George Bush, Obama, Community and the Big Bang Theory

I’m gratified so many of you have re-blogged my take on role the zeitgeist plays in the popularity of The Big Bang Theory, while Community is pushing against the same tide.  Most people (those with a dictionary?) get it: saying TBBT is in more tune with the popular Z doesn’t mean it’s better than Community, which is an entirely different discussion.  Most who disagree actually make my point by writing things like, “It’s easier to understand,” etc.

So: for those who don’t understand what the zeitgeist is, I refer you to 2 posts earlier, on Adele and The Hunger Games.

One of the key attributes of creative professionals is the empathy to understand how others view the world - and a staunch resistance to the narcissism that says, “People who disagree with me are morons.”  We all tend to live in enclaves of fairly-similar opinions, and eventually, we can become dismissive of ideas that differ from our own.

This is treacherous business for people who get paid for making things.

When George W. Bush was reelected in 2004, some of my liberal friends in the industry (New York, LA), were honestly shocked. 

"How could this have happened? I don’t know a single person who voted for that man." 

But, of course, millions voted for “that man.”  It’s just that most of my coast-based pals didn’t know any of them - or any who admitted it, at least.  But here’s the fun part:

Fast forward 4 years, and Obama’s standing in a Chicago stadium packed with … fans?  Yes - that’s the word.  And this time, my conservative friends (Nashville) were just as surprised.

It turns out neither politics nor intelligence insulates us from thinking our view is the only view.  We acknowledge some diversity of opinion in theory, and then roll right on through life acting as though it doesn’t exist.

This is tricky stuff, and pros can get it wrong.  Getting the Z right doesn’t mean better.  It also doesn’t mean worse, by the way.  It just means “in tune” - no more, no less.  And that sense of “in tune” helps creative work thrive in the marketplace.  Right now, TBBT is thriving, and Community isn’t.  There are a few reasons why, and the precise way TBBT portrays Geek “otherness” is a significant one.

Lots of people try to outsmart this and watch their work vanish.  Remember: The Z will not be mocked.  Incidentally: of the 2 shows, I prefer Community.

Next post: A Judd Apatow masterclass on getting it right.

Chuck Lorre is arguably the most successful TV producer of the past decade. His ability to connect to the zeitgeist is legend. At present, he’s winning a throwdown between his program, The Bang Theory, and network TV’s other college-based show, Community (they air directly against each other Thursday evenings).  Both are well-written, ably-acted, and sport a loyal fan base.  Yet Community struggles to survive, while Mr. Lorre’s show is already generating millions in syndication profits. What gives?
The surface answer is that Community is more innovative, and therefore, less mainstream. To be sure, Community has taken some surrealistic turns - but that’s what its fans love about it.  The real secret to TBBT’s success and Community’s struggles are deeper, at the zeitgeist level.
Take a look at the pictures above.  Community, for all its innovation, is actually the more old-fashioned of the 2 programs.  Its stars are rooted in a 1990s version of 20-something glamour.  Yes, Abed’s quirky, but its stars are mostly beautiful - Jeff Winger’s attractiveness is a consistent plot device, and a part of Annie’s anatomy is so celebrated it’s (they’ve?) spawned its own fan sites.
The Big Bang Theory understands that geek culture celebrates its otherness.  The stars of BBT aren’t working towards fitting into the larger culture.  None of them, for example, wants to get back a high-paying law job, as Jeff Winger on Community does.  TBBT crew wouldn’t even be tempted by the notion.
Anthropologist and marketing consultant Grant McCracken, writing in The Harvard Business Review mused, “Our heroes used to be the people who stole lunch money.  Increasingly, they are the people from whom it was stolen. This has got to have something to do with the rise of Silicon Valley and people like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.“
     Put simply: Jeff Winger is the guy who stole your lunch money. Look at that grin on his face - he looks like he swiped your chocolate milk, too. Now, look at the picture on the right.  Yeah.  They’re the guys he swiped it from.
     Advantage, Mr. Lorre.

Chuck Lorre is arguably the most successful TV producer of the past decade. His ability to connect to the zeitgeist is legend. At present, he’s winning a throwdown between his program, The Bang Theory, and network TV’s other college-based show, Community (they air directly against each other Thursday evenings).  Both are well-written, ably-acted, and sport a loyal fan base.  Yet Community struggles to survive, while Mr. Lorre’s show is already generating millions in syndication profits. What gives?

The surface answer is that Community is more innovative, and therefore, less mainstream. To be sure, Community has taken some surrealistic turns - but that’s what its fans love about it.  The real secret to TBBT’s success and Community’s struggles are deeper, at the zeitgeist level.

Take a look at the pictures above.  Community, for all its innovation, is actually the more old-fashioned of the 2 programs.  Its stars are rooted in a 1990s version of 20-something glamour.  Yes, Abed’s quirky, but its stars are mostly beautiful - Jeff Winger’s attractiveness is a consistent plot device, and a part of Annie’s anatomy is so celebrated it’s (they’ve?) spawned its own fan sites.

The Big Bang Theory understands that geek culture celebrates its otherness.  The stars of BBT aren’t working towards fitting into the larger culture.  None of them, for example, wants to get back a high-paying law job, as Jeff Winger on Community does.  TBBT crew wouldn’t even be tempted by the notion.

Anthropologist and marketing consultant Grant McCracken, writing in The Harvard Business Review mused, “Our heroes used to be the people who stole lunch money.  Increasingly, they are the people from whom it was stolen. This has got to have something to do with the rise of Silicon Valley and people like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.“

     Put simply: Jeff Winger is the guy who stole your lunch money. Look at that grin on his face - he looks like he swiped your chocolate milk, too. Now, look at the picture on the right. Yeah. They’re the guys he swiped it from.

     Advantage, Mr. Lorre.