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Archive for the ‘Media’

“Robert Christgau, Rock n’ Roll Animal”

February 6th, 2011

“Christgau, writing in The [Village] Voice, it just seemed like this weekly bulletin from the front.”  -Anthony DeCurtis, from Paul Lovelace’s 1999 documentary “Robert Christgau, Rock n’ Roll Animal”

Robert Christgau is the kind of inspiring critic and editor (primarily with New York’s The Village Voice) I wish we had in animation. A passionate musical eclectic, reading him in real time (the key might be “real time”) for most of the last 40 years would constantly keep you in a state of imagination and optimism. Even when you disagreed with him (I certainly did a majority of the time), his enthusiasms couldn’t help but infect you with the notion that pop music was worth it, that the very immediacy of popular culture had something to offer all of us. Of course, his definition of “pop” spanned the distance from Ornette Coleman to Patti Smith to Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five.

And that breadth was a lot of his message. Thousands of recordings are released, more thousands all the time, and it seemed like Christgau felt that the very fact they were released at all was cause for attention. He’d you he was inspired and that maybe you could be too. For me, like writer Anthony DeCurtis, Christgau was really a reporter about culture. His radar on punk and disco and hip-hop constantly reminded me to keep my mind open to creative people of all stripes, even though I was applying it in jazz, then television, and eventually, to animation.

My sister’s friend, publisher Russ Smith, opines in the doc that Bob Christgau was emblematic of the decline in The Village Voice’s audience, which is just a rival’s sour grapes. For this reader, certainly, he was the reason (and not just his columns, but the diversity of the other writers he brought to the music section) I regularly bought the paper throughout its ups and downs.

In animation, we appear to have almost no journalists interested enough in our medium to so completely immerse themselves in everything the art has to offer. I’ve posted about my admiration for Chris Robinson’s writing, and Charles Solomon and Michael Barrier write intelligently too. However, the almost purposeful disinterest in anything outside of their subjective parameters “quality” make their work a bit, um, limiting. Amid Amidi is certainly impassioned, but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on the confines of his shtick. Jerry Beck (and one of his mentors, Leonard Maltin) are heartfelt writers with perhaps the widest range of public interests in animation and cartoons, then again, I’m not sure I’d really describe them as critics, certainly in the manner of Robert Christgau (or Pauline Kael or Whitney Balliett). I, for one, would love to have a good writer constantly challenging all of us to work beyond our current projects, to aspire to greatness, whether it be greatness dumb or intelligent.

I just stumbled upon this short, enjoyable, 1999 documentary on Christgau by director Paul Lovelace (split into four parts on YouTube). I’d never heard about it and I can’t find much of anything about it (or Lovelace) on the web, but… here it is.

Dreams and cartoons?

January 17th, 2011


I’m going out on a limb here,  trying to make a connection between the creation of Martin Luther King, Jr’s solemn “I have a dream!” speech, and our art of creating cartoons, but I mean no disrespect. Just the opposite, it’s about my great admiration for MLK’s imagination and its place in the long creative traditions of oral and cultural history.

There’s a fantastic radio piece from NPR’s On The Media, “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Public Imagination,” yesterday about the development of this famous speech. It doesn’t come right out and connect all the dots, but in my listening it tells the story of how the speech was essentially improvised from his well prepared outline, and then he scats it, mashing up using his long observance of black preaching customs. A lot like great black music over the last century, from the blues right up through hip hop, he sampled a variety of sources, including some from a speech by a direct opponent of his principles, spinning it to his own glorious ends.

Why am I citing this piece on a cartoon blog? Simply, maybe tritely, listening to this report reminded me of why I like the classic cartoon creation method. That it, the “writing” of toons directly on storyboards, often from a written outline.Watching a team knock together a great film this way is an inspiring experience. Unfortunately, it’s one I seldom see, given the prejudice towards script writing. To each his/her own, but I love the results from this kind of animated remix. Am I pushing the analogy too much? Maybe. However, when I see what happens on Adventure Time, for instance (not to hype, or ignore others; just my most recent direct board experience), seeing how 100 years of cartoons, movies, music, and videogames come together into the stew… Well, I can only say it’s amazing to behold.

