Everybody's Talkin' RIGHT
Kelsey Grammer has been "out" in Hollywood as a political conservative for 20 years, and now he's taking one step further into the spotlight.
The former "Frasier" actor is an investor and the public face of RightNetwork, a new network that aims to provide entertainment content to political conversatives.
"We're middle-of-the road people who have a fairly conservative approach to government, that's all. Less government," he told the Associated Press. "It's not some insidious group of people who are plotting some horrible takeover."
Even though RightNetwork launched Wednesday, you won't see it on your TV schedule -- It will only be available via video-on-demand, the web and through mobile phones.
The network's president Kevin McFeeley said that the success of Fox News Channel and the likes of Rush Limbaugh on radio have shown that the conversative audience is hungry for content. Grammer tends to agrees.
"If you have NBC, ABC, you have entire networks flooded with a very particular point of view," Grammer told the AP. "They won't admit it, but it's clearly the way it is. There's plenty of room for us."
The network's early series will include "Running," a show which follows Tea Party-backed candidates for public office; "Right2Laugh," featuring standup comedians Evan Sayet, Kivi Rogers, and Adam Yenser; "Politics and Poker," where card players will sit around and talk politics, among others.
If Hollywood didn't exist, conservative activists would probably have to create it. Where else can you find so many high-profile figures to lampoon -- Sean Penn! Michael Moore! Alec Baldwin! -- and so much fodder for righteous indignation?
Periodically, though, conservatives decide that merely assailing TV and movie stars' liberal bent isn't enough. They must create their own right-leaning programming vehicles -- the latest being something called RightNetwork, whose self-reported supporters include Philadelphia sports owner Ed Snider and actor-producer Kelsey Grammer.
Not surprisingly, these ventures tend to be every bit as entertaining as public-service announcements urging you not to beat your kids. Perhaps that's because there's an inherent fallacy in the notion of "conservative entertainment," modeled after the way Fox News delivers right-tilted news.
Granted, RightNetwork Prez Kevin McFeeley seeks to avoid using the term "conservative," simply referring to the venture (currently available only as video on demand) as "right-minded."
"First and foremost, it's entertainment," he says, insisting that "everything we do has a sense of humor … and an optimistic turn."
Plus, most likely, a built-in expiration date.
For starters, most people don't actively look for politics in their primetime diversions. They might be delighted or offended when they encounter it there, but beginning from the premise of advancing a "message" is never a particularly great idea -- and there are plenty of failed movies, including a disappointing wave of Iraq-related films, to show for it.
Secondly, much of mainstream entertainment is already, by its very nature, rather conservative.
Last year, documentary director Karen Price, daughter of Rep. David Price (D-N.C.), chronicled the 2006 Democrat house takeover in a revealing film called "HouseQuake." While the documentary followed a handful of Democrat nominees as they ran for Congress, it focused more on the tactics of then-House campaign strategist Rahm Emanuel. It’s a solid documentary, but the film is really less of a story and more of a campaign study guide. As the New York Times said of the film last year, "For Republicans, it may be a lesson in how they can do to Mr. Emanuel what he did to them."
Well, whether Republicans have learned from the Democrats in 2006 (and whether they even needed to, given today’s political climate), newcomer media company RightNetwork has. Beginning this month, RightNetwork is airing "Running," an original series (available on demand) following eight candidates in their 2010 race for Congress.
For two productions focusing on the same issue, the series is about as opposite of "HouseQuake" as conservatives are of liberals.
First, while "HouseQuake" enjoys the perfect vision of hindsight, "Running" is the equivalent of a TLC reality show, with real heart, real drama – and real suspense. Where "HouseQuake" was more the educational tool, "Running" is the thriller, complete with the political suspense – and sometimes the political shenanigans – that Americans know and "love." The pilot episode focuses on two California Republican challengers: Former stand-up comic Ari David, running for Henry Waxman’s 30th District seat; and successful small-businessman John Dennis, gunning for the seat of Nancy Pelosi herself. While "HouseQuake" played on viewers’ knowledge, boosting excitement through rally scenes and media coverage, "Running" gives the gritty – sometimes boring – details of campaign life, even before the primaries are decided. But these details are anything but boring in the expert hands of the "Running" production crew. In the pilot, the RNC has yet to step in, since it as of then doesn’t know who Republicans want to back.
"HouseQuake" is a well-produced, interesting and revealing film. It meets its quality match in "Running," whose folksy soundtrack, quirky self-filmed webcam scenes and down-and-dirty campaign footage make it an entertaining, revealing look into what these candidates are all about. It’s a quick snapshot to be sure, but it’s only the pilot, and it is a strong start to the show. Also, these candidates are passionate and real. Because of that, there are a few swearwords throughout.
It is very clear that, whereas "HouseQuake" was more of a celebration of Democrat victories, "Running" is the story of dissatisfied common folk who are just saying no, and are willing to sacrifice big to do it. In "HouseQuake," Mr. Emmanuel campaigns hard to convince former Redskins quarterback Heath Shuler (now Rep. Shuler from North Carolina) that being a Congressman wouldn’t be too great of a time commitment. In "Running," self-made people sacrifice big to fight for what they believe in.
It’s not just the story of the candidates themselves, but of their wives too, and the way they sacrifice to keep food on the table while their husbands fight to keep America free for the next generation.
