frequently used racist, sexist and anti-gay language and engaged in unethical journalistic behavior.
Some in the industry are also questioning how the top editor at a paper covering the entertainment business can co-host a show on a network his paper covers. Daily Variety has already run a story about the show, noting the Web casts on Yahoo immediately after each installment airs on AMC. For his part, Guber was ousted as chairman of Sony Pictures in 1994 after box-office disasters led to a $3.2-billion write-off.
“The show isn’t about us,” Guber says. But he says he’s ready for anything.
On the first show, Bart made a reference to Guber’s $20-million home in Aspen, Colo. On the second show, he said Guber thinks “Kill Bill” is a date movie.
“He could bring up anything he wants,” Guber says. “He has to be ready to field the shots back. It’s mutually assured destruction.”