by Gary North
Nick Simmons is not yet a household name. But he is in my household.
I 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.
Gene Simmons 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.
The reason 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.
Simmons was 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.
Simmons is 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.
THE OTHER OZZIE
Nick Simmons 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 a guitar.
Gene 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.
His common-law 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.
Sometimes, 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.
Then there 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.
Gene's fame 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.
Viewers come 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.
The 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.
August 9, 2007
Copyright © 2007 LewRockwell.com