The Emmys: A Billfold Perspective

The Emmys were last night! So many dangling pendant earrings. So much bronzer. (Orange really is the new black, ba-dum-CHING.) So many long sleek hairless legs, representing so many costly hours at the gym and the spa, and so many skyscraper-like shoes hoisting those legs even further from the ground on which ordinary people spend their ordinary days. There are no losers at the Emmys: even people who don’t win get a $50,000 consolation prize.

Nearly all of the shows that do win these days are “premium” content, TV one has to pay to watch or else stream/download on the sly. As the NYT’s Alessandra Stanley puts it,

There is an exhilarating confluence of talent and opportunity at places like HBO and Showtime. Shows like “Breaking Bad” and “True Detective” are more inspired than movies, telling stories that are a complete vision rather than a committee-dulled compromise. But it’s increasingly obvious that the most rewarded series are also the ones that penalize audiences with costs that add up and count many viewers out. And that makes the Emmys, a ceremony that is always carried by a broadcast network, a paradox: a water-cooler event that increasingly exalts the boutique, paid-for television experience.

I don’t pay for either HBO or Showtime, though if I had unlimited money, I would buy unlimited cable. It’s high on the list, right up there with “beach/mountain house” and “Fluevogs.” Instead I settle for Netflix, which, for about $10/month, brings me a lot of the important shows, like “OITNB” and “Sherlock,” and which was basically shut out last night for being a brassy upstart. It’s funny to watch an event celebrating TV and realize how little of it an average person has access to.

Related: What’s an Emmy worth? CNN’s Brian Stelter explains and the NY Daily News weighs in.


Link Roundup: Affluenza/Douchiness; Hospitals & Obamacare; Macy’s Settles with “Shoplifters”

+ Remember that Texas boy who killed a bunch of people and got off with a slap on the wrist because, his lawyers argued, his wealthy parents never taught him right from wrong? SHOCKER, his dad just got arrested. Not for never teaching his son “thou shalt not kill,” but for being a douche.

The father of the Texas teenager who killed four people while driving drunk and claimed his family’s wealth was partially to blame has been arrested for impersonating a police officer, legal documents showed. Frederick Anthony Couch was arrested on Tuesday for an incident that occurred on July 28 in the Fort Worth suburb of North Richland Hills. Couch is the father the then 16-year-old boy who was sentenced to probation for the deadly accident after his lawyers argued the enormous wealth of the youth’s family blinded him to responsibilities resulting from his actions.

+ Hospitals, Obamacare, and who qualifies for free emergency treatment.

While many charity care programs have been in place for decades, others were established following widespread complaints and lawsuits brought in the late 1990s over aggressive hospital collections tactics. Those included placing liens on patients’ homes and charging the uninsured the highest list prices, which were far more than what insurance companies paid on behalf of policyholders. Now, under the health law, nonprofit hospitals must make reasonable efforts to determine if patients qualify for help before taking tough collection tactics. And the law says the amount sought from the patient cannot be the hospitals’ list price, but an amount closer to what is generally billed to insured patients.

+ Macy’s pays $650,000 to settle with shoppers after acting like a shitty police state. Because America really needed another one of those. 


Matt & Ben Waste Money Just Like Us

The death of Robin Williams has bubbled up lots of old stories and slideshows and videos of him communing with non-human primates, but this oral history of the making of Good Will Hunting printed in Boston Magazine in 2013, is SO GREAT (for reasons unrelated to Robin Williams).


Kapitalism the Game, By and Starring Kim Kardashian

Perhaps you are one of those people who, when they hear “Kardashian,” thinks of the characters from “Star Trek.” You wouldn’t be too far off. Those otherworldly beings are described as “Tall, long-necked, humanoid in appearance, marked by several bony protrusions and ridges …” Though Kim’s protrusions aren’t exactly bony, that’s a good intro. NB: I am not the first person to make this joke.

The tall, long-necked humanoid TV star has gotten as rich as Kroesus, and almost as rich as Gene Roddenberry himself, by marketing her image in several media. Her latest successful money-making venture is a game that allows you, or your cute, busty avatar, to Keep Up with Kim in Hollywood. The Atlantic’s write up / review of the experience is amazing enough; I can only imagine how it feels to play:

Kim Kardashian: Hollywood [is] an app that is also a game that is also, now, a phenomenon. (“It might be our biggest game of the year,” Niccolo de Masi, CEO of the app-maker Glu Mobile Inc., told Bloomberg.) The game is free to download and play; but it allows—and encourages—in-app purchases. You use real-world money to win at Kim World. Which has meant, among other things, that Kim Kardashian is becoming even more explicitly what a reality star always will be, underneath it all: an entrepreneur.

