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