Episode 180: Michelle Bachmann America is Great Funtime

The Overthinkers tackle the TV and music businesses: Community, Taylor Swift, Ke$ha, and Adam Smith.

Matthew Wrather hosts with Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, and John Perich to overthink the fate of Community, the business strategy of Taylor Swift, how Ke$ha stays on-brand, and what Adam Smith thinks of the music business.

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26 Comments on “Episode 180: Michelle Bachmann America is Great Funtime”

  1. fenzel OTI Staff #


    The Periodic Table of Elements (no there is not a T): http://www.webelements.com/

    “Indie Box Office: ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ Debuts to Big $75K Per Location”:

    “‘Community’ Showrunner Plans Alison Brie’s GIF-able Moments”:

    “Taylor Swift: Billboard’s Woman of the Year:”


  2. Chris #

    “Six seasons and a movie” is a Community reference, but it stems from Abed’s love of The Cape. When told it would only last a few weeks, he replied defiantly, “Six seasons and a movie!” So, there you go.

    To be fair, the issue with the Terriers ad campaign went far beyond the name. The ads also featured an actual terrier much more than either of the main characters, and what the show was about was never even really stated. I don’t think the name of a show is all that important in terms of generating viewers, as I presume most viewers make their decisions based upon actually seeing ads for the show or hearing what it is about (I imagine it is rare for somebody to merely hear a shows name context free), but this obvious made things a bit more difficult.

    I also think there is no reason for Community fans to fear, mostly because NBC has nothing else. They are far and away the fourth place network, and nothing has hit so far this year. Whitney is being moved to Wednesday to be sacrificed while Up All Night is moved to Thursday in hopes of getting it an audience. Most of their new shows has been cancelled. At the very least, the network knows they have a devoted audience, even if it is a relatively small one, for Community. They will get a full third season, and maybe, just maybe, a fourth season. Sony has in the past given networks good deals on their shows in order to hit the syndication number. Plus, did I mention NBC has nothing going for it?

    I have the same favorite three episodes from this season of Community as Wrather. The Hearts of Darkness episode may be my favorite in the show’s history.


    • Erigion #

      The fact that NBC has nothing going for it seems like it would hurt more than it would help. If Community was on CBS they might not have a problem with keeping a poorly rated, yet critically loved, show on while the rest of their lineup rakes in cash. NBC doesn’t have those cashcow franchises anymore.

      Also, the fact that Whitney and 2 Broke Girls are doing so well shows executives that the general public wants more of those sitcoms and not things like Community.


  3. Monzenn #

    I thought that the regionals-Glee special was a good “ending” to the Community franchise. Being a parody of pop culture, it was fitting that the final episode was a parody to one of the hottest commodities in TV-land: Glee.

    Also, being a non-American, I share Pierce’s view: what ARE regionals? Are they like those in the NCAA, e.g. the Pac-12 and the Big East? Are they the stereotyped regions that appear constantly in popular culture, e.hg. the midwest, the Bible Belt, the Rust Belt, etc.? Argh, I will not be able to understand Glee now that I am aware of this inconsistency! (Not that I tried to rationalize Glee before…)


    • JosephFM #

      My understanding, not having been in a glee club, but having gone to an American public school, is that regional is a competition between the best clubs in neighboring school districts, the winners if which would go onto a state championship. Think Friday Night Lights rather than NCAA and you’d be in the same ballpark so to speak.


  4. Tulse #

    I adore Community, but Wrather is quite wrong about its problem being a lack of appeal to the most desirable segment of the TV audience. The prime demographic for advertisers is 18-35, not the oldsters, and Community’s main audience is surely within that age group. There are plenty of shows that get relatively small ratings overall, but have big numbers in that age bracket, and so remain profitable for networks. Community’s problem is not that it is seen by the wrong people, but that it is not seen enough by the people it is designed to attract. Which makes me sad.


    • Leigh #

      I sort of agree with Fenzel on this point, in that a demographic which doesn’t want to participate in the traditional ads-for-programs exchange of broadcast TV is not really a smart brand for a network to cater to, especially in a television market that is still dominated by ad revenue. Eventually, broadcast television is going to have to evolve if it wants to continue to pursue that demographic, because a lot of young people are already beyond television.


      • JosephFM #

        That’s a good point. Community and Parks&Rec are literally the only shows I consistently watched live in the past year (I also watched Castle, because I love Nathan Fillion in anything, but less regularly).