I watched "HouseQuake" in an artsy theatre in downtown Washington, D.C., in a very liberal audience among many Democrat elites, followed by a discussion with Ms. Price and a Democrat strategist, moderated by a writer from The New Yorker. Energy was high – it was early autumn of 2009, and healthcare reform was due to pass in weeks.
A year later, it’s remarkable to see the difference in Washington’s atmosphere. The liberals in power are scared. Americans nationwide are ready to call the shots this November, holding their leaders accountable for the last two years.
When it comes down to the stories, that’s the biggest difference. "HouseQuake" is really a pat on the back for Democrats, a job well done and an opportunity seized. "Running," a TV show, is less a reflective work and more an in-depth, emotional look at what real people – many of them unlikely candidates – are doing to ensure that their America stays free. If they lose the race, at least they tried. And even if the candidates lose in the end, as a reality TV series, "Running" is a big winner.
NEW YORK — Actor Kelsey Grammer is an investor and public face supporting a new network that launched Wednesday with entertainment designed to appeal to political conservatives.
RightNetwork, whose first series, Running, follows the fortunes of a couple of Tea Party-backed candidates for public office, is also trying a new model to establish itself. It is initially making programming available through video-on-demand services, the Internet and through mobile phones, bypassing the route of traditional TV networks with a spot on channel lineups.
Investors hope that the support of a conservative audience that has made Fox News Channel and radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh successful could also work for entertainment programming, said Kevin McFeeley, RightNetwork's president. "We feel the precedent has been set," he said.
Grammer, the Emmy-winning star of Frasier, said the network represented a desire by him and some political friends "to stop allowing people who hate us to define us."
"If you have NBC, ABC, you have entire networks flooded with a very particular point of view," he said. "They won't admit it, but it's clearly the way it is. There's plenty of room for us."
Initial programming also includes Right2Laugh, with standup comedians Evan Sayet, Kivi Rogers and Adam Yenser; Politics and Poker, with card players sitting around talking politics; and Leftovers, with Yenser hosting a "lighthearted look" at current news and entertainment. New episodes are made available every couple of weeks, McFeeley said. Some of the candidates featured in Running have already lost primary bids.
In the works is a sitcom called Moving Numbers, about quirky political consultants trying to elect a candidate to the U.S. Senate. McFeeley said the RightNetwork will also offer some vintage programming, such as old episodes of William F. Buckley's Firing Line and Milton Friedman's Uncommon Knowledge.
"We're not out to vilify or accuse or identify anybody as an enemy," Grammer said. "We're out there to encourage people to open their minds and take a look at some things that we as a group of people believe is the right direction for the country."
Jeff Cohen, an Ithaca College journalism professor and liberal activist, questioned whether the kind of audience that likes conservative talk shows want something similar in entertainment, and whether it can be pulled off.
"Comedy requires irony," Cohen said. "It can't be frothing with hate or fear. Drama requires complexity. It can't be all black and white."
While Grammer narrates a programming highlight reel available on RightNetwork's website, he hasn't participated as an actor or producer in any of the network's programming. The only other investor the privately held company has identified is Ed Snider, chairman of Comcast-Spectacor and owner of the Philadelphia 76ers and Flyers.
Snider's involvement led to initial false reports this spring that Comcast Corp., the nation's largest cable company, was a backer of RightNetwork. However, the network doesn't even have a deal to distribute its programming through Comcast, which aggressively markets video-on-demand offerings. So far, Verizon FiOS subscribers are the only customers who can access the shows on demand, McFeeley said. Similarly, Nokia is the only mobile phone outlet.
It illustrates the huge challenge RightNetwork faces in trying to build its brand at a time cable and satellite companies have little space to offer new networks, said Derek Baine, a senior analyst at SNL Kagan. Only the Anime Network, which had some limited success with a specialized lineup of Japanese animation, and Fearnet, which offers horror films and has the backing of Comcast and movie distributor Lions Gate Entertainment Corp., have tried the video-on-demand model to start, he said.
"The problem is, you've got to get a way for people to find you," Baine said. "Without big marketing dollars, how are people going to know you are on the air?"
McFeeley said the video-on-demand approach will mirror the way people are increasingly watching television, by picking and choosing from programming and making their own schedules. He said the company will specially target potential conservative viewers with e-mail messages touting the product.
With billboards, "we're trying to hit some of the major media markets to let people know that we've arrived," he said.
Grammer said he "came out" as a conservative in Hollywood 20 years ago and said it hasn't affected his work, although he wouldn't advise a young actor with similar views to talk about them. He said that it's not "right-wing nuts" who are behind the network.
"We're middle-of-the road people who have a fairly conservative approach to government, that's all. Less government," he said. "It's not some insidious group of people who are plotting some horrible takeover."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Conservative-leaning cable service RightNetwork has reached content distribution deals with Hulu and Amazon.com, network officials announced Friday.
Hulu will offer episodes of Right's flagship reality series, Running, which follows eight, first-time candidates as they run for public office. Amazon.com will offer digital downloads of Running, as well as stand-up comedy series Right2Laugh and political sitcom series Moving Numbers.
"These digital distribution agreements are key to expanding our audience and allow us to deliver RightNetwork's programming to viewers when and where they want it," said Kevin McFeeley, President and Chief Operating Officer, RightNetwork in a statement. "We are working to bring RightNetwork to as many screens as possible."
The network, which launched last month, has distribution deals with telco Verizon FiOS and cable operator Blue Ridge Communications.