There’s more in the radio piece, of course. Be happy I won’t go into what it says (to my ears, once again) about the limits of current, egregious, abuse of the concept of copyright. But, if you can, open your own ears to what it says about creative process. It’s amazing how we all do what we do, and where it comes from.

You’ll never look at music the same way again.

January 4th, 2010

MTV: The Making of a Revolution, written by Tom McGrath

By the mid-1990s, a teenager who’d had his mind blown by the music video visual feast was old enough to be a damn good writer and reporter, so Scranton’s Tom McGrath (now the Executive Editor of Philadephia Magazine) decided to literally write the book. MTV: The Making of a Revolution told the whole story (it’s now out of print, maybe since MTV: Music Television become MTV), behind and in front of the camera.

As I remember, Mr. McGrath’s reporting was fairly complete and, all in all, accurate, in and of itself often a rarity in media reporting. He made me and the work my teams did look good, which made my mother and father very happy. Me too.

Ken Auletta works hard.

November 18th, 2009


There’s no one who can translate the BS of media jargon for us like  prolific author and media observer Ken Auletta. Almost two years ago he came by to do background research for what turned into “Googled: The End of the World as We Know It,” his just released book. If you’re interested in the media revolution you’re living through (yes, this time it truly is a revolution; your kids will be reading the history of this era when they’re in school) it’s a must read.

Over his two and a half years of his usual, thorough, research (no quickie here) Ken came up with a bunch of truths that didn’t fit neatly into his narrative. Being involved in media for almost 40 years now, it still astounds me how… stuck media executives can be (me too, often). Writer William Goldman once said that in Hollywood “Nobody knows anything,” and media executives are really no different. No one knows how anything will turn out, but so many of them think they do so they rarely try things that are actually new (me too, often). They read stuff like Ken’s maxims and pretty much ignore the lessons.

Mr. Auletta’s warnings are embedded below. Read ‘em and get smarter.

…:::Update: I posted these Media Maxims of Ken’s and then read them, noticing my quote at the end of page 26. Thanks Ken. :::…
Ken Auletta : Media Maxims

More than 75,000 times.

September 14th, 2009

This post is about two animated spots during MTV’s first year. One’s the most popular, the other was only played once, and not on television.

“One Small Step” from fredseibert on Vimeo.

There were very few “ideas” for spots I could claim as mine at MTV. Identifying talent and strategy were my strengths, and I felt from there everything else would flow. But this spot was different; it’s the one for which I feel complete ownership.

Bob Pittman wanted there to be a signal identification at the top and bottom of each and every hour of MTV: Music Television, where the VJ would identify the most important music videos in that half hour. We agreed it would be voice over animation, with stills IDing the songs.

But, what should the animation be? It had to be memorable, repeatable, and not drive a viewer completely crazy. After all, it was going to play almost 17,000 times every year. And we had only 90 days until launch.

It seemed to me MTV had the most stuck up and conceited view of ourselves. We were completely enamored of the fact that we had no TV shows on our TV networks (a new “show” every three minutes, when a new video started). That was world changing, right? (Well, not really. CNN beat us to it. But we conveniently forgot about that.)

My mentor Dale Pon had introduced me to the treasure trove of free images and film from NASA, a public government entity which we all “owned” as US citizens. It would be an inexpensive source of public domain video for us. As a start-up –no one was really sure this thing would work except us– we needed all the financial short-cuts we could find.

“Space is very rock’n’roll,” said senior producer Marcy Brafman.

This spot was going to be our most important. There would be over 30 changing video pieces every hour (music videos, promos, VJs, and commercials) and this would be the only thing all day that was constant. It would get a lot of scrutiny.

So, I thought the “top of the hour” spot should do it’s job and reflect our conceit, be inexpensive, and use our ever changing logo. Oh right, it had to have that indefinable rock attitude.