        Now, this is in part because I cancelled my cable and thus couldn’t watch anything on AMC or FX or BBC America until it showed up on Netflix…but it speaks to your point. I’m not that target audience for TV advertisers, despite being in “the demo”, because I simply don’t watch very much (new) TV.


  5. Hazbaz #

    Lovely to hear some Community talk on the podcast, and I totally agree Pete should watch the show. Do the Overthinkers who watch Community also watch Parks and Rec? I listened to the Slate Culture Gabfest recently and they had a brief discussion about how current mainstream comedy hits like The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men are suprisingly mean spirited and cynical whereas the cult/critical darling shows like P and R, Community and Louie are all relatively sweet and caring about their characters. Is that a trend that others have noticed?
    Based on the whole Artist-as-Business discussion, what does everyone think about Louis CK’s decision to release his new special via a $5 download?


    • Matthew Wrather OTI Staff #

      I absolutely love the Louis CK video, and I’m really glad that a guy with his mainstream reach (mainstream, that is, relative to, say, Jonathan Coulton or Felicia Day) is releasing content directly — and doing it without DRM, so you’re not locked into the apple or netflix or amazon or hulu ecosystem.

      It’s good for both consumers, since prices are lower, and artists, since he’ll see a much bigger chunk of that $5 than he would otherwise.

      He’s a unique case because he’s as good a director and producer as he is a writer/performer.


  6. Wade #

    Community is sort of in the same position right now that Arrested Development was near the end of its run. Once they got word that the show was cancelled and the season was cut short, they sort of ran through the last few episodes quickly tying up all the loose ends as best they could. If that eventually happens to Community, I’ll be okay with it so long as the show gets at least that much of a send-off.

    But then Community has the advantage of coming after Arrested Development, and with the brothers Russo on board (who also produced AD), I think they’re in a unique position to learn from what went wrong with AD. Not to mention the fact that (at least in my observation) the two shows share a lot of the same fanbase, so I think the fans will rally behind Community to prevent another AD catastrophe.

    At worst, we’ll start hearing about a Community film that will exist only in rumors for six years before eventually materializing on the internet.


  7. Anthony Abatte #

    I can’t imagine getting a drumset or generator but how about another film commentary? Maybe something festive, like “Die Hard”?


    • Tulse #

      Maybe something festive, like “Die Hard”?

      There’s also a great Overthinking It piece there, something like “Non-holiday-genre films set during Christmas”.


      • Anthony Abatte #

        I’ve been watching many of those films lately. My favorites are Die Hard and Batman Returns. Sometimes the standard holiday films just get boring. I’m pretty sure I have A Christmas Story memorized by now.


  8. Shana Mlawski OTI Staff #

    The main reason I want Community to run at least four seasons is that Harmon and the other writers seem to have an endgame in mind. If you read interviews and Harmon’s blog, it’s clear that he sees the show as one, four-year story. Abed referenced this fact in the rap segment this week. He says “if years were seasons” (as in, seasons of the show), and you see a clock with its arrow on 9:00. Between 12:00 and 3:00, you see scenes from season 1, between 3:00 and 6:00 are scenes from season 2, and between 6:00 and 9:00 are scenes from season 3. 6:00 through 12:00 are blank, because season 4 hasn’t happened yet. In other words, the story is three-quarters of the way finished.

    Then, Abed says that “this December would be the December of our December.” He’s saying that the we’re up to the lowest, darkest point in the heroic quest – the “Empire Strikes Back” of Community. We need one more season so we can get the happy ending of the story (the “Return of the Jedi” of Community).

    You can see evidence of this structure if you look at Jeff’s character arc over the last three seasons. In season 1, Jeff is the hero in Act One of our movie. He meets the other characters and struggles with a dramatic question: Should he become part of a Community or not? At the end of season 1 and the beginning of season 2, he answers the question (“yes”), so we enter Act Two: the act of complication. After Jeff has decided that he wants to be part of a group and that he loves them, he must decide if he loves them unconditionally. The answer is no. He wants Pierce out of the group, but Annie wants Pierce to stay. The conflict gets conflict-ier.

    Now, in season three, we’re up to the end of Act Two in our movie. Here, Jeff reaches his lowest point, his anagnorisis. It is revealed that he, not Pierce, was the true enemy of the group all along. He is the one holding them back, probably because of his daddy issues and fears about death. If the group is to be a great community instead of a dickish one, Jeff will need to deal with these issues and overcome his defensive cynicism for good. That’s why this season has been so dark so far. If this were a movie, we’d be up to the “sad montage.”

