Mar. 19, 2004

Last month, MTV announced that it had selected Philadelphia as the site for the upcoming 15th season of its reality show, The Real World. But local unions were outraged by the producers’ hiring of nonunion laborers to build the set, and started picketing in front of the property in Old City. As a result, the production company left town just three weeks before taping was scheduled to begin.

After some initial indifference to the situation, Mayor John Street made a feeble attempt to keep the show in Philadelphia, but as usual, he was a day late and a dollar short — the producers had made their final decision.*

This is rant-worthy not because I’m a big fan of The Real World, but because the filming of a popular show aimed at young viewers was a huge opportunity to promote Philadelphia as a cool place to live and work.

Compared with New York and Washington, D.C. — vibrant cities loaded with tourist appeal and young professionals — Philadelphia is widely regarded as a city in decline, a metropolitan has-been. Every year, thousands of students from local universities promptly leave Philly upon graduation in favor of more thriving cities. The similar departure of Bunim/Murray, the production company of The Real World, was directly caused by the short-sighted quarreling of union bosses, and the fiasco certainly won’t improve our city’s image.

I understand that unions need to look out for their members, but this isn’t the first time that their greediness has cost the city millions of dollars. In recent years, many conventions and trade shows have vowed not to return to Philadelphia specifically due to labor problems.

Basically, the local unions seem to insist on playing hardball with potential customers, many of whom understandably decide to take their business elsewhere. So, in an effort to prevent their members from being screwed out of wages or benefits, the unions ultimately screw the entire city out of exciting new business opportunities and a positive image, time and time again.

Don’t get me wrong — I want to see this town succeed. I grew up in the suburbs of Philly, I’m surrounded by family and friends in this area, and I have a fantastic job. I’ve lived in other parts of the country, but at the end of the day, I’d rather live here than anywhere else.

If The Real World had stuck around, millions of TV viewers might have come to love Philadelphia like I do. But thanks to a handful of ignorant, selfish union leaders, that simply won’t happen.

* Update: After several days of local outrage over this latest PR fiasco, Mayor Street met with the union leaders and Real World producers in an attempt to resolve the impasse — and for once, there’s a happy ending in this town! On Mar. 23, MTV announced that its filming of The Real World would take place in Philadelphia after all.

I’m pleased (and somewhat amazed) that the mayor and union bosses came to their senses long enough to work out a compromise. But I really hope they’ve learned something from this episode — doing business in Philly shouldn’t be so complicated.

[ No. 87 ]

Mar. 11, 2004

Returned to my high school to attend a reception for Terry Newitt, my former art teacher and the deserving recipient of the 2004 Delaware Art Educator of the Year award.

Terry is easily one of the most talented artists I’ve ever met, and I always admired his teaching style in class. Although it’s been nearly 12 years since I graduated from high school, Terry’s enthusiasm and guidance continue to influence my interest in graphic design and typography.

Congratulations, Mr. Newitt!

[ No. 86 ]

Mar. 6, 2004

Met up with some friends from our Avalon shore house to attend a black-tie charity event called The Red Ball. It was a little strange to see everyone dressed to the nines, since I’ve grown accustomed to seeing them in T-shirts and flip-flops at the beach during the summer. And I’m pretty sure that it was the first time that I’d rented a tuxedo since my high school prom!

The gala was held at the National Constitution Center, which opened in Philadelphia on the Fourth of July last year. It’s a beautiful building that sits directly across from Independence Hall — I’m looking forward to taking a tour of the new facility soon.

[ No. 85 ]

Mar. 3, 2004

It’s been an interesting couple of months for the Walt Disney Company. Not only did Comcast place an unsolicited bid to buy Disney (which Disney refused), but two former Disney board members have also launched a fierce campaign to remove Michael Eisner as Disney’s chairman and CEO.

I happen to own a modest number of shares of Disney stock, so when I heard that the 2004 Annual Meeting of Shareholders was going to be held in Philadelphia, I thought it might be a good opportunity to see what goes on at such a gathering. Plus, with all of the headlines surrounding the company, I figured that the proceedings could be downright entertaining — and I was right.

