Thursday, February 28, 2019

TV CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK. 'Yes, we can!' Viacom Africa's well-organised, well-managed Comedy Central red carpet run shows that South Africa can get it right with proper pre-planning and know-how.

It was stress-free. In fact, it was ... a joy.

Something within the South African entertainment industry that is almost always fraught with so much peril, filled with frustration and that causes a lot of rarely seen behind-the-scenes anger, resentment, miscommunication, shouting, lost opportunities and irritation, on Thursday evening was suddenly a breezy-brilliant, calm-and-collected affair last week.

On Thursday evening Viacom Africa and PR company Total Exposure's red carpet event for the recording of Comedy Central's (DStv 122) Comedy Central Roast of AKA at the Teatro at Montecasino in Johannesburg was basically textbook perfect, very American standard, and breathtakingly ... normal.

Of course using the word "normal" when it comes to organising and doing the red carpet in South Africa means that it was actually borderline brilliant since the sad truth remains that doing a red carpet right doesn't really happen in South Africa in a myopic industry that doesn't know how to do it properly and that cares even less about researching, studying, prepping and putting adequate resources in place to execute it correctly.

Thursday evening's Showmax and Comedy Central Roast of AKA red carpet run functioned like a well-oiled machine.

Usually so stressful because like watching a silent movie nobody really knows what's going on and must make their own assumptions and then start to rush in wild-panic group think, everyone on Thursday evening - although standing on their own pages - were on the same page.

There were no little ones trampled and swept away by a cestpool media crush, no wails of despair, things climbing over each other desperate to get to the front of the rope line, crying (and I've seen crying), journalists in cages, shoving, pushing, hogging, or utter madness.

Everyone got what they needed. And I mean everyone: All media - neatly placed on their nicely demarcated A4 name-tagged blocks, got the time, access, soundbytes and video they required.

The celebrities and Viacom and Showmax executives walking the carpet got their exposure and turn in front of the camera flashes and microphones.

But how did this happen? How could this be?

Beforehand Viacom Africa PR and Total Exposure specifically asked media who want to do red carpet coverage. They gave a list, emailed in advance, of walk-by talent, limited it to a choice of 2 or 3 talent max per media outlet, with 2 or 3 questions each, and allocated red carpet blocks besides the black velvet rope.

On Thursday evening a publicist stood at the start of the red carpet and would silently hold up a laminated A4 page with the celebrity talent or executive's name and designation or job title printed on it.

Yes. I said laminated.

Media knew who would be coming down the red carpet next and who they were, instead of having to ask each other, ask for spelling or having to guess.

Publicists dressed in black glided over the red carpet alongside, slightly ahead of talent taking them for posing photo-op to photo-op, from media block to media block, moving them beautifully along without any heavy-handedness, rudeness or arrogance. It was beautiful to behold.

Media were not allowed to step onto the actual red carpet and where they transgressed, were told nicely not to and why and what was required.

Media were however not kept away like lepers, at literally arms-length or further, and could comfortably move right up to their end of the black rope, with celebs who were gently guided and allowed to go right up to their side of the rope as well.

It created an equal-equal illusion - exactly what is wanted, and exactly what is needed. Media who wanted to, could make as if they're standing right next to the celebrity; while a celebrity could make themselves appear accessible and being of the people. Win-win for everyone.

Media didn't abuse the very intuitive, well-run, slightly softer and on-hand red carpet PR approach and Viacom Africa and Total Exposure didn't rush things but gently, comfortably and methodically moved things along.

What a drastic difference to how the media and journalists are often treated as the Black Plague by uninformed, harsh and oblivious red carpet managing publicists who want coverage but don't make red carpet walkers available, barely pause and rush them through leaving anger, destruction and media mania in their wake.

Ironically, it's also been Viacom Africa that has in the past been guilty of, and responsible for, some of the worst-run media red carpets in South Africa, treating the press like utter trash and with borderline contempt, literally "imprisoning" media behind chest-high fences, and behaving more as if they had to keep meat away from hungry hyenas than engaging in a professional give-and-take, win-win, bring-celebrity-get-media-coverage exercise.

The Comedy Central Roast of AKA red carpet was so normal and so respectful - respectful to the media and the work they have to try and perform and do, but also respectful to the talent.

It was safe and secure for the talent and with a human (and human touch) mechanism that worked. Publicists did what red carpet publicists need to do (and need to know how to do) without being overbearing and dogmatic about it.

The media was able to do what they needed to get.

Well done Viacom Africa. Well done Comedy Central. Well done South Africa's entertainment industry.

Saturday's Saftas red carpet at the National Film and Video Foundation's 13th South African Film and Television Awards will undoubtedly be again an utter disaster with weeping and gnashing of teeth.

But slowly there's growth. There's progression. And measurable improvements in South Africa's long walk to the far end of the red carpet line.