    Maybe now that Harmon and co. know that they may not get a fourth season, they’ll give us Act Three and the denouement of the story now, at the end of season three. But I’d still like a whole fourth season to complete the characters’ journeys. Anyway, it’d be sad if we didn’t get to see them graduate.


    • Matthew Wrather OTI Staff #

      It’s not at all clear to me that there will even be the end to a third season, no matter how optimistic everyone involved with the show is paid to be.


      • Chris #

        As I said in my earlier comment, I would be surprised if they don’t at least get a full third season, mostly because NBC doesn’t have anything else. Most of their new shows have already burnt out, and who knows if Whitney or the upcoming Chelsea Handler-based sitcom “Are You There, Chelsea?” are long for this world.

        Just look at Chuck. Chuck is in the midst of a season nobody thought would happen, solely because it’s relatively small audience was very passionate, and because they had nothing else. That’s an hour long show they found time to stick in its schedule. Not finding a half hour to at least finish off a Community’s third season would be a surprise given that it is NBC.


        • Shana Mlawski OTI Staff #

          I believe they are filming episodes from the back half of the season now. There were some stills from unaired episodes floating around the Internet the other day, so I’m betting we get the end of season 3 one way or another. Even if NBC doesn’t air them on TV, I’m sure they’ll end up on Hulu or DVD or something.


          • Andy #

            Seconded. I’ve been reading tweets from Allison Brie about filming, so we’ll certainly get the back half somewhere. Hopefully at least a little of season 4 too, if only because Sony wants to syndicate.

  9. James T #

    Fascinating discussion! You guys should misinterpret the topic more often.

    On Taylor Swift & Dolly Parton:

    I can’t speak first-hand on whether Dolly Parton is an influence on female artists, but I did see a play recently called “Feet First in the Water With a Baby in My Teeth” by Megan Gogerty, which is a very funny one-woman show about the struggle reconciling being an artist with being a mother, and Parton plays a fairly prominent role in the story, as someone the main character looks up to with great admiration for overcoming the odds and taking control of her creative destiny. I didn’t know much about Parton before seeing Gogerty’s show, but it seems she owes a lot of her success to some pretty shrewd business decisions. Apparently “I Will Always Love You” was inspired by her breaking out on her own as an artist.

    On KeSha and Flo Rida:

    This was also an interesting conversation, and I agree about KeSha “owning her raunchiness” being a significant improvement on presenting a more subservient sex-symbol role. As someone who works with teens and thus has to listen to a lot of their music, I can’t say I’m thrilled about the “party girl” message she sends, but at least there are some pretty aggressive boundaries when it comes to sexuality. (I’m thinking mainly of “Tik Tok” here).

    Great show, as always!


  10. Ed #

    Great episode, even tho I have never watched or listen to anything discussed this week.

    I wanted to ask/comment about something that came up. You had mentioned how the internet/YouTube market is not worth targeting since they consume media but avoid the advertising. There are even people who want to boycott YouTube because of the increase in ads there, even tho it is a free service.

    I wanted to go further into that, as someone that has worked in the music industry, I have definitely noticed the transition from old media models to new media models. Rather even used the exact phrase, “Trading analog dollars for digital dimes”. Viewers are benefiting from the old media model, which spends millions of dollars developing TV shows and movies, but are unwilling to accept the advertising that pays for it. Do you think, if this trend continues, that the old media model of developing new products will cease and User Generated Content/reality shows will become even more the norm?


  11. cat #

    I happen to really love country music, but I think you still have to respect a lot of women in the country music genre as businesswomen. A lot of them write their own songs and are very much involved in their branding and the focus of their careers. They can achieve an unusual amount of longevity and they branch out into a lot of different areas. Taylor Swift definitely seems to be following the path of the Dolly Parton’s and Reba McEntire’s. She’s achieving country and pop success, doing a lot of touring, staying in charge of her career, branching out into acting (I think her next role is a voice in The Lorax).

    I think some of Pete’s comments about the “character” of Dolly Parton can best be summed up in the Dolly Parton song “Backwoods Barbie”. You can’t help what voice you have and I don’t think she’s ever played down her intelligence all that much. I would say that what comes through in that “character” isn’t a lack of intelligence but a very sweet, kind spirit and a certain sensitivity. I think there’s a logical instinct to make assumptions about a person based on how they look. That’s both a primitive response and a way to navigate through social situations. However, especially for women, because of all the added embellishments of makeup and accessories, etc. it can all become a little problematic. It reminds me of the SlutWalk protests a bit.