I arrived at the Pennsylvania Convention Center shortly after registration had begun at 8 a.m., only to find hundreds of people already waiting in line. I became worried that I wouldn’t even get in — the ballroom only held 3,000 people, and seating was granted on a first-come, first-served basis.

As I neared the final security checkpoint in line, a reporter and cameraman from the local Fox TV station approached me and asked if I’d be interested in answering a few questions. Usually, I’m a pretty talkative guy, but I politely turned down the offer. Instead of delivering a concise, informed opinion about the meeting, I was reasonably certain that I’d stumble over my words and broadcast a brain-dead comment to the entire Delaware Valley.

Eisner's last stand as chairman

Luckily, I made it into the meeting, which got underway at 10 a.m. with some introductory comments from Michael Eisner, who insisted that the company was performing well. Eisner, whose voice sounded hoarse from the start, then explained that he’d reached an agreement with his former colleagues, Stanley Gold and Roy Disney, that would provide them with a 15-minute address to the shareholders.

A large portion of the audience greeted the former board members with a boisterous standing ovation. Two memorable moments from the angry speeches by the “Save Disney” crusaders:

Another source of entertainment emerged during the Q&A sessions. Eisner was bombarded with several rambling questions from one shareholder, who I later learned was Evelyn Y. Davis, a notorious “corporate gadfly” who attends dozens of shareholder meetings each year. As the audience was growing impatient with her constant, long-winded questions, she made the mistake of interrupting another shareholder while he was speaking at the microphone. The hunched-over older gentleman angrily shot back, “You’ve already had your turn, so sit down and shut up!

During one particularly long and pointless question from Davis, I retreated to the ballroom lobby to cast my vote before the polls closed. I withheld my support from the entire board of directors (they all seemed complicit in the company’s steady decline), voted for the appointment of PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP as Disney’s independent auditors, and abstained from the remaining items.

After the various items of business were discussed, the head of each business unit gave a presentation about their past performance and future plans. We viewed several sneak-preview movie trailers, learned about new attractions at the various theme parks, and received a defensive explanation of ABC’s dismal ratings. But after several lengthy presentations, I looked at my watch and realized that the meeting had run for four hours without a single scheduled break! With a growling stomach and a dull headache, I left the meeting shortly after 2 p.m., figuring I’d seen most of the meeting highlights.

Epilogue: Actually, I missed the final vote count, which was announced later in the afternoon — 43 percent of the shareholders withheld their votes from Michael Eisner, causing him to lose his role as chairman. But despite the largest shareholder revolt in American history, the Disney board of directors decided to retain Eisner as their CEO for another year.

I have to wonder if the board really got the message, or if any real change will take place in the company. But stay tuned — the 2005 meeting of shareholders could be even more dramatic.

[ No. 84 ]

Photo credit: AFP / Timothy Clary

Mar. 1, 2004

Unlike a lot of people, I didn’t watch all that much of the Academy Awards last night. I wouldn’t call myself a movie buff, I have zero interest in Hollywood fashion, and since I’m already a night owl, I don’t really need another reason to stay up too late on a Sunday night.

When I heard the results this morning, I was surprised to learn that The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King went 11-for-11, winning an award in every category for which it was nominated. The film’s clean sweep of the Oscars tied the record of 11 awards held by Titanic (1997) and Ben-Hur (1959).

I’ll admit that I never read the Tolkien novels, but I did enjoy the Lord of the Rings films for the most part — even if they seemed to run a bit long. And there’s no question that the trilogy is an important achievement in modern filmmaking. But why did the Academy voters feel compelled to snub every other movie in nearly a dozen categories in order to make that point?

The way I see it, if the Oscars were a sporting event, The Return of the King would’ve been accused of running up the score. And if this trend continues, I won’t even care who wins, let alone watch the awards show.

[ No. 83 ]