So I am on the way to a nice dinner with wife and child and Mr. Bourdain emails me. Seems someone named Andy Cohen, who is also involved in this sprawling and relentless medium of television in some important way, has gotten into a back-and-forth with Mr. Bourdain on Twitter. And out of the blue, though I am minding my own business — which is something for which I rarely get any credit – Mr. Cohen, defending himself on a matter of interest to himself and Mr. Bourdain, goes out of his way to shit on the HBO production of Treme.
I don’t know Mr. Cohen. I understand he is with the Bravo Network and he was defending their show, “Top Chef,” from some negative publicity that resulted from that production having bartered for some of the BP-oil spill restoration funds as an incentive for filming in Louisiana. And in contending with Mr. Bourdain’s suggestion that he mitigate that negative publicity by making a charitable donation of the money, Mr. Cohen was not content to argue the merits or flaws of Mr. Bourdain’s point, or, for that matter, the merits or flaws of taking the funds in the first place. Instead, Mr. Cohen rushes to drag the Treme production into his defense, citing, in apples-to-oranges fashion, the fact that we have availed ourselves of the same Louisiana tax incentives that are standardized to every film production in that state.
Okay, I am largely indifferent to this debate. “Top Chef” and Mr. Cohen can do what they want. And Mr. Bourdain can say what he wants about whatever Mr. Cohen and his show choose to do. And they can go from there.
But I can’t be entirely indifferent to the shitty-ass, reach-around snark of some fellow who rushes to throw under the bus people about whom he has no knowledge whatsoever — and does so to gain a dishonest point in a fucking tweet war. So, I reply to Mr. Bourdain’s email carefully, commenting not on “Top Chef” or Bravo, but asserting for what Treme did and did not do in New Orleans. And Mr. Cohen, rather than reflect on why he dragged us into this and on any dissonance between his position and ours, he doubles down instead. He tweets again that we should have voluntarily given the tax credits back to Louisiana.
Fuck Twitter. In 140 characters, one can simplify anything to the point of stupidity, if not rank dishonesty. And at that length, it’s way too easy to mistake easy sarcasm, or even a certain level of snide, with clever. So, okay, Mr. Cohen called the tune. But this will require more than a tweet or two, because real life is like that. Here is a full answer to this gentleman’s bullshit in three easy stomps:
1) “Top Chef” sought and received funds from the BP spill money in a negotiation with Louisiana officials that “Top Chef” apparently sought as a unique predicate for its filming in the state. I am not criticizing this, but I am noting that this is different from Treme availing itself of the standardized tax incentives that are provided to all Louisiana television and film productions, without additional or outside negotiation.
2) Mr. Cohen is the executive vice president of development for the Bravo network itself, meaning, he sits astride the budgetary authority to just say no to any outside negotiations or givebacks that such negotiations might impose upon the state of Louisiana. His authority and standing is profoundly different from the producers, cast and crew of Treme. We are not executive vice presidents at HBO. We are vendors who agree to provide so many hours of television to HBO for an amount of money that HBO determines to be our budget. We sign that budget and promise to live by it, and we do. Given that our little drama isn’t exactly a runaway hit, if we can’t make the hours for the money offered, then HBO orders fewer episodes or cancels the show. But in any event, the decision to walk away from a standardized tax structure that Louisiana provides to all film production would be a decision above our pay grade. In short, if David Simon or Eric Overmyer or Nina Noble were an executive vice president at HBO — the very chair that Mr. Cohen occupies at Bravo — we might have found any number of ways to restore additional money and support to New Orleans. Shit, we might have found a way to renew the show for a full fourth season, and while we were at it, maybe buy up a half dozen New Orleans documentaries and give Lionel Ferbos an hour-long concert special to boot. (Which is probably why that gig will not be ours in the foreseeable future.)
3) Although the budgetary authority rests with HBO and not with the Treme production, it is fair to note that for four years, HBO allocated additional funds to underwrite a long-term campaign by Treme to raise money for a series of 501c3 charities in New Orleans. Between various fundraising campaign and events over the last four years and direct donations by producers, more than $500,000 was left behind for the use of New Orleans non-profits. What was in our power to do, we did. Whatever we could leverage, we leveraged. And what we promised those charities, we delivered. Not as an offhand or after-the-fact gesture, but as a continuing effort to use the production and its resources on behalf of our host city. We did the same thing in Baltimore, in fact, when filming there. And to measure apples against apples, what Mr. Bourdain was urging on Mr. Cohen, as I understand it, was not a blanket prohibition against accepting advantageous give-backs from Louisiana, but instead a charitable donation of that benefit, or some portion of it, to help locals.
Again, I really don’t care what “Top Chef” or Bravo does or doesn’t do. It isn’t my business. But I do know that Treme producers such as Laura Schweigman — who was specifically tasked with extending our charitable reach for the length of the show’s run – were, along with many others in cast and crew, devoting additional time and resources for extramural fundraisers until the last weeks of production, culminating a four-year campaign to leave behind a substantive thank-you to New Orleans, its culture and its citizens for hosting us. For Mr. Cohen to flippantly imply that because HBO failed somehow to refuse the same tax rates that Louisiana offers to every production, we are in the same boat as “Top Chef” and its extended negotiations for a BP payout is just, well, horseshit. Snide works well and seems plausible in 140-character morsels. When laid out in detail, it’s something altogether different. Sorry, but if Mr. Cohen is any kind of mensch and thinks about it for a little longer than it takes to type the first thing on his mind, he’ll see that an apology is owed.