    To Pete, I am a woman and I do love Dolly Parton and think she’s a great role model.


  12. Gab #

    About Dolly Parton

    I think contrasting Dolly Parton and Ke$ha is a really interesting path to take. I’ve always highly respected Dolly Parton because she satirizes tropes and stereotypes about what it takes for a woman to get ahead. And I think in that sense, she’s a great role model- she doesn’t let patriarchal norms make her angry, she instead laughs at them by making them so hyperbolic, they become comical. For example, one of my favorite quotes by her (and even it it’s not 100% accurate, it really sums up her approach) is, “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap.” So because of that, as Cat said, she comes across as warm and funny, someone you could actually get along with on a personal level and have a lot in common with if you sat and chatted for a while.

    Contrast that with Ke$ha, who, as far as I have seen in media and such, isn’t really satirizing. I can’t think of a good way to describe her persona, although off-putting and abrasive come to mind. But her style comes across as more dangerous and harmful to oneself. There’s fun, but there’s no joy, and that’s a difference that sets the two women apart. And as Fenzel said, and I’ll extend it, Ke$ha is putting herself at risk of having all sorts of horrible things happen to her body (disease, alcohol, drugs, creepy dudes snatching her, etc.), while Dolly’s main risk I pick up on is having her heart broken. I don’t think the risks Ke$ha’s persona puts her in face of are relatable. And the average person, could they really sit and chat with someone like her and not feel awkward or uncomfortable? It’s self-destruction, and one can only be around that for so long before wanting to get away.

    And while both have made for themselves successful business brands, since Dolly’s does have that personable quality, she’s the one fully capable of having her own theme park. What would a Ke$ha park look like? The concept rather terrifies me.

    So then why are such different brands successful? I think the personable quality is why Dolly is, and that Ke$ha’s perhaps comes from the kind of voyeristic nature we like to pretend we don’t have. Or maybe we don’t consider the implications of the kind of lifestyle Ke$ha’s character has on the conscious level when taking any of her brand in (be it seeing, hearing, whatever). Or perhaps since we know she’s a character, we can look at it and not take it seriously. Or maybe her songs are just that bloody catchy. I’m actually not sure about Ke$ha.

    So, to answer the question posed, as a woman, I can totally see why Taylor Swift would consider Dolly Parton a role model. I do, to the extent that I advocate for feminism in various ways that I can, given my rather minuscule existence in the grand scheme of things.

    I haven’t read the books (aren’t there a couple about the same main guy?), but I do indeed plan on seeing TTSP, so I look forward to that podcast. I imagine you’ll talk about it tomorrow, otherwise I’d offer to guest (since I’ll be back in my hometown by next Sunday). But do discuss in depth, that’d be awesome.

    Also, this:



    • cat #

      Key-$-Ha! confuses me as well. I think it might be helpful to hold her up to Gaga and Katy Perry as a comparison instead of Dolly Parton. Now, I have my own issues with Lady Gaga. I don’t think she’s really all that much of a creative genius. Most of her songs aren’t that great. I doubt that she’s really involved in a lot of the production of her sets or costumes as it usually seems to be someone else’s avant guarde, designer, haute couture vision. Except for the pouring Cheerios on herself. That might be genuine. But anyway, she at least gives the impression (to her fans) that she does all of that creative work and that a unique artistic vision drives her brand. Ke$ha doesn’t really do that. Her crazy makeup and glow-in-the-dark paint performances don’t seem to have any real artistic purpose.

      As to Katy Perry, I think they support really different types of party girl images. As many times as she is vulgar or overtly sexual there’s something a little quirky to Katy Perry’s brand. It has some sort of retro, cartoonish vibe that excuses the excess. Ke$ha doesn’t really try to do that either. She is excessive and ridiculous but in a more destructive, dangerous way.

      So yeah, she confuses me.

      Another thing to think about in all of this is branding. I feel like with a lot of female performers who develop a strong sense of branding, they often started at a very different place. Gaga was just a girl with long, brown hair sitting at a piano. Katy Perry was a Christian singer. Ke$ha apparently did really well on her SATs. Dolly didn’t always have all that makeup and all that hair. Why is this type of branding and reinvention so important for female performers in particular? Or am I wrong about that? Is it characteristic of all performers?


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