I thought the simplest way to combine all that stuff was to steal the shine from an already existing piece of video. Let’s take the most famous television moment ever and fold, spindle, and mutilate it to our nefarious purposes.

Our brainstorming turned up some famous, or really infamous, stuff. The biggest one we thought about was the Lee Harvey Oswald shooting by Jack Ruby that was live on television in 1963. Aside from it’s wrongness, it occurred to me that it was only an American moment. We were claiming that MTV would be “the world’s first video music channel.” We needed a world moment.

Right then it came to me. In the summer of ‘69 I was traveling behind the Iron Curtain with my family on the day of the Apollo 11 moonwalk. The streets of dirt poor Sofia, Bulgaria were chocked with walkers looking for apartments with televisions to witness this seemingly impossible achievement of man. Truly, the most memorable worldwide event in TV history.

Let’s cop it, I figured. The worst that could happen is that a generation of kids would grow up wondering why NASA photoshopped in an American flag with MTV’s used to be.

Alan Goodman and I enlisted Buzz Potamkin’s Perpetual Motion Pictures (soon to be Buzzco) to put together the spot. David Sameth produced for Buzz, Candy Kugel illustrated and directed (logos originally designed and illustrated by Manhattan Design), and music was by John Petersen and Jonathan Elias.

By the way, this version of the spot never ran. The day before launch the lawyers informed me we needed, and would never receive, permission from astronaut Neil Armstrong to use his quotation.

The VMA Moonman

The spot ran more than 75,000 times, through variations of animation and music. Now, it’s sense memory DNA is left in the “Moonman” award from the VMAs (the idea of Manhattan Design’s Frank Olinsky, I believe); no one in the audience knows why it exists. It was only retired, tragically, on January 28, 1986, when the Challenger Shuttle exploded in mid-air. The end of the first space era.

“Freddie Buys It” from fredseibert on Vimeo.

This story’s shorter. A couple of months after the network launch, Bob promoted me to Vice President, MTV’s first (a big deal in those pre-title inflationary days); I was probably whining too much about how hard I was working. He put together a huge congratulatory event and asked Alan to make some video just for the party. He asked director Steve Oakes and producer Peter Rosenthal at Broadcast Arts in Washington DC to modify one of the awesome claymation spots they’d made for us. They put a plasticine me in the spot and ignobly ran me over. I got what I deserved.Fred MTV promotion party

Ralph Ginzburg: My mentors (?)

September 14th, 2009

Ralph Ginzburg, Moneysworth Magazine
Click here to read this ad larger.

It’s hard to actually call Ralph Ginzburg a mentor of mine. I’m not sure he talked to me more than once, and after a few months on the night shift at his magazine Moneysworth, he had me fired. But a mentor to me he indeed was. Without either of us knowing it, the path I started at Ralph’s would continue for 15 years.

By the time I went to work for his publication in the summer of 1976, Ralph was on his last publication. He was notorious for being convicted and jailed for obscenity relating to his hard cover magazine Eros (though there were some who said he was less obscene than just completely annoying). Moneysworth was to be his last hurrah.

I worked in the production department. Ralph was around often, talking loudly and smartly about everything from design to circulation to advertising. All I had to do was absorb it all. It was the place I saw first hand and up close how design, language, marketing, and promotion worked in the real world.

Ralph showed me (inadvertently) the practical meaning of graphic design (the only things I knew were from reading my girlfriend’s book about Milton Glaser); he talked so much, and so eloquently about Herb Lubalin, I felt like I’d actually worked with him myself. And watching him lay out his trademark full page New York Times ads (like the ones above and below) was an education by itself, about design and typography.

But, it was really in the area of writing, strategy, and direct selling that I got my Ginzburgian education. I won’t belabor the details [Read more…]

On Bloomberg.

