Remember this quote, because I'll be coming back to it:
"That had nothing to do with the decision."
I'll explain the context in a minute.
Now then: Luke Russert, Jenna Bush, Chelsea Clinton -- what do they all have in common? Well, besides being the children of very famous people -- one the son of a revered political broadcaster, the other two the daughters of presidents -- as you probably already know, they also were or still are on-air correspondents for NBC News. Because what do you give the young person who has everything -- who's already a member of the cultural regency and who has the entire world at his or her disposal -- but a chance to be on TV regularly, get paid a very healthy amount of money for it, and be called a journalist?
Never mind those kids who did their time being one-man-bands at K-SHIT in Fresno-Visalia, working overnights and running around like headless chickens for lousy managers and no money. Forget the people who actually worked their way up through the ranks to get where they are and who learned their craft inside and out along the way. When it comes to head-count -- which is immutable gospel at NBC -- there may not be room another of these kinds of professionals, but there's always room for one more son or daughter of a celebrity.
To wit, meet MSNBC's newest host: Ronan Farrow. As in the son of Mia Farrow and either Woody Allen or Frank Sinatra, depending on whom you believe. Phil Griffin made the announcement just a couple of days ago, saying that the 25-year-old Farrow would be getting his own show on MSNBC because, well, let's let Griffin try to explain it with a mouthful of semen delivered directly to him from the penis of the gods atop Mount Olympus.
"Within 20 minutes I just knew that he had a certain presence and confidence. He knew what he wanted to say. I just had a sense that the guy could do it. Whatever that thing is that enables people to communicate really well, he had it. We're always trying evolve the message here and how to get ideas across. And he was an original thinker. And that's the most important thing... I knew he had this magic that would work on this network."
As for the obvious, whether Farrow's stellar celebrity pedigree played a role in the decision to not only hire him but give him his own show -- well, you guessed it: that's where the quote I started with comes back.
"That had nothing to do with the decision."
If you're coughing out the word "bullshit" right now, or maybe just rolling your eyes, or perhaps cupping your hands on the sides of your face and saying out loud, "How do you expect anyone to believe that, you fucking liar?" the way I did when I first read this story, then consider yourself normal and not a sociopath or a modern television news executive. Of course the fact that Ronan Farrow is Ronan Farrow and not Roy Farr, confident, original-thinking, magical bus driver from Newark, had everything to do with why he's now about to be a 25-year-old show host under the NBC banner.
Look, Farrow's a very smart guy and he's certainly accomplished for his age -- and there's little doubt that every network is trying to reach the youth these days -- but that doesn't change the fact that MSNBC is about to make room in its schedule for someone with absolutely zero daily on-air broadcasting experience. Granted, a good producer and team can cover almost anybody's ass -- well, maybe not anybody since nobody seems to be able to save another of MS's starfucks, Al Sharpton -- and Griffin probably plans to spend the next two-and-a-half months until Farrow's debut grooming and prepping him. But that still means there's someone in the MSNBC newsroom or a proven journalist outside the network who's being deprived of the chance to make his or her mark on-air. Unfortunately, it's a zero-sum game in this case since there really are only so many hours in the day.
Television isn't a meritocracy and it never has been. It's a talent-driven industry. You can come from nothing and become a star while somebody else who went to J-school and worked his or her ass off for years remains in the trenches. I'm more than willing to admit that on a much smaller scale, I was given opportunities as a kid that I maybe shouldn't have gotten and that made a hell of a lot of people around me resentful. I was an executive producer at 23. But the station I worked at at the time did that sort of thing once in a blue moon; management considered it an "experiment" and always reserved the right to pull the rug out from under you at any moment. NBC News does it as a matter of policy. If you're famous, or if you come from fame, there's almost certainly a place for you at the network or one of its many ancillary properties. There's at the very least, an open door and some free lunch time with a manager willing to meet with you and discuss options.
Maybe it brings cachet, but it hurts journalism, both by directly depriving the audience of it for that amount of time and by saying to up-and-coming young journalists that it's better to just go out and do something to make yourself famous. (Maybe try to get adopted by Angelina Jolie; you know one of those kids will be on MSNBC primetime in a few years.) Then again, yeah, the number of idiots I've seen on-air who've been saved from looking like idiots day after day by a good, underpaid, overworked producer is practically limitless.
One more thing: Farrow is the son of Hollywood royalty, a Rhodes Scholar, and a former Obama administration official. I really appreciate that MSNBC is fighting hard to be the smart network and I think that one is long overdue on cable. I would, however, caution it against turning itself into a monolithic ivory tower of true East and West Coast elites. It's already very close to that as it is. Left-leaning is one thing -- but that kind of pretension can be a huge turn-off. It plays right into the hands of the those who believe the cliché that all liberals are smug pseudo-intellectuals. And hiring the golden child of a golden family probably won't help.
Adding: Someone immediately e-mailed me to mention that if Ronan Farrow actually looked like Woody Allen instead of Ronan Farrow, his chance of being hired probably would've dropped to nil. Great point.