Stars on new site plug away, bawdy and blue
Some frown on NGTV's approachOf the countless promotional opportunities the cast of "Spider-Man 3" engaged in, none was quite like the one they did for a new Web site, No Good TV (NGTV.com).
Maybe it was the way Topher Grace casually used the F-word during an interview; rather than cut the expletive, the segment was edited so that he repeated the word nine times. Or maybe it was Thomas Haden Church's bald-faced flirting with the buxom interviewer, Carrie Keagan. Or it could have been Kirsten Dunst closing her chat by using a four-letter reference to the female anatomy, eyebrow-raising even by Internet standards.
It might sound like an uncensored "Saturday Night Live" skit, but it's business as usual for NGTV, which officially launches this week. The main attraction at this increasingly high-trafficked Web brand is A-list talent plugging even PG and PG-13 film and TV fare in distinctly hard-R style — think "Entertainment Tonight" meets Howard Stern on Sirius.
The segments can be heavy with perverted jokes and expletive-filled dialogue. For example, Eddie Kaye Thomas of Fox's family sitcom " 'Til Death" jokes about giving oral sex to get his job, and Bruce Willis gives a full recitation of the "Yippee-Kay-Yay" line that didn't make it into the PG-13 "Live Free or Die Hard."
NGTV goes by the motto, "Putting the F-U back into fun." Make sure the headphones are jacked in to your office computer before sampling.
How a no-name, Web-only venture is getting permission from studios to bend the rules of the highly sanitized, tightly scripted world of the celebrity interview is subject to interpretation. Not a single studio marketing executive reached for comment would go on the record about NGTV; most professed ignorance and shock, dismissing it as a rogue cog in Hollywood's publicity machine.
Among the studios with content on NGTV are MGM, Paramount Pictures, New Line Cinema, Sony Pictures, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros. and DreamWorks. NGTV also has some big Hollywood names plugging it in IDs running on its site, including Will Ferrell, Halle Berry and Eva Longoria."The reality of it is we haven't been reprimanded," said Kourosh Taj, co-president and head of programming for NGTV, who added that some studios have "asked on certain occasions to not (work) blue."
That hasn't kept NGTV from pumping out dozens of profanity-laced promotional interviews in the nearly four months it has been available online in beta mode. Which raises a question: Are the studios turning a blind eye to NGTV as it strives to prove itself as a potent strategy for reaching the elusive young male demographic that favors the coarse discourse of the Internet to the schmooze of Jay Leno or David Letterman?
Taj's venture is catching on fast, particularly on YouTube, which counts NGTV as its highest-ranked channel partner this month, with at least four times as many streams as any competitor, including Universal Music Group, NBC and Lonelygirl15. As of Friday, five of the six most popular videos of the week on that site belonged to NGTV, including a "Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer" promo advertised as "Jessica Alba: Uncensored and Fantastic for You," accompanied by a thumbnail of the actress in a cleavage-hugging top. The segment is branded "Deep Inside," complete with animation of production equipment being pulled out of a rear end.
Taj, who sees his gossip-free site as an "anti-TMZ.com," dismissed the notion of any reluctance on the part of the studios to have their product present on the site. "We're here to present an entertaining piece, to create something funny and engaging," he said. "When somebody isn't comfortable with what we're doing, they probably wouldn't appear."
However, one senior marketing executive who asked to remain anonymous expressed misgivings about NGTV. "As content providers and marketers figure out what is good for a project in relationship to the Internet," the exec said, "I believe it will never be good to draw attention at the expense of an artist."
One studio publicist deemed NGTV "unsanctioned material." "I wasn't comfortable with what I saw," a second studio publicist said, adding that the company was evaluating whether to continue working with NGTV.
NGTV headquarters are nestled among the trendy boutiques and fine restaurant fare of Beverly Hills. With its faux fur-covered walls and liquor-stocked wet bar, the 24,000-square-foot production facility looks as if its interior decorator was Austin Powers.
The studio includes a postproduction facility, extensive costume quarters and a cyclorama wall for green screen. A vault that boasts a collection of 5,000 uncensored hip-hop videos — another staple of NGTV programming — once stored money from the World Savings Bank, which previously inhabited the building.
Gene Simmons of Kiss serves as NGTV's chairman of the board, though he has no creative involvement. Al Cafaro, former chairman and CEO of A&M Records, is an investor, as is media veteran Jay Vir, who also is the company's co-president. According to NGTV, financing has come from private investors and institutions.
It is here where interviews are taped by in-house hosts like Keagan, who speaks almost entirely in groan-inducing sexual innuendo (she also serves as NGTV's vp programming). The double entendres are evident in the names of the original animated characters that NGTV puts in the segments, like Cock Tolstoy, a rooster with an attitude problem.
Taj notes that the tone of NGTV often suits the films being promoted, including many adult-oriented TV and films including "Grindhouse," "Reno 911! Miami" and "Borat."
But then there are PG films like "Shrek the Third," in which Cameron Diaz is seen multiple times in split seconds in a photo wearing a bikini. The image also is the thumbnail that greets YouTube visitors, along with the title "Cameron Diaz Loves a Happy Ending."
"When you're trying to hit the college-age audience, you have to be edgy," Taj said. "It's all about free speech without it being personal, negative or antagonistic."
NGTV's edgy style is obviously tailor-made for young male viewers, who are viewing TV and movies in fewer numbers. The content is not unlike the rash of so-called red-band trailers studios have reintroduced online in recent months. Too trashy to play in theaters, these emphasize the naughty elements of a film, including such recent fare as "Knocked Up" and "Superbad."
NGTV clearly edits the naughty parts to be the focal point of each interview; nearly everything in its library begins with a concerted dose of celebrity-uttered expletives.
A two-minute segment featuring Robin Williams has him reciting the F-word more than 25 times. The reason for his presence and the interview itself isn't mentioned, though a poster promoting the DVD release of the mystery drama "The Night Listener" is visible in the background.
NGTV also splices together different pieces of footage to create a whole different scatological meaning. In a segment plugging the film "Mr. Brooks," bits of an interview with Kevin Costner are strung together for comic effect to suggest he's talking about co-star Dane Cook's genitalia.
NGTV's editing style is "whimsical and fun," Taj said. "The artists are always in control."
But the aforementioned senior marketing exec thinks NGTV is pushing things. "Although the Internet can be a great place to test and push boundaries," the exec said, "it is concerning that when artists give comment in one context, that with a little creative editing those same comments can come back and be presented in an entirely different way."