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Jumping the shark, or What gives a wine writer staying power?

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Fame is fleeting. Just ask Andy Warhol. You get your 15 minutes, and then life shoves you to the back of the line; it’s somebody else’s time. But as we know, certain people do endure in their fields. My own career has had its ups and downs, but basically I’m a survivor, and haven’t done too badly.

I was thinking about this after reading an interesting posting at a blog called Drinks Are On Me that was entitled, “Has Wine Library TV Jumped the Shark?”, written by a guy named Dale Cruse.

Dale turned to Wikipedia to define the term “jumping the shark”:

…a colloquialism coined by Jon Hein and used by TV critics and fans to denote that point in a TV show or movie series’ history where the plot veers off into absurd story lines or out-of-the-ordinary characterizations, particularly for a show with falling ratings apparently becoming more desperate to draw viewers in. In the process of undergoing these changes, the TV or movie series loses its original appeal. Shows that have “jumped the shark” are typically deemed to have passed their peak.

Dale, who is a fan of Gary Vaynerchuk’s Wine Library TV show, trashed a recent episode, and then wondered “has he reached the point where he’s jumped the shark?” He queried his readers, “What do you think? Is this a single lame episode or a harbinger of worse to come?” Readers’ comments ranged all over the place — check them out.

Who knows who the stars will be in tomorrow’s world of wine writing and (we now have to say) wine video? Not me. But I feel like I have enough history under my belt to be able to speculate about a few things that a wine writer needs in order to have staying power.

– Knowledge. The wine writer needs to know what he’s talking about and convince others that he does.
– Credibility. Partly this is based on knowledge, and partly it’s based on the audience believing that the writer has no conflicts of interest.
– Likeability.  The audience needs to connect with the writer on some emotional level.
– Trustability: They must believe that the writer would never lie to them or lead them astray.
– A sense of humor never hurts.
– Work ethic. It’s hard to succeed in this business and then stay successful over many years. 2% inspiration, 98% perspiration. It ain’t swinging in a hammock drinking Champagne all day.
– Continuing education. You never know it all, or anywhere close. It’s a complicated industry. It takes constant study — not just of wine, but of the wine industry, its history and culture.
– A capacity to learn. Longtime readers go along for the ride because they enjoy a sense of journey. They don’t want to feel like you, and they, aren’t getting anywhere.
– A sense of spirituality. Now, I don’t want to take this too far, but every great wine writer exudes the spirit of in vino veritas.

In composing these thoughts, I’m thinking of Harry Waugh, Jancis Robinson, Hugh Johnson, Michael Broadbent and a few others I’ve been privileged to meet or know. There are certainly other famous wine writers I could mention, especially in California. From what I can tell, Gary V. could be a stayer. His style isn’t mine, nor, I suspect, that of my Baby Boomer colleagues, who are more studious, less histrionic. But Gary may well be more in synch with the present and the future — certainly with a younger generation. If I were in any position to give this young man advice, I’d say, study the masters. None of them jumped the shark. They may seem old-fashioned, but they had staying power.

jump-the-shark

  1. I think Gary V is a stayer as well, Steve. He had one complete bomb of an episode out of 649. That’s a pretty good track record as well.

    I should have made it more clear that I think the fault with that episode lies not with Gary, but with his guests. They failed to engage, they failed to show any interest, they failed to add anything to the show. Furthermore, I think Gary did everything he could to keep that episode together.

    Gary and I have been friends for years and there is no ill will between us. I believe he will pick himself up, dust himself off, and continue cranking out solid episode. In fact, I know it.

  2. Histrionic, nice, that’s a new one for me and seems appropriate for GV.

    I’ve been watching WLTV for two years and I just purchased a case of Sauternes and Tokaji from the Wine Library with it facebook free shipping code.

    WLTV has always been cheap content, but because Gary is Gary and not an actor, it is authentic and captivating. All it took was a Mott, a camera/computer, coordinating some guests, making some wristbands, and responding to emails and comments (interactivity). Other than that, it was Vaynerchuk’s years of experience in wine, business, and sports, his crush it attitude, and acceptance of new media that makes WLTV fun.

