Frank Rich gets a shout-out at the Emmys as ProPublica character debuts on Treme

In the movies, the relationship between Hollywood and journalism is often portrayed as acrimonious. In reality the two couldn’t be cozier.

The real-life relationship between journalists and entertainers was on full-display Sunday night when Julia Louis-Dreyfus -- who won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy for her portrayal of a foul-mouthed, female vice president of the United States in HBO’s "Veep" -- gave a shout-out to New York magazine’s writer at large (and former New York Times columnist) Frank Rich in her acceptance speech. That outpouring reveals the very close, and often profitable, relationship between the news and entertainment industries.

The relationship has been particularly fruitful for HBO and journalists, in part because of the connection between the network’s new CEO, Richard Plepler, and heavy hitters in Washington and New York media circles, according to a New York Times story published last week.

“HBO began spreading riches to New York journalists and authors – and those covering Washington politics – who found their books optioned by HBO,” writes Laura M. Holson for the Times. Among other names, Holson name-drops:

  • Time Magazine news analyst Mark Halperin, who along with co-writer John Heilemann, are responsible for "Game Change," which HBO bought and made into a TV movie starring Julianne Moore, who also won an Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries for that performance;
  • former New York Times columnist Frank Rich is now an executive producer with HBO, including for Louis-Dreyfus' "Veep";
  • ABC’s Jake Tapper and Vanity Fair Editor Bethany McLean were both hired to consult on projects;
  • Fareed Zakaria, an editor at large at Time who hosts a show on CNN, was recently hired as a consultant for an upcoming news show called ‘Vice’; and
  • Malcolm Gladwell, who writes for The New Yorker and was formerly with The Washington Post, has been hired by the network to write a spy movie.

This month HBO also renewed Treme for a fourth and final season.  Co-created by former Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon, the series focuses on New Orleans residents trying to rebuild their lives after Hurricane Katrina. This season, producers of the show also introduced a new character-- a reporter based on real-life journalist A.C. Thompson, who works for the non-profit newsroom, ProPublica.

Thompson, who is also a consultant on the show, did not find it strange to have a character modeled on him.

“They say, ‘Is it weird to see your life fictionalized? Was it weird to see yourself become a character in an unfolding drama that's largely fictional?’ The answer is, it was actually really liberating and fun … because I had a certain distance from it. I felt that this character we’re creating happens to have a lot of resemblance to me, and he happens to be different from me in a lot of ways as well.

“I didn't feel strange about it at all. I felt like, ‘Wow, this is a lot more fun than doing journalism in a lot of ways, because the character can do whatever we want him to do on any given day, whereas in journalism I have to tell you exactly the truth as I understand it.’

Correction: This story originally misspelled Julia Louis-Dreyfus' last name.

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    Tracie Powell

    Tracie Powell is a senior fellow for Democracy Fund, a bipartisan foundation established by eBay founder-philanthropist Pierre Omidyar to help ensure that Americans come first in our democracy. Tracie is also founder of AllDigitocracy which focuses on media and its impact on diverse communities. 


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