November 25th, 2008

Find more videos like this on Channel Frederator RAW

Bloomberg Television made a terrible mistake and booked me as the first guest on their new show ‘Venture’: The World of Entrepreneurship in October. The host Mike Schneider was much better than I was, and the entire staff (including associate producer Nikole Yinger) was fantastic to work with. It was a great experience; it’s rare for someone like me to be featured in a solid half hour interview, Charlie Rose style. And once again marveled at the power of media when I got emails from around the world after the show aired across the weekend. I know, I know, I’m in the media, but when you get hit with it from an obscure appearance it’s always amazing.

R.I.P. Tony Schwartz

June 17th, 2008

Tony Schwartz
Tony Schwartz, 1923-2008: his ‘daisy ad’ changed political advertising.

Even though he became famous in an era of black & white and radio, Tony Schwartz taught core lessons of communication to everyone in the media. Whether they knew it was coming from him or not.

His most famous piece was this campaign spot for Lyndon Johnson in 1964, which, lore has it, ran only once (and never even mentioned the opponent’s name) but was responsible for defeating Barry Goldwater in a landslide.

The Responsive Chord
My mentor, Dale Pon, not only insisted I buy and read Tony’s book “The Responsive Chord,” but that I should meet the man himself, which was an incredible experience. From then on, I made the book required reading among my promotion staff.

Check it out. The things you think you know because you’re smart are probably things that Tony was smart about before we were born.

The Stove Top Stuffing Mountains.

June 10th, 2008


This advertising was one of the choice campaigns from one of our pet projects at my ad agency. Like I said a few days ago, in the mid-80s my partner Alan Goodman and I came up with the idea of the first oldies TV network, Nick-at-Nite, and our creative director Noel Frankel developed the ad that was the perfect way to start telling people about our nutty approach to building the identity. Then, writer Bill Burnett kept coming up with the twisted ads for places like TV Guide.

Soon Nick-at-Nite was the most popular cable network in prime time and we needed to start selling some ads. Bill Burnett came up with the idea of a faux editorial campaign for the advertising trade magazines (like Advertising Age and Adweek) from a media pundit, Raul Degado (written by Bill, modeled by Tom Pomposello, who had one outrageous media buying scheme after another, every week. By the end of each column, of course, Nick-at-Nite seemed the perfect real time solution to the advertisers’ problems.

This one could be my favorite. It’s funny, and, it came true!

Happy with the mess.

November 12th, 2006


Wanna read about cartoons? That’s mainly in the second section down below. Someone asked me for this piece because of my recent rants about the changing media. I believe it has everything to do with you and cartoons, but you might diagree or be too bored with my writing to care. Either way, thanks for hanging around our blogs.

Happy with the mess.
Thanks goodness media is in an upheaval again. As every art form should be. Sure media is a ‘common carrier’ of writing, music, film, and all sorts of art. But media itself is art, an expression. And like everything in art, in order to remain essential it’s got to be turned upside down and shook out ever so often to maintain its vitality. And its viability.

I’m pretty happy with this state of affairs; it seems like most of my baby boomer life it was television exploding network radio and movies, or the Beatles throwing over Elvis and Sinatra. Then as professionals in cable television we rewrote the rules of how TV talked to the world, and watching the beginning of interactive technology and communication alter everything in media that has come before in almost inexplicable ways. For me it’s always been the way of the world. And the way that I work.

TV, the massive bore.
Early in my career I struggled looking for places in the media where the rules weren’t already written (the Beatles influence was pretty clear; the idea of creating wild eyed commercial success crossed with high art held on strongly). Radio sure didn’t have it, music recording should have had it, and television and movies…please! Bob Pittman came along and made me the first member of his new cable programming team and we brought the rules of Top 40 radio to all kinds of television, from music to kids to comedy, and eventually around the world.

Let’s face it, to us 20-somethings, broadcast television was one massive bore, programming to everyone, satisfying no one except the out of touch advertisers.

The rules had been happily, and profitably, established 30 years before and there was an incredible army of conventional wisdom established that didn’t want to be rocked. We just wanted take over the world, so minute by minute and day by day (I’d say show by show, but we didn’t have no TV shows) we dissected how they did it, tore it apart. We reinvented the pieces that didn’t work (and kept the ones that did) and had the conceit that no one else knew how to do what we were doing.

