The “Kingmaker” Behind QuiBiden

By my count, there are now at least three senior citizens of some prominence who are incapable of accurately understanding what the court of public opinion actually thinks about them.

One, of course, is the presumptive Republican candidate for the presidency, that esteemed golfing legend who lovingly referenced his opponent as a “broken down pile of crap” while both looking like and driving a weathered cart that fit that description.    The same media genius who was incapable of processing any ratings disseminated to him for his reality TV show that didn’t click with his ingrained perception that the show was still number one (although that only actually happened for one week at the end of its first season) and yet would publicly contend that was still the case, even if technically that was only true in St. Louis, Missouri.

The second would be said “broken down pile of crap” who stared down ABC’s George Stephanopulos last night and, per USA TODAY’s Joey Garrison, showed about as much respect for objectively conducted research as his opponent has:

Despite Trump leading Biden in virtually all national polls and in most battleground states Biden said he doesn’t believe he’s currently losing.

“I don’t buy that,” Biden said. “All the pollsters I talk to tell me it’s a toss-up.”

Biden also said he doesn’t buy that his approval rating is as low as 36%, which some polls have found.  “I don’t believe that’s my approval rating. That’s not what our polls show,” he said.

And the third would now seem to be the actual media genius turned political strategist that has apparently been feeding Biden both his lines and his attitude and now is incurring a great deal of the wrath of those that yet again chose to buy into his pitch.  THE WRAP’s Sharon Waxman and Emily Smith captured a great deal of that sentiment in their piece from yesterday afternoon:

Hollywood donors who forked over $30 million to the Biden campaign just three weeks ago are furious with campaign co-chair Jeffrey Katzenberg after witnessing the president’s disastrous debate performance last week, insiders told TheWrap. 

“What Jeffrey Katzenberg has done here is unbelievable,” said one Hollywood power broker, donor and influential Democrat who declined to be identified. “Jeffrey lied about the whole Biden thing. The whole Biden inner circle lied… It’s such an act of hypocrisy.” 

“Everyone is furious,” said a leading Hollywood Democratic insider. “People are pissed – they feel betrayed.” 

They feel betrayed, certainly, because as an elder statesman of the Hollywood community, Katzenberg has personally vouched for Biden’s mental and physical capacity despite concerns voiced early on by donors about the president’s age.

Waxman and Smith went on to cite an unnamed “insider and power broker” for context on why there is so much buyer’s remorse emerging:

Katzenberg was looking to reestablish himself after the failure of his tech company, Quibi, and had hounded people to support Biden in the relentless way he’s attacked every objective in his storied career.  “Jeffrey is doing exactly what he did with Quibi,” the power broker said. “He just won’t stop calling you, so you just give him money to get [him to leave you alone]. You donate the money. And a lot of people did it. But that’s what happens with Jeffrey.”

For those of you with short memories, Quibi’s quick and expensive failure, lamented by many as a pandemic casualty, was largely driven by Katzenberg’s adamant refusal to pivot the business away from the concept of “Quick Bites” (hence the name) which divided every piece of content into mobile-friendly 10-minute installments.  Sony was one of the most significant early suppliers of content to the platform, agreeing to pick up the not-inconsequential editing cost for a reality TV series and an Antoine Fuqua film that were otherwise available to international markets in their original longer forms, and were actually available to QuiBi for its initial U.S. footprint should they desire.  I was privy to several meetings which Katzenberg attended where those options and Sony’s absorbing those costs were demanded.  Every bit of objective research being done when the service launched in April 2020 pointed to the desire of the handful of actual users desiring a more traditional viewing experience as they were trapped at home with their larger screens.  Katzenberg scoffed at that feedback from his staffers, many of whom were once trusted colleagues and competitors of mine.  None of them made it intact into 2021.

I can’t say I was all that surprised.  I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Jeffrey personally, but I came awfully close decades ago when he was personally sheparding a project for the Walt Disney Studios that he was heading that was converting its successful syndicated animated series DUCK TALES and CHIP N’ DALE’S RESCUE RANGERS into a four-pronged block of programming with the umbrella veneer THE DISNEY AFTERNOON.  The FOX owned-and-operated stations were the key launch group for those shows and it was Disney’s expressed desire to continue that relationship.  One small hitch:  When TDA was announced, that was concurrent with the company’s acquisition of what is now KCAL-TV in Los Angeles, at the time a purely adult-skewing independent station.  FOX’s KTTV was the market leader with kids’ ratings, with KCOP-TV a competitive second.  But it had been already decided within Mouseshwitz that KCAL would be TDA’s home, but we were more than welcome to renew with our other six large market stations, and were seeking a meeting to discuss that which they promised Katzenberg would attend.