    WLTV is still cheap content, but it does seem like Gary is too busy to do anything new with WLTV, but he has his thousands of fans/friends already and could be the next Rachel Ray on a network if he wanted to–then his content wouldn’t look so cheap.

    His flip camera stuff is lame, his recent episodes where he says “look I’m on the other side of the table now isn’t this cool” is not cool and creative. But, he still makes good points on garyvaynerchuk.com, and I am still going to keep watching just to see what trick he has up his sleeve next. Nobody else in the wine world is pushing the boundaries of social media/the Internet in the wine world like Vaynerchuk is–and that’s why he has my fascination. Not because he says wine tastes like Fun Dip and Fabreeze.

  3. A great read is Harvey Mackay’s “Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive.”

    This is one of the best books I’ve ever read for business how to survival:

    http://www.harveymackay.com/books/book_sharks.cfm

    I might just reread it as a refresher… It’s one of those kind of books that gives you a leading edge, keeping your saw sharpened, etc. We all need good life skills for staying in the right zone, because fame is so fleeting… Ask anyone who’s been hot, “been” being the operative word.

  4. Staying power… hmm… how about a million dollar book deal? That might help…

    http://www.businessinsider.com/wine-guy-gary-vaynerchuk-gets-million-dollar-book-deal-2009-4

    ;-)

  5. Gary is a rock star. And all of wine is better off with him, for two reasons:
    As everyone who watches him for 30 seconds knows, he’s got charisma + knowledge + passion. And, as the good doctor points out, Gary is totally interactive.

  6. I wish you had included the famous clip that started it all with Fonzie. That’s right, I’m young, but not so young that I didn’t grow up watching Nick-at-Nite.

    I’m really glad one of your points was continuing education. I’ve always believed it’s not enough to rest on the laurel’s of any past accomplishment. Four years of college doesn’t mean you’ve learned all there is to know in any field. If any of us truly want to excel in our industries and goals we need to keep an open mind–by accepting we know nothing, we can know everything.

    As for Gary, I grew up in the town where I watched him change that tiny liquor store into the Wine Library it is today. We can all point at one section of a person’s life and question them, but it’s not the big picture. We’re always allowed to stumble. It’s just a matter of what Steve hinted at–staying power is just making sure any downs are always followed by one more ups.

  7. One of the draws of over-amped Gary V is his rough-around-the-edges, belligerance wrapped in a warm persona. He connects with all those young consumers who lack the polish, the savoir faire, the literacy that has historically been associated with the World of Wine. The Jancis~Gary WLTV show or the Martha~Gary TV show underscored this. “If I, an outsider, can make it you can make it” resonates, even though many of us wince when he peppers his commentary with terms like “douche bag” and similar crudities.

    Because he lacks finesse, decorum, and education that goes beyond street smarts, he’ll stay a novelty. His liquor store will thrive because of its pricing (due in part to Gary’s vaunted bargaining skills) and its association with a celebrity (someone who’s famous for being famous). Without civility you tend to stay at the margins in society. Assimilation is the normal route, and Gary is a first generation immigrant. His son will probably wear a bow tie ;-)

  8. Steve
    I have fun pulling your chain. I hope you sense my tongue placement- in my cheek, obviously not up your keester, or poking out in your face (Tibetans notwithstanding). OK, usually a little in your face. That’s because you have the courage to post your opinion, which sometimes gets me. So does Gary. I don’t know Gary. I didn’t work with Gary. You’re no Gary. Much to your credit. I admire your taste in wine writers. Probably because I share it. Your opinion, like Berger’s, may court objection. It is, however, based on reason and experience. Gary V. may be a great person, I don’t know. I don’t wish to make any ad hominem criticisms. All I can say is I still read your column sometimes. Gary’s like Rush Limbaugh, bankruptcy, restraining orders, DUIs, divorces, or losing the rent at a blackjack table in Reno. Once was enough for me. Oh, yeah, I forgot high school. Signed, a sorta fan.

  9. Thanks for being a sorta fan, Mark.

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