Commentary

Walk Softly In Skinny Jeans & Carry A Barbell: The New 'Donny!'

“Donny!,” a  30-minute comedy series starring the silver-haired Deutsch Inc.-builder and media expert playing a version of himself,  debuts on the USA Network, Tuesday, Nov. 10.

Full disclosure:  I’ve known Donny (whose muscle-T profile in the ad industry often made him a lightning rod for haters) since the early 1990s, when he started building his eponymous agency. Along the way, I’ve written about Deutsch Inc. campaigns, and have appeared on TV shows like “Charlie Rose” and “Today” with Donny. I have also been a guest on the various TV programs that he has hosted, like “The Big Idea.”  And in those situations, he’s always been smart and gracious.

So I came to praise Donny, not bury him. But with this “alternative comedy,” which comes from Left/Right, the same producers of “Odd Mom Out,” he does an awfully good job of burying himself.

Fortunately or unfortunately for Deutsch, the show comes at a time when another Donny from Queens, who also attended the Wharton School and is known for his unfettered ego, is all over the news as the leading Republican candidate for president.

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Donny and the people of Deutsch have appeared on “The Apprentice” many times.  And obviously, the link is not lost on him: the show features a Mrs. Trump-like, long-limbed Russian model character who is Donny’s on-and-off girlfriend (She still gets to use the credit card even when she’s off.) When she’s on, she tends to sprawl across his bed in upscale bondage-y leather underwear, mirroring some shots of Melania Knauss-Trump that have surfaced from her modeling days.

Also key: both Dons inherited businesses from their fathers. (Trump recently told Matt Lauer on  the “Today Show” that he had it tough, starting in the real estate business in Brooklyn with a skimpy million-dollar loan from his dad.)

But I give Donny credit for building David Deutsch’s small-ish agency into something huge, and being able to sell it to Interpublic, netting himself some $200 million along the way. To the victor goes the spoils.

But therein lies some of the problem. Like Richard Kirshenbaum, (the co-founder of Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners) who has a book out called  “Isn’t That Rich? Life Among the 1 Percent,” these guys who got very rich from advertising in the ‘90s aren’t satisfied with just being rich. They seem to need to show their own superiority to those other tiresome, self-absorbed, flaky rich people.  Seemingly, they are just too delightful, clever, and wacky for their starched surroundings -- while still enjoying the perks. Yeah.

I was hoping that “Donny!” would be a meta, self-aware commentary on modern media, skewering the idea of a phony talk show host, and all that goes on surrounding the production.

There is some of that in the pilot episode. As in real life, Donny is surrounded by the smart women he hires, telling him what to do and what an ass he is.  His female executive producer’s lines from the control room, like “Cut to break. We have a supernut!” are funny.

But lots of comedies have parodied the daytime talk show format, and this version provides nothing fresh in the analysis department (except that Donny comes on to all of his female guests, supernuts or not.)

In total, the show is repetitive and derivative, suggesting “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Sex in the City,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and more.  Like the fictional Carrie Bradshaw, the real Donny is in real ads on the side of city buses for his fictional show, “Donny!” (And the idea that he sucks in his cheekbones to pose for a selfie within a selfie within a TV show is clever.)

But the big, big problem with the show is this: TMI about Donny’s sex life.  (And his love of role play, and the grooming of his private parts.)  This involves seeing Donny naked from the waist up -- a lot -- with much screen time given to his belly button.   I actually enjoyed the first episode, but by the second one, in which he announces, as his gift to humanity, that he is actually going to date “an age-appropriate woman,” and also comes out with lines like “Here comes the big dog,” I really needed a barf bag.

I felt embarrassed for Christie Brinkley, who has a sex scene with Donny, and wildly overacts, even though she’s supposed to be making fun of someone who wildly overacts.

He has a whole seduction ritual (that he makes fun of) involving bringing his dates back to his house and being humble about his art collection.

The show is shot in Donny’s real-life Upper East Side townhouse, a magnificent place that provides flashes of true porn — of the real estate kind.  Unlike Trump’s ridiculously gilded and marbled apartment, Donny’s house is light, airy, architectural, and filled with great modern art. He should do a cooking show or something from his kitchen.

Anyway, back to Christie. He gives her a tour of his closet and she has one genuinely funny line: “Who does your shelf labeling?”

After they are back near the bed, she says, “Show me what you got” (blergh). So Donny dashes back into his closet and pulls out a bottle of Purity Vodka and goes into an actual ad pitch, direct to camera.  

This might be the one show that people watch for the built-in commercials as a way to avoid the sex scenes.

