the age of the Nice Guy
i’ve been thinking a lot lately about a couple friends from college who will remain nameless. exactly one year out of college, i got extremely lucky and booked a great gig with an Off-Broadway show with which i toured the world and made a pretty solid living. it was a great time and i saw the world, but i was a kid and very quickly found myself doing things that made me start to really hate myself. so i did what i had to do: i quit. i came to Los Angeles because my girlfriend at the time was here and i tried to figure things out, to find out what my problem was so that i could succeed without hating myself. my two friends in the meantime hadn’t been so lucky, but their luck turned around. a few years later, one of them helped start a hugely successful TV show and the other started flourishing even later, became an integral part of an even more successful TV show, and then another.
meanwhile, i toyed with levels of commercial success in the theatrical, then music, then TV worlds without anything ever sticking for longer than about six months. these friend of mine were now succeeding, while i was failing. but this is the important part: i am a nice guy. therefore i was doomed to fail. this is basically the “advice” that was given to me by one of these two “friends” at some point during i think 1998. i rejected this advice and these two friends started to soar while i barely got by. there was a point not too long ago when i reached out to the other friend and she had her assistant call me back and basically call me an alcoholic because of an incident that was by then six or seven years in the past! i couldn’t sleep for nearly two full days because i felt so bad about something i couldn’t even remember and my friend wouldn’t give me the details of what i had supposedly done! we sort of patched things up later, but the message came through loud and clear: my “friend’s” time was so much more valuable than mine, that i rated at best a bitching down by her assistant – whom i’d never even met – and then some lukewarm semi-acceptance of an apology via facebook message after two solid sleepless nights. that’s all i was worth.
but i’m a nice guy, so it’s my own damn fault, right?
well cut to 2012 and i’m not doing so bad anymore. sure i’m not living the dream. i don’t have a ton of money or contacts or fame, but i’m making films. Kendall, Denny and i are doing what we love. sure, we scrape by and often worry about this bill or that truck loan payment, but several times a year we see our work on a big screen or on a small screen or on a phone and though our work might sometimes have its flaws, each piece improves from the last, and they’re ours from top to bottom.
we’re making movies. we’re doing what we love and that’s basically our life. and guess what? we’re all nice.
now my friends who write for TV, who live in that backstabbing, dog-eat-dog world of network or cable television are looking around and finding their options shrinking. i saw this just starting to happen with the music world twelve years ago and now it’s happening with TV. i don’t wish it upon my “friends” – i don’t hold any ill will for them at all, but i can’t say i’m not happy to see it happening primarily because while their doors are starting to slam shut, my doors and the doors of my “nice” friends are starting to open.
i very strongly believe that we are entering the age of the Nice Guy. i mean hell, paying for entertainment is becoming completely voluntary nowadays – just look at Louis CK’s ridiculous success with this Live at the Beacon Theater video. i bought one. hell, it was only $5 and i love Louis CK. he’s funny, despite his act being based around the premise that he’s such a horrible person, you can very clearly tell that he isn’t. look where he spent a big chunk of the money he made from that special and tell me his isn’t a nice guy! seriously, why would anybody pay for something from an asshole when they dont have to at all? if they want to see something, they can get it with such ease and via so many different ways and means, that paying for something has become more a matter of validating someone’s right to have your money than it is a matter of actually accessing the music or show or film. of course i’m anti-pirating myself, but i’m the minority. and i have my moments too.
case in point: i love George R. R. Martin. i own all his “Song of Ice and Fire” books – have paid for multiple copies of a couple of them because i’ve occasionally lent one out and didn’t get it back. i read those books over and over. so when his “Game of Thrones” series came out on HBO, i was ecstatic, but the problem is i don’t own a TV. we have at least one in storage, but i haven’t had one hooked up to anything for nearly seven years and that’s how i like it. i watch shows on my computer and when i can’t see it on Hulu or rent it on Netflix, i buy it. i bought the first season of “The Walking Dead”, a couple episodes of “Lost” and the pilot episode of “Falling Skies” on iTunes. i bought the entire final season of “Battlestar Galactica” on Amazon. i own all five seasons of “The Wire” on DVD and will probably buy all the DVDS of “Breaking Bad” once they come out.
and all i wanted to do was watch Game of Thrones as it was coming out and HBO provided zero purchasing options! i couldn’t believe it! they were basically saying that because i didn’t have TV or cable i didn’t matter and they didn’t even want my money. so like probably tens of thousands of others i had only one choice and it was a choice i wasn’t happy about, but for whatever reason, HBO decided they didn’t want to give me the option to pay for something i believed in. sure, i could have waited, but i’m a rabid original fan and have been for a decade.
if they had given me the option, i would have happily paid. i would have paid for the upcoming Season Two and for every season they can afford to make, but they – like my two “friends” – want to whiten their knuckles holding on to a world that’s slipping away. to a world in which you have to play games and be a dick and connive and backstab and lie and cheat your way to the top. but everywhere i look, i see the signs. i see proof that they’re wasting their time. i mean, there will always be celebrity and that top rung of the ladder will always be surrounded by tooth marks and nail scratches and knife stabs, but it’s power is already greatly diminished. as a culture, we’re nowhere near as influenced or held in awe by that top rung as we used to be and so room at the top is shrinking. the entire concept of A, B, C & D-list celebrities is becoming a joke of the past. cable and network staff are getting laid off in droves because huge numbers of audience and their valuable advertising eyeballs are drifting toward niches.
like Chris Anderson says in “The Long Tail” the world driven by hits is slipping away and being replaced little-by-little with the world of the niche, and one thing that’s becoming more and more clear to me is that this is very good news for nice guys. very good news indeed.