I Want My {Brand} TV.
We were so conceited that when I took the world’s most famous TV moment, the 1969 moon landing, and planted a flag with 100 MTV logos, I joked that six year olds would forever wonder why the official version of the photo had an American flag. (And now those 31 years olds work with me and confirm my worst fears about how communication works.)

Unwittingly we were aided by mature industries (broadcasting and publishing) that had no room for our skills, our talents, or our ideas. There were hundreds of us that were too impatient to wait 20 years to take our place in the middle ranks of media management.

Along the way, the new orthodoxy presented itself:

• No TV stations, just channels.

• Don’t watch a show, watch a channel that talks the way you talk and sings the way you sing.

• It’s not your parent’s channel, it’s not your siblings’ channel, it’s not even all your friends’ channel. It’s your channel.

And my creative, marketing, and programming groups invented a brand new idea. Networks, nah! Shows, nah! Ratings, nah! (At least, not yet.) But what instead?


Long before our current, common vocabulary, every channel I worked on was an idea, a community, an audience. A set of beliefs. In marketing: a brand. Add a vanity that our beliefs would not only change the media, but change the world. And now, take a look. MTV is the largest channel in the world, established in more countries than anything else in all of television, and synonymous with youth around the globe. Nickelodeon has more viewing than the children’s viewing of all the broadcasters combined (that is, before they abandoned kids altogether).

Now, if only MySpace and Neopets don’t steal their thunder.

CU Timmy Turner: “Ah? The internet?!?!”
But, of course they will. They’re already doing it.

I now produce cartoons. You know, like Looney Tunes, but newer. Cartoons went through their own paradigm shifts I won’t totally bore you with, but suffice it to say great feature cartoons (like Bugs or Mickey) gave way to simpler, more graphic TV cartoons like the Flintstones. They giving way to ‘animated sitcoms’ –yuck– and got really boring (The Snorks, anyone?). The producers like us who entered in the last generation couldn’t take it anymore and initiated a silver age explosion that resulted in The Powerpuff Girls, The Simpsons, and South Park. And now, they’re even boring! Why? I’ll let others speculate exactly how, but the truth is everything in media always wears out. And the new has to rush in.

What’s the new this time, and how’s it happening?

To quote Timmy Turner from our production of The Fairly Oddparents: “Ah? The internet!?!?”

You bet. All over the media (cartoons, news, sitcoms, whatever) a crucial link is being killed. It’s the network. Or more specifically, the network executive (or a producer like me, for that matter). Makers of all kinds of stuff are talking directly to their customers. Bloggers publish their own newspapers, filmmakers exhibit at their own theatres, cartoons run their own asylums.

Out of frustration with being ignored by the powers that be I’ve worked with regularly for 25 years (and we get in the door, they at least attempt to take us seriously) we’ve started over 50 blogs, and a handful of video networks. Within weeks we’d established millions of monthly viewers and readers and rendered out heretofore
back-room companies to brands with worldwide recognition. Advertisers are knocking on the door, and we’re being consulted daily within the automotive and entertainment industries as to how traditional brands can see the light (one day I’m hopeful they can, depressed the next they’re more interested in only protecting what they have instead of going boldly forward).

And the whole effort is being aided again by the perfect storm of talent and ideas. If you’re a young person with designs on media once again there’s a back-up. Buck the odds and get in the door and you’ll see a ten or fifteen year line ahead of you to get the job (or show) you really wanted in the first place. But, make your own idea, post in at Blogger.com or YouTube.com or ChannelFrederator.com, and you can have 500,000 friends in a couple of days waiting for your next pronouncement (ask my colleague Dan Meth what happened to his video Hebrew Crunk for a real life proof of concept).

The revolution will be televised.
Want to be a star? Want to be a living brand? Don’t wait for MTV, don’t wait for the New York Times, don’t wait for me.

Mostly don’t blame me. From now on you’ve only yourself to look at in the mirror if no one knows you’re alive.