My boss and I heard the clamor of those stations and we had all recently received some propaganda from Disney’s marketing division that attempted to trash the fledgling competition from Warner Brothers that was also seeking our sign-off.   When we sat down with Barry Diller to discuss their concerns, we had all but forgotten the history that he and Katzenberg had–indeed, Jeffrey began as Diller’s assistant when Barry was anointed to head Paramount fifty years ago.   In his trademark bluster, Diller adamantly told us under no circumstances were we to entertain any meetings with Disney; if Los Angeles wasn’t on the table, none of our stations were.  As we were examining the crude Macintosh-generated hit piece we were sent, I observed that a great deal of Disney’s aggressive stance came from ratings they quoted which were, of course, from our stations.  Barry cackled upon hearing this and asked us to be silent as he called Katzenberg and then put him on speakerphone:

“Hello, Jeffrey”, Diller began.  “My guys here just got this ratings information from your team about your cartoons.  Did you have anything to do with this?”  Katzenberg spit back “I personally signed off on it.  Pretty compelling, right?”  Barry paused and replied “I actually wanted to thank you, since those ratings you’re bragging about came from my stations”.  Before Jeffrey could blurt out a thank you, Barry quickly added “And you do realize you’re never going to see numbers like that for your shows ever again!!” and promptly hung up.

Barry then turned to us and admonished “Do not waste a second of your time sitting down with that barnacle.  We’re moving forward without them, and we’ll be fine”.

Incidentally, as cartoon afficiandos know all too well, among the shows we did acquire as replacements was TINY TOON ADVENTURES, ironically enough a concept that came from Katzenberg’s eventual Dreamworks business partner Steven Spielberg.  And yes, TINY TOONS did beat its DISNEY AFTERNOON competition in Los Angeles head-to-head when they both launched in the fall of 1990.  And that was the second and last time my boss and I were invited to silently sit while Diller put Katzenberg on speakerphone to chortle about ratings.

So I guess I’m among the least bit surprised to see that age and supposed wisdom has only made Katzenberg even more arrogant and delusional, a quality which THE ANKLER’s Matthew Frank captured in his piece from yesterday:

Political strategist James Carville, when asked by The Ankler if he thought Katzenberg actually believed what he was telling people about Biden’s age, responded, “In Louisiana, it’s called ‘pissing up a rope.’ Never works.” (Carville has stated all along that the Democrats should’ve put forth another candidate.)

And then this anecdote:

New York reported on the exchange that began with a question from KNBC-TV’s Conan Nolan:

“Considering the fact that the Republican Party — one of the major talking points is that your party has abandoned the working class and it is a party made up of coastal elites — are you at all concerned that your presence here or your exalted position in the campaign sort of underscores that?”

Katzenberg was having none of it. How dare this local TV news reporter suggest he was out of touch? . . .

Frowning, he spoke into the mic.

“Not. At. All.”

Silence. A very-rich-guy-who-doesn’t-like-being-questioned level of silence. He wasn’t kidding.

“Jeff,” stammered the reporter, “seriously —”

“No, seriously,” said Katzenberg. “Not at all. I don’t accept your premise. Sorry.” He didn’t look terribly sorry.

So is it therefore any surprise whatsoever that among those who have been soured to the point of disgust by Katzenberg’s obfuscation would be one particularly experienced with him?  Per Frank:

When I ask IAC chairman Barry Diller, via email, if he and his wife, designer Diane von Fürstenberg, are holding firm with the Biden campaign, he simply replied, “No.” 

I bet more than a few of y’all might now wish Biden were capable of doing that to Katzenberg.

Until next time…


1 thought on “The “Kingmaker” Behind QuiBiden”

  1. Insightful piece! What a mess and sh#tsh@w dor Sems 2024. “The Kingmaker Behind Quibiden” brilliantly captures the strategic malfunctioning and rear view vision that has propelled Quibiden to new lows. Steve, it’s fascinating to read about the behind-the-scenes efforts and the pivotal decisions that have shaped the current Biden team’s trajectory. Kudos to Steven Leblang for shedding light on this remarkable moden day Oidepus Rex tragedy & odyssey and the background individuals driving it downward.


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