Thanks for reading The Backstory, our weekly review of the best new work at Puck.
It was another fabulous week here: Bill Cohan explained Bob Iger’s debt trap, Lauren Sherman revealed a schism inside LVMH, Dylan Byers got another readout from the CNN panic room, Matt Belloni captured Hollywood’s ad-blitz flavor, Tara Palmeri caught up with a ’24 stalwart, Julia Ioffe probed a Capitol Hill gender problem, Teddy Schleifer reported from a presidential fundraising war zone, Eriq Gardner broke down S.B.F.’s legal defense, and Baratunde Thurston contemplated the media’s A.I. problem.
Check out these stories, and others, via the links below. And stick around for the backstory on how it all came together.
|One recent evening, I hopped on the R train from Puck’s airy Chelsea headquarters to meet an old friend and media idol at the newish Casa Cipriani, that elegantly swinging outpost of Venetian charm (and then some) at the very bottom of Manhattan, overlooking the harbor.
New York’s constant reinvention always amazes me. And Cipriani, which is housed in the opulently refurbished Battery Maritime Building, a Beaux Arts gem worthy of a dusting off, is perhaps the latest and greatest apotheosis. Once upon a time, Melanie Griffith was filmed changing from her Esprit sneakers into heels on nearby shores for Working Girl, the vision of the outer boroughs looming in the background. Now, this restaurant et club espouses the Succession fantasy of New York—an endless torrent of elegantly clad European jetsetters pulling up in Rivians, dripping in Loro Piana, with helicopters embarking and landing in the background in a near-constant cacophony, and decor that, as one legendary investor once told me privately, was somehow both expensive and tasteful, a rare combination. You are almost expecting to see the Roy kids arrive with their entourages.
We were there to dish, undoubtedly, and catch up. This person wanted to hear about what I was seeing in the salt mines of media startup land, and reciprocated with the view from another altitude. Inevitably, of course, our attention turned to the state of the industry, and all its interconnected mayhem. After all, the long presumed game of spin the bottle between our largest conglomerates—Disney, Hulu, Warner Bros. Discovery and NBCUniversal, to name just a few—are predicated on the Biden administration’s severe antitrust threshold (they denied a merger among book publishers, for heaven’s sake) and Fed-stoked interest rates that would impact the leverage they would need to pull anything off. Wall Street, Washington, Silicon Valley… when you get to the top, it’s all one world.
No one can truly know the future and we don’t pretend to have those sorts of powers of prognostication here at Puck. But we do, on the other hand, pride ourselves in bringing our community closer than ever to the inside conversation where these strategic decisions are being contemplated and extemporized by the quintessential players. And this week, in particular, a number of my partners did an extraordinary job penetrating that inner sanctum sanctorum.
To wit: In When it Rains, It Amanpours, Dylan Byers depicts the profound frustration and disappointment within CNN following the network’s town hall with Donald Trump, and the growing divide between management and the newsroom. In The TV Upfronts B.S. Barometer, Matt Belloni demystifies the P.R. spin game at the heart of the TV ads business following the annual upfronts event in New York. In The Iger Hulu Flip-Flop, Julia Alexander pencils out the Disney C.E.O.’s deal logic for a potential combination that he pooh-poohed only a few months back. And in Fade to Blackstone, Bill Cohan captures the sotto voce anxiety of a subtle financial crisis of sorts. Lauren Sherman’s brilliant Scenes from the Tiffany-LVMH Marriage is an intimate look at the challenges of large scale corporate consummation.
But if you only have time to read one piece, I’d recommend curling up with Tara Palmeri’s fascinating story, Chris Sununu Talks ’24. Tara headed up to Portsmouth where the New Hampshire governor and likely Republican presidential contender drove her around in his ’66 red Mustang convertible as he discussed his views on Pence, DeSantis, Roe, Trump, Clarence Thomas, the donor game and so much more. It is the sort of revealing, human conversation that you never have with a politician on the record—especially one considering a run for the White House.
The hilarious leitmotif of Succession is that the born-rounding-third Roy kids have no clue what they are talking about—it’s a vintage ignorance that’s on display when their conversations oscillate between creating a startup and acquiring a legacy media rollup, from selling out to GoJo to perhaps tucking it in. (The poetic stupidity and apt vacuousness of that name is one of the true screenwriting masterstrokes of our time.) But the truth, of course, is that we are passing through a dramatic and chaotic chapter of the culture. Even the corporate lions of a certain generation are iterating in real time, heeding data points based on who is in the White House or what might be for sale one day, and when, and for how much in cash, equity, and debt. This intrigue is the story of our time, and precisely what we’re determined to figure out here at Puck.
Have a great weekend,