While she has long ranked among the highest-paid of the reality (“reality”) stars—her estimated net worth, as of this June, was $45 million—the game is on track to earn $200 million, with Kim’s 45-percent cut coming in at $90 million. … Kim Kardashian: Hollywood is the game that Ayn Rand might have written, had Ayn Rand lived in the age of the smartphone and been a fan of bodycon skirts. It is what happens when objectification gives way to objectivism. “This game is so freakin stupid,” iTunes customer Dmon555 complained, before giving it a 5-star rating.

Have you played this game? Please tell me you’ve played it and that it’s as much ridiculous fun as it sounds. Have you spent any money on it? Was the experience worth it? Also, ha! The COMMENTS.


Trust Fund Babies: They’re Just Like Us?

The last wishes of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman have leaked to the public and there are some interesting details in his will about what he wanted done with his money:

Philip Seymour Hoffman rejected his accountant’s suggestion he set aside money for his three children because he didn’t want them to be ‘trust fund’ kids, according to new court documents. In a July 18 filing in Manhattan Surrogate Court, the actor’s accountant David Friedman recalled conversations with Hoffman where the topic of a trust for his children was raised. He said Hoffman wanted his estimated $35 million fortune to go his longtime partner and the children’s mother, Mimi O’Donnell.

It’s a kind of unusual choice. My dad always inveighed against “trust fund kids” when we were growing up; his hostility toward them in the abstract was a main reason he sent my brothers and me to religious school instead of one of the DC-area’s numerous posh private schools. Did a six-year-old in a Harvard sweatshirt kick sand in his face one time, or did some bouncy-haired, Varsity-jacketed schmuck driving his father’s convertible steal my dad’s high school girlfriend?

I had no idea, and I never asked why he was so sure ready money ruined children. I just knew if I wanted to get a rise out of him I could joke about making friends with someone who had a yacht. 


Weird Al Becomes Wired Al And Everyone Wins

Weird Al Yankovic is profiled in BusinessWeek and that’s not a sentence I expected to write. But, to be fair, his is not a profile they expected to write either. Who could have predicted Weird Al?

The Internet should have made Weird Al Yankovic irrelevant years ago. In fact, it has done the opposite. … The video for Lynwood‘s lead single, White & Nerdy, for example, had almost nothing to do with Chamillionaire’s original Ridin’. But it did something even better: Offer a critique of white suburbanites who co-opt hip-hop culture while simultaneously becoming a nerd anthem. (This group, coincidentally, makes up a sizable portion of Weird Al’s fanbase.) The video for White & Nerdy became so popular that it propelled the song to No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Also on that album was Don’t Download This Song, about music piracy and the Recording Industry Association of America’s copyright infringement cases. Weird Al offered it up for free on his website a year before Radiohead would test its pay-what-you-want model with In RainbowsStraight Outta Lynwood went on to sell 563,000 albums, according to Nielsen Soundscan, making it Yankovic’s best-selling album of the past two decades.

Unexpected Internet success is one of my favorite kinds of success! And who can begrudge the 54-year-old Weird Al? He’s one of a handful of people in the entertainment world spotlight who doesn’t care if he’s cool or if you know he works hard. Also, he just seems like a nice guy:

AP: Unlike other parodies, you’ve never gone the mean-spirited route.

Yankovic: I’m a fan like everybody else. When I do my parodies it’s not meant to mock these people. It’s not meant to belittle them or make them look bad. It’s an homage. … I don’t think you need to be hurtful to be funny.

Is your favorite the Billfold-friendly “Mission Statement,” satirizing corporate speak? Here’s one ranking of his new parody songs. Here’s another. Agree / disagree? Or do you not get the appeal altogether?

Image via ROFLRazzi


How President Obama Does Credit Cards

Last Thursday, President Obama visited Austin’s Franklin Barbecue and committed two minor breaches of etiquette.

