Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Tim Robbins NAB Speech

Renowned actor, director and writer Tim Robbins used his keynote address at the National Association of Broadcasters conference on April 14 to speak out about the "dangerous lack of diversity of opinion" that characterizes the state of broadcasting today. Lambasting the media for their failure to treat the Bush administration's lies about Iraqi WMDs with the scrutiny they had shown former President Bill Clinton's sex scandal, he calls on the nation's broadcasters to do a better job of upholding their responsibilities to the public. The NAB initially refused to make Robbins' speech available (in contrast to other speeches from their 08 convention). Then they released an edited version in which many of Robbins' most critical remarks were cut. This is the full version of the speech! (Approximately 22 minutes.)


tzf said...

I was there. It was amazing. You have to understand the entire context of it to understand just how amazing it was...

This was the MAIN Keynote speech, made during the commencement meeting for the convention. 105,000 people attended, though most of the people go only to the trade show, which anyone can get into for free. The convention itself has a lot of industry-talking-to-itself kinds of events, including high-priced seminars, sales reps training, exclusive parties, and expensively produced receptions for every kind of group imaginable- I attended Sony's .gov & .edu reception, and they must have spent $100k for that one night, at least.

So on that Monday morning, I had never been to the NAB commencement ceremony before, but since Robbins was speaking I was intrigued. I got a seat in the second row, before the whole hall filled up - a few thousand folks. Then the show started- a booming voice over the PA stating "Please rise for our National Anthem" and so it was, the 40-foot-wide video screens on each side of the stage lit up with images of rippling flags and majestic bald eagles. Then, a military chaplain was introduced, who came on stage in full dress uniform, and blessed the convention and the members of the NAB. There were people all around me who were clearly thrilled to be given the opportunity to pray in this way.

Then an NAB official - whose name escapes me, and does not appear on the NAB web page - came out and gave some introductory remarks, which were clearly directed at the NAB membership: the broadcast industry. He introduced David K. Rehr, the President and CEO of NAB, and that guy was dynamic! Once again, here was a guy making a speech specifucally to the broadcasters, and his message was one of hope and encouragement- for the bottom line. He started out by showing some YouTube videos, which was an interesting strategy, and he didn't deride them at all - he just pointed out that since the content was not the kind of quality programming you find on broadcast TV, that TV broadcasters have nothing to fear from it. He spoke intelligently, and passionately, and he is an amazing, and excellent speaker. Only problem is, of course, he's full of shit. Broadcast TV sucks, even more than cable which also sucks. But he had a job to do, and that was to make broadcasters feel good and keep paying NAB dues, and he's really good at it. (the transcript of HIS speech is available on NAB's web site).

Then they introduced Charles Osgood, who accepted a "NAB Distinguished Service Award", which he accepted by reciting a long poem written in the style of Dr. Seuss (Osgood narrated the recent "Horton" movie) about how wonderful and heartwarming broadcasting is. Now the audience is really pumped up.

The lights go down. The 40-foot screens show a montage of Robbins' most heart-warming scenes (i.e. no Bob Roberts footage) while roadies carry overstuffed leather chairs out onto the stage. Lighs come up and David Bianculli is seated in one of the chairs, Robbins enters from stage right and plugs in his lapel mic. Robbins and Bianculli start having a conversation, in which Robbins mentions the NAB read the speech he prepared, and didn't like it, and bought Bianculli in as a moderator. Bianculli, in turn, mentions that he's read the part of the speech and lauds it, then incites the audience to practically riot to get Robbins to present the original speech. You can hear that conversation in mp3 files posted on on Bianculli's blog and now on The Huffington Post, where Robbins posted the entire text of his speech (minus the ad-lib about saying the word "cocksuckers" at the convention, etc). Robbins went to the lectern to speak, and got a big laugh by manhandling the lectern into position when it turned out his mic cable was not long enough to reach the lectern.

Let me tell you, there were a lot of people there who were clearly uncomfortable with what Robbins was saying, the people sitting next to me were gasping and muttering the whole time. These were some of the people who were thrilled to be led in prayer by the military chaplain.

I spoke with Bianculli for a moment later in the week, after he interviewed Barry Sonenfeld, who managed to paint an even bleaker picture of the future than Robbins did. By then I had convinced myself that Robbins and Bianculli had colluded to get the full speech read, and if you listen to the mp3 of the introductory conversation you'll hear why: an incredible actor and an incredibly accomplished interviewer were clearly, I thought, manipulating the audience to get a certain response. Though I didn't exactly call him on it, Bianculli denied any such thing, and told me it had just "gotten away from" him... he sounded absolutely sincere, and who am I to question him?

Since it's not posted elsewhere (that I know of) here's the transcript of the Robbins-Bianculli banter/conversation:

LIGHTS UP. DAVID BANCULLI is seated on stage, in one of two overstuffed black leather chairs.
TIM ROBBINS enters, plugs in his lapel mic, and speaks as the intro music fades:

BIANCULLI: (quietly) Hi, Tim.
ROBBINS: Is this on? Here we go, Hi Everybody!
Wow, a lot of people here...
The future of broadcasting is in this room! (AUDIENCE IS SILENT)
...Isn't it? (LAUGHTER)
Well, I had prepared a speech. But, I don't believe I'm going to be doing...
Probably I guess... I guess you'll be able to read it, at some later date, in another technology. Now, the irony is not lost on me on that.
First of all, let me thank you for inviting me. Broadcast Television provided me with a way to avoid delivering pizzas for the rest of my life. So, I am deeply appreciative of that, and... I feel really lucky to be able to have made a living in entertainment.

David? Did you all meet him?

BIANCULLI: Oh yes, Hello everyone, I'm sure you're all thrilled to see me! (LAUGHTER)
I have read this speech, and I don't want to embarras you here, but especially since Charles Osgood just mentioned Edward R. Murrow's "Wire In A Box", when I was reading the speech, I was thinking of that speech, and I was thinking of Newton Minow's "Vast Wasteland", and I was thinking here was somebody, who, with a lot of good jokes thrown in, was saying something fairly important, to exactly the right important audience. So I do hope that it gets out there somewhere, and, as moderator, I can sort of ask you some things that may touch on that. But this is also, politically, somebody who got in a lot of trouble not too many years ago for speaking out against a war, where (LONG APPLAUSE) ...


ROBBINS: You know, I'll do it! (CHEERS AND SCATTERED APPLAUSE) I try to be a good guest, you know...(LAUGHTER) ...and when your host says "you know what, I don't know..."


BIANCULLI:I just want to say, that if I... If I allow this, it's really reducung my role as a moderator! (LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE) ... But I don't mind, because I have read, the first two pages I think... at least to give people a taste...and then, you can decide, this can be like American Idol, I can be Simon! (LAUGHTER) Or, going all the way back, to original amateur hour, and we'll just do it by applause, and I'll be the meter (LOUD APPLAUSE AND HOOTS, AS BIANCULLI PRETENDS HIS ARM IS THE AUDIENCE RESPONSE METER).


So, in the context, I think it was even more interesting and pointed than it might otherwise seem.


Daryl Kulak said...

This is great. Thanks for posting it. I don't always respect Tim Robbin's view on policies, but I have to respect him for standing up to the powerful during his entire life.