Monday Musings: Bravo is Reading My Diary

Monday, November 3, 2008
Do you ever feel like you've been had? Not in a punk'd, "Hi Sarah Palin, I'm the President of France" kind of way. More in the sense that somebody has stolen your ATM card and is buying gas on your dime, or maybe somebody has secretly read your diary and knows your dirty little secrets. That's how I felt when I read this week's cover story of the New York Times magazine on Lauren Zalaznick, the Bravo TV producer whose brainchildren include Project Runway, Top Chef, The Real Housewives of various cities, Top Design, and the new and horrible (but still addicting) Rachel Zoe project. Zalaznick is credited for "boutique-izing" reality television--taking it from far away islands full of insects for contestants to eat, and bringing it to fashionable cities where the "reality" focuses on high style and good taste.

So how did she take advantage of me, you ask? By pigeon-holing me--a viewer of her programs--and doing it with frightening accuracy. Her target audience? "A P.T.A. trendsetter, the young mom who lives in a suburb like Winnetka, Ill., but who still wants to eat at the new hot restaurant in the city and shows up at preschool pickup with a Marc Jacobs bag." Even the description of why we "P.T.A trendsetters" watch Zalaznick's Bravo fare is spot-on: "To watch Bravo is to feel like an insider — to be taken inside a gated community or the back office of the exclusive gym...To watch Bravo is also to be let in on the joke...[Zalaznick] has really cultivated that special brand of reality television that is winking at you, that’s letting you feel good about watching a guilty pleasure.”

How did she read my mind??

She describes why her sister likes "The Real Housewives": It affords her the opportunity to think, at least once a week, "Ohmygod, I can't believe what a good mom I am."

Um, yes, I might have thought that at least eighteen times during a single episode of the show.

It gets better. Not only does Zalaznick have some sort of direct line to my inner-most thoughts--she is the kind of mom I want to be. Zalaznick, who is now in charge of integrating sales across all of Bravo's "women-oriented" properties (god, am I now one-step-away from the Lifetime "television for women" demographic??), is herself a mother of three. And the anecdotes in the Times article of the way she raises her kids had me laughing out loud. For instance, Zalaznick apparently "talks to her children the way she talks to everyone else, with great seriousness that's used for comic effect as often as it is used to convey genuine gravity." At one point during her interview for the article, she threatens her misbehaving child: "I will cause strawberries to be brought to you." Later it is revealed that, one time, Zalaznick made her family pose for a group photograph every day, for an entire year. It is not revealed why she did this. She is also self-deprecating (“Us boring people with our 6:30 dinner reservation — we know how unhip we are...We know we’ve gotta work extra hard.") and witty (she chuckles at the idea of fake Bravo commercials for Bravo during Bravo programming).

So, yes, I feel like I have been had. Zeleznick and her posse have me completely figured out. And I am not alone. Zalaznick herself explains that "Bravo is the most engaged network — the most people who see a commercial on Bravo, of any other network, remember that ad and think more highly of a product! Sixty-three percent of Bravo’s viewers recall the name of the brands they’ve seen advertised on Bravo, and 26 percent say that after seeing a product placement on Bravo, they have an improved opinion of the product."

To sum up: Zalaznick is reading my diary, making me buy Bluefly accessories and--quite honestly--if she created a "boutique" reality show about herself as a mom I would be watching that too. One thing though? That Marc Jacobs bag that I am supposedly toting to pick up my kids? Uh uh. So last year.

P.s. Speaking of Project Runway--did you Devis catch Heidi Klum as Kali for Halloween? My question: How did she manage not to terrify her children with that costume? My son was scared of my cowboy hat.
Leena said...

I thought the same thing when I read the magazine! I actually found myself thinking "ha! I'm not even on the P.T.A."! That Kali costume is great but I am sure the PC-offenderati are all over it.

Vid said...

I know what you mean. It's like reading about how the smoking companies targetted people, right (okay, not as evil, but you know what I mean). It never feels good to know that you've been "categorized" by some faceless boardroom people. That being said, how else are you supposed to make TV right? I just hope they were thinking of me when they made Arrested Development!!

Meera said...

this is interesting. I just heard a piece on the radio about how we don't trust politicians anymore and how it's because they have to "follow the money". It's similar with tv. It seems like one day soon we will just watch a string of ads that all together comprise a "show". Not sure how this model will work in this new economy though where we aren't buying as much?

Anonymous said...

Oh. My. God. Is that call to palin for real???? It can't be??

boukman70 said...


Post-bourgie posted one of your Brown Girl strips a couple weeks back, and I've been a fan of yours ever since.

The wife and I don't have cable, so I can't really comment on this one. Though I will say I had my best book signing ever in Winnetka, IL, and I will forever be in love with that place. Also, your musings remind me of that old Skunk Anansie song: "It takes blood and guts to be this way; But I'm still just a cliche." No matter how much the individual we think we are, someone has us pegged into some kind of demographic.

Also, I always gathered from his writings that Naipaul was some kind of jerk--though I don't remember why I've felt that way. I had no clue he was _that_ bad, though. I don't think it has to do with "greatness." After all, I think Jimmy Stewart was one of the greatest actors America's ever seen, and he was a steady family man. And Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward seemed to have a great marriage. Though, as you say, you don't know what goes on behind closed doors. I think that kind of behavior just has to do with self-indulgence, a fundamental disrespect for other people, and other people letting you get away with it because of your supposed "greatness." If a lot of those jackholes weren't celebrities, most people would tell them to go to hell and/or beat them up and take their wallets.

Purva said...

"I'm still just a cliche"--I like that! To me the next logical thing is "don't take yourself so seriously," which is what I would say to people who find Bravo tv or any one of many other tv shows simple, morally bad etc etc. Calm down everyone, you are probably watching pretty much the same thing even if it is a slightly different iteration!

Shona said...

Haha, it seems like I've been had too! Man, I thought I was so unique! By the way, Leena, you were right: In case you haven't seen, people are getting all bent out of shape about Heidi as Kali:

Amba said...

Oh yes, the call to Palin is real. The potential VP of our country got duped by some Montreal comedians! You would think she would have been tipped off by the accent, the references to sex and porn, but oh no. Tomorrow night is not going to get here fast enough!

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