Business MK Column - May

Tue 31 May 2011


The number one choice of guests for American chat show hosts this year is Charlie Sheen.  His “sex ‘n drugs” revelations have made headlines the world over.  Styling himself, The Warlock,” since being sacked from a highly successful and profitable television series he has embarked on what appears to be a joyous pilgrimage of self-destruction.  Interest in his frolics has never been greater.  But is that really true and does turning “anti-celebrity” have a future?  A few short weeks ago he was earning $1.8million per episode of the hit comedy series, Two and a Half Men.  Having had a series of “issues” with the show’s producers he  walked out before letting them know he would return to the set if they raised the rate to $3million.  CBS has not surprisingly declined his kind offer, and the series has been cancelled leaving many of the cast and crew jobless. 

For stars, being a bad boy genuinely goes through three stages.  Stage one is when all the madness, the parties, the bizarre interviews, create huge public interest.  This phase tends to be short, and Sheen already appears to have entered the second stage, where potential employers and collaborators shy away from using him because the risks outweigh the interest and potential reward.  Sheen in currently engaged in a stage tour all about, well, about being Charlie Sheen.  By any standards these kinds of appearances have a limited shelf life, and what then?  Stage three generally involves losing everything, money, dignity, employment, friends and most damagingly family. Fortunately for Charlie Sheen, his father Martin, (who I had the pleasure of working with on my first film as a publicist at the tender age of 19!)  is standing by and supporting his son through his ‘ illness’.  For some, Mickey Rourke and Rob Lowe for example, comebacks are possible, but it is a hard road usually involving nausea-inducing public interviews admitting terrible guilt and excess, a public relations hair shirt, if you will.  This takes time, and the star’s earning potential and popularity are rarely as great as once they were.

Similarly, how bankable are Wayne Rooney and John Terry today?  A year ago the former and now once again current England captain was predicted to lose about twenty million pounds in sponsorship deals following the publicity surrounding his off-field behaviour.  Just a few weeks ago, Rooney was dropped by Coca-Cola after a series of PR disasters.  It is hard to imagine two more desirable, high profile individuals to associate with a product from a marketing perspective, or it would be, were it not for the attendant naughtiness which has made them increasingly too hot to handle.

Oliver Reed was critically regarded as one of the great acting talents of his generation and even his most determined detractors would be hard pressed to find a film in which he appeared where he gave a performance that was less than convincing.  But when the cameras weren’t rolling and he became increasingly difficult, unreliable and unpleasant to work with (I speak from experience of spending many days with him promoting ‘Castaway’), and the off-screen scenes in his real life drama became harder for producers to stomach, the roles gradually dried up, or worse, he found himself cast in parts where his name was used to lift a production beyond mediocrity and obscurity.

That famously philandering MP, Alan Clarke, might be seen as someone whose bad behaviour did not hold him back, but his highly readable and well-researched works of history have never been taken as seriously as perhaps they might because of who he became.  One of the greatest political minds of his generation, if not even slightly orthodox, his love of the shocking one liner and of ladies other than his wife ensured that while one of the most recognisable members of the government, he never rose above junior ministerial rank.

So readers take note; the moral of the story is that bad reputations, however temporarily glamorous or newsworthy, are not a foundation for popularity with the public.

There is, however, one small exception; wrestling, where everybody loves the bad guy.  But then it is only make believe.

Back to all articles