The first is that he cut the line. Reportedly, he is the first person in history to cut the Franklin Barbecue line, which often requires patrons to wait for up to three hours. If you would like to read angry tweets about Obama’s line-cutting, Eater Austin has collected several, such as:

apparently Obama skipped the line at Franklin's BBQ today. DICK move, bro!

— Ben (@BensWJ) July 10, 2014

The second breach of etiquette is that he flashed his JP Morgan Select credit card in front of everybody. Literally held it up for all to see, right before paying for his own food as well as at least one other patron’s meal.

So now there are images of President Obama’s credit card bouncing around the internet. (I hope he got someone on his staff to request a new credit card number.)


New “Harry Potter” Content Released, Free

The good news is, as of today you can read a new short story about Harry Potter on Pottermore, the obsessive fan fiction site. The bad news is, you have to jump through a series of hoops as long as a Quidditch field to get there. (Sign up required.) The good news is, it’s free! The bad news is, the story is written in the voice of Rita Skeeter. Here’s a snippet from the Vulture write-up:

… [Harry] Potter took his young songs James and Albus to visit the players’ compound, where he introduced them to Bulgarian Seeker Viktor Krum.

About to turn 34, there are a couple of threads of silver in the famous Auror’s black hair, but he continues to wear the distinctive round glasses that some might say are better suited to a style-deficient twelve-year-old. The famous lightning scar has company: Potter is sporting a nasty cut over his right cheekbone. Requests for information as to its provenance merely produced the usual response from the Ministry of Magic: ‘We do not comment on the top secret work of the Auror department, as we have told you no less than 514 times, Ms. Skeeter.’

I never bought that Harry would name one of his sons “Albus Severus,” if only because it sounds godawful, and I wished Hermione would have stayed single, become some kind of holy terror of a lawyer and brought lots of suits against the Ministry of Magic while having hot sex with Victor Krum and maybe also Ginny on the side. But I am a bit skeptical about this story, even as I dive into it. From Scarlet to Cosette, these kinds of things have a foul track record, though at least this extension was written by the brilliant, kindhearted quadrillionaire JK Rowling herself, who could have charged money for even a little wispy bit of whatever thrown to her masses of fans and didn’t. Bless her heart.


How Ira Glass Does Money (For His Show, and For Himself)

Gotta announce my biases from the start: I adore Ira Glass, in a celebrity-idol kind of way. I got to meet him, once, and for about three minutes he asked me questions about my life and then really listened in that way that few people do, in a way that seems improbable given that I waited in the book-signing line for nearly two hours while other people also had their three minutes of personal listening-time with Mr. Glass.

Yesterday, “This American Life” left P-R-I, Public Radio International, and I bet you’re already hearing the same lyrical fillip that accompanies those solemn words, because those of us who are “This American Life” fans have heard them so many times.

Now, TAL will be distributed over PRX, the Public Radio Exchange, an “online marketplace for distribution, review, and licensing of public radio programming.”

In other words: “This American Life,” like many Americans, now has to earn money on its own, on the online marketplace.


What’s the Most You’ve Ever Won/Lost Gambling?

The closest I’ll ever get to real gambling is reading the beginning of Daniel DerondaOther people in my family have an intrepid streak, though. For a while there my father was hooked on playing the stock market. Once, he told me, in quick succession, he made $50,000 and then lost 30K of it, so he went home and told my mom, “Hey, we made $20,000!” Another family member who shall remain nameless got hooked on internet poker back in the day and had to wean himself off in part by putting his salary in the care of someone else.

For some people, clearly, the excitement is worth the risk. This intense Vanity Fair [<- FIXED] piece about a cocktail waitress making bank by running a private poker party for the beautiful folks of Hollywood, Inside the Viper Room – an excerpt from the upcoming memoir of Molly Bloom (no relation) — captures some of the reasons why. It also contains some discomfiting details about Tobey Maguire, who brings his own vegan snack food to the game.

It was all incredibly surreal. I was standing in the corner of the Viper Room counting ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS IN CASH! I was in the company of movie stars, important directors, and powerful business tycoons. I felt like Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole. As the players filed out, they thanked me, some kissed my cheek, but they all pressed bills into my hand. I smiled warmly and thanked them in return, trying not to let my hands shake. When they were all gone, I sat down in a daze, and with trembling hands I counted $3,000.

Not a bad way to make $7,500 in a night.