is not yet a household name. But he is in my household.
must make a confession. I am a big fan of Gene
Simmons — Family Jewels. It’s on the A&E network. It
started in the 2006—7 season, and rapidly became the network’s
second-most watched show.
was the most famous member of the 1970’s hard rock band, KISS. Actually,
he was not famous. His tongue was famous.
I can honestly
say that I have never heard a KISS record or watched a KISS video.
Only two things impressed me at the time: Simmons’ tongue and his
marketing genius. The band members’ faces were painted. This was
Simmons’ idea. This meant that Simmons did what no other rock band
legend ever did before him. He found a way to be internationally
famous as a bass player — not a guitarist — and yet have
complete anonymity off the stage. No one knew what he looked like
without his face paint. He could go anywhere and not be mobbed.
That impressed me at the time. It was the only reason I remembered
his name in 2007, when I discovered his TV show. Well, not quite.
I also remembered it because his name sounded like the 1950’s actress,
Jean Simmons. This, too, was part of Simmons’ marketing genius.
His real name is Chaim Witz.
why I bothered to watch the show the first time was that I was intrigued.
Why, after three decades, would Simmons abandon that most wonderful
of assets, public anonymity?
I found out
within the first ten minutes.
cashing in . . . again. He took the format used by another rocker,
Ozzy Osbourne, and re-positioned it. Osbourne allowed TV crews into
his home to record what went on. I watched maybe five minutes of
the show, once. This was one dysfunctional family! Language, hairstyles,
kids as an extension of their father’s legendary zaniness: a little
went a long way. Ozzy is basically incoherent. But for a time,
the show was popular.
By the end
of the first edition of Gene Simmons — Family Jewels, you
should be able to see what he is doing. He is playing off his reputation
as a rock star and business genius against his patient consort (not
his wife) and their two teenage children.
He begins each
show with a monologue extolling his favorite subject: himself. Each
intro ends with a close-up: “And that’s why it’s good to be . .
. me.” After the second show, I got it. This is a shtick. It works.
a multi-millionaire. KISS has licensed over 3,000 different products.
The real money has always been in the trademark and the product
marketing. Again, Simmons understands marketing as no other rocker
ever has. He never lets us forget this.
This is one
reason why I watch the show. I love marketing. I want to see how
a genius marketer is positioning a mass-market TV series. I want
to see what he sees.
The keys to
whatever he sees are his children.
is about 18 years old, 6 feet 7, hair long enough to cover a memorable
pair of ears, and very, very funny. He is not stand-up comedian
funny. He is quip funny, one-liner funny, gotcha funny.
By the end
of the first show, I could see that Gene was playing the hapless
father to his hip but straight son. This show is a whacked-out update
of Ozzie and Harriet, with Nick playing Ricky. He even plays
Ozzie. No one ever knew what Ozzie did for a living. He was always
at home. It’s basically the same with Gene. He works in his home
office — a 16,000 square foot home. He has a lot of irons in the
fire at all times, but none of them makes much sense economically.
In fact, he introduces them weekly as a series of nutty schemes,
such as the idea for a national chain: Gene Simmons’ Bikini Car
Wash. Or Gene Simmons’ Sexercize. These are sit-com schemes. But
they work great on his sit-com.
wife of 23 years, Shannon Tweed, a former Playmate of the Year,
really is like Harriet, if Harriet had been unmarried to Gene by
way of Playboy. She brings a kind of sanity to his schemes.
Well, maybe not sanity, but at least reality. Unlike Harriet, her
solution to his latest project is always the same: to get him to
hand her his KISS credit card and go shopping. Watching her trips
to Beverly Hills’ boutiques is like watching Imelda Marcos on speed.
her sister Tracy accompanies her. It is a sight to behold. It makes
every husband watching the show think, “My wife is a real budget-watcher.”
This increases family unity. I think Gene knows this.
is Sophie. She is 13 (later 14) going on 25. When the makeup guy
and the hairdresser are through with her, she is stunning. Her mom
is still a flashy knockout: 50 going on 38. But compared to Sophie,
mom is Harriet Nelson. (Without the makeup, Sophie is the girl next
door, or anyway the girl you always hoped would live next door.)
Here is the
deal: the kids are straight. Nick is the lifestyle’s skeptic. He
likes the money. He gets along well with his parents. But he doesn’t
take his dad’s schemes or philosophy seriously. Nick is the key
to the show. Watch his eyes. They tell all. I have not seen eyes
roll like his since Eddie Cantor.
Sophie is trusting.
She goes along for the ride. She is a tomboy, basically. I gather
that she really is, although the script writers may be overemphasizing
this for effect. But the scene at the Marine Corps boot camp convinced
me. Her father and I agreed: “What is she doing up there?”
Gene is marketing
the show. Who is the target? Grown-up fans. His fans have now reached
middle age. They want their kids to be normal — not stick-in-the-muds,
but content. They do not want their kids to go through the stages
they went through.
The comic model
is Steve Martin in Father
of the Bride. He is scared to death about his daughter’s
love life. Gene is the same. This is not a shtick. Shannon feels
the same way about both kids. The show that had Gene talking with
Bill Maher about Sophie was like a neon sign over an entire generation:
“Do As We Say, Not As We Did.”
It’s an old
theme. It still sells.
As far as the
show reveals, the kids get the message. I hope they really do. May
their future spouses enjoy them greatly. How they will cope with
their in-laws will be worth seeing.
The show is
popular. So, it must strike a chord. The chord seems to be this:
“Money is nice, but sensible kids are more important.”
The kids enjoy
the lifestyle, but they are not impressed with the moral side effects
of the way their father made his money. Gene knows this market.
His braggadocio about all the women he seduced (long, long ago)
and all the money he has made may reflect what he really thinks
about his success in life, but he softens the effect by playing
a Bob Hope movie character.
was the bait for the audience, but the kids are the hook. It’s “father
doesn’t know best.” Given the legacy of the Me Decade, this is understandable.
The kids know it. The viewers know it. This speaks better of this
decade than the 1970’s.
back weekly to see what harebrained marketing scheme Gene will come
up with next, or what crazy Aunt Tracy will do to liven things up.
My favorite Aunt Tracy episode was when she got Shannon to go to
the pistol range with her. Shannon turned out to be a dead-eye.
Tracy, in contrast, experienced a very hot ejected .45 shell down
her blouse. You had better believe it’s hot! I don’t think this
was staged. Her bodily reaction was too realistic.
The show is
a kind of cultural weather vane. People who can afford cable TV
are looking for hope that the next generation will be more sensible
as teenagers than their own generation was. The Osbourne family did
not offer much hope in this regard. The Simmons family does.
show has been renewed. I will watch it. But when Gene reminds us,
“That’s why it’s good to be . . . me,” the statement’s plausibility
will rest on his kids, not on the size of his house or any other
items he may brag about.