Thursday, July 30, 2009

Episodic Philanthropy

This is old news, but the first paragraph of the New York Times review of the new television program "The Philanthropist" reads to me like the first sentence of a review of "Iron Man:"

"Teddy Rist (James Purefoy), the playboy tycoon hero of “The Philanthropist” on NBC, is negotiating an oil deal in Nigeria when a near-death experience tears away his smug complacency."

The review is actually pretty good, so the producers should be happy (USA Today did not like it so much), but it really does not sound "new" to me. Not that anything really is.

I don't watch a lot of television. I don't say that only to brag and make myself sound superior, I say it because once "Friends" went off the air, I lost interest in anything but PBS. I admit to being curious about this program, given my constant news searches on subjects concerning philanthropy and nonprofits, but I am skeptical, and I admit that I will probably never watch it. "Billionaire playboy turns do-gooder" is not exactly a hot storyline. Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark kind of cornered that market, didn't they?

(Aside: Why not a female philanthropist? I guess she would have to be a former beauty queen turned celebrity billionaire turned action adventure philanthropist. Hey! Paris Hilton might not be busy.)

USA Today writes, amusingly: "The Philanthropist has no more to do with actual philanthropy than Superman does with journalism." And Steve Gunderson, CEO of the Council on Foundations reiterates: "His life is exciting. His solutions arrive in sixty minutes. And he always succeeds... I wish philanthropy was really that fun and that easy"

Here's one of my favorite things to do when something like this is in the news. Look it up:

philanthropist: - someone who makes charitable donations intended to increase human well-being

From the reviews, it sounds to me as if the protagonist of "The Philanthropist" is doing good deeds to exorcise personal demons, not out of a thirst for social justice. But a billionaire writing a check for a gosh-darn-good proposal does not make for good TV. A dirty, perhaps even bleeding, billionaire racing through the jungle with a vaccine for an African child apparently is. Maybe the title should be "The Vigilanthropist."

I suppose it's intended as irony. I mean, it could be, right? I just can't think how, at this moment. Apparently, it's based on a real person. Loosely based. But his story is not interesting enough for a summer TV series. After all, he's married and travels the world with his family. Blah.

If "The Philanthropist" wants to be philanthropic, is NBC selling its ad space at cut rates to nonprofits and having a lot of public service announcements? Does it contain a segment at the end, addressing the realities of each episode's situation, such as vaccination issues and Africa, including action ideas for viewers? Let me know if it does; that would be interesting. (I note that there is a small "Outreach" section on the show's website.)

The actor admonishes us with comments like "I think your heart is a little blackened thing if you don’t like this show." Yup, I am not going to watch "The Philanthropist" because I am dead inside. I am the Tin Man before Dorothy came along. Then again, this actor also says "He’s giving, not taking, and it makes him feel really f*#%ing good. " This is a classic contradiction in terms and also an example of a not-very-critical consciousness.

Next up: "Teddy and Phillip's college friend asks for their help to negotiate with the Indian and Pakistani governments to rebuild the region's water system." I am sure it will get into the intricacies of the history of those two countries, including a lesson on the religious nature of many of the conflicts. You'll have to let me know how it is.

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