It seems to be a case of preemptive douchiness: If I show you this stuff as a way to claim I am making fun of this stuff, then you can’t criticize me.

If only Donny would get away from his own narcissism to focus on other topics. The third episode, about his young son who tap dances, is most affecting when it’s strictly about the kid and his talent. The actors who play his fictional son and daughter (in real life he’s the single father of three daughters) are really terrific.

But it always comes back to Donny, that lovable scamp, who might mess up, but manages to fix it :“I will finesse this. I will do the Donny Deutsch thing,” he says.

Who is the audience for this? Older rich people on the Upper East Side?

In a Larry David-esque way, Donny coins some terms on the show which he keeps repeating, and which are funny. But the difference between him and Larry David is that although Larry can be cruel, tiresome, and persnickety, in the end he is commenting on the human condition. Whereas Donny is always selling.

In one scene, he’s shown walking down the street near his fabulous townhouse with his daughter (who is wearing a great gold backpack.) A young woman says, “Hi Donny. Love your show.” I’m sure he’s hoping the audience will react that way.

But I can’t imagine that Deutsch clients will be thrilled. And it certainly colors his future appearances as a commentator on “Morning Joe” and on “Today” to have made himself a laughing stock in the guise of making himself a laughing stock. Who’s gonna believe him?

It makes me sad. But I guess for Deutsch, the two worst words in the English language are “Donny Who?”

24 comments about "Walk Softly In Skinny Jeans & Carry A Barbell: The New 'Donny!'".
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  1. Jeff Sawyer from GH, October 29, 2015 at 4:08 p.m.

    It's possible that most advertising people, like most advertising, are overrated and overpriced.  

  2. Steve Hall from Adrants, October 29, 2015 at 4:18 p.m.

    It's not easy to critique someone you know but the man is ever so ripe for critique and you've done a wonderful job succinctly summarizing the narcissism of this man. He really should hang up the Speedo and the skinny jeans and ride off into the sunset while he still has a modicum of self respect.

    Steve

  3. Feminista Fan from The Past, Present and Future, October 29, 2015 at 4:34 p.m.

    Do you think you would have felt as grossed out by the sex scenes if you didn't know Donny personally?  

  4. Dean Fox from ScreenTwo LLC, October 29, 2015 at 4:36 p.m.

    I'm not shocked to learn that Donny Deutsch really is an egomaniacal, self-obsessed, womanizing middle-aged single guy in a Manhattan townhouse.  

    I am shocked that someone so successful in branding and messaging would be so shamelessly promoting the least admirable aspects of his personal brand. And I can't help but wonder what his three daughters might have come to assume about men from their father.  

  5. Don Perman from self, October 29, 2015 at 6:11 p.m.

    Most entertaining, and his self-absorption astounds me.  Then again, I've never sold anything for $200 mllion.  It would amaze me if this show draws an audience. In any case, this column was another terrific media analysis.  

  6. Bruce Dundore from Lazaroff/Dundore, October 29, 2015 at 6:36 p.m.

    Yes. I might have to miss this. Perhaps, in time, I'll look for it on YouTube. There are just so many other things keeping me busy, like breathing. 

  7. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, October 29, 2015 at 7:10 p.m.

    Feminista Fan-- interesting question. I can't say. But the story lines about his kids seem the most promising at this point. 

  8. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 29, 2015 at 7:28 p.m.

    Been catching up on the Bastard Executioner which has a meaningful underlying story that is getting lost in fanciful dialog and exhibitionism. Meanwhile, cudos to you who can criticize with eloquence and pity. Many an ad exec got very wealthy on the backs of the workers, whole lotta graft and overcharging still in the system from years before. What Donny has is looks and charisma and had a base. Maybe he is bored. The tech stuff and complicated math algorythms are not fun.

  9. Jane Farrell from Freelance, October 29, 2015 at 8:23 p.m.

    Donny (the character? the man? I am not sure it matters) seems like the kind of person who "charmingly" acknowledges his jerkiness without having any intention of changing. It's as if his self-acknowledgement of jerkiness gives him a pass.


    The thing I love about Larry David, on the other hand, is that he is willing to put himself/his character out there as a jerk. It's not charming; it's just Larry. He's a jerk, period. It takes guts to do that, and Donny doesn't seem up to the task.

    Plus, the exclamation point in Donnie! is just too awful. I guess it's meant to be meta, but like its non-ironic counterparts (Jeb!! Bush) it indicates an utter lack of creativity. Doesn't work.


  10. Thomas Siebert from BENEVOLENT PROPAGANDA, October 29, 2015 at 10:15 p.m.

    You would have to pay me to watch this. The exlamation is just the perfect icing, tho.

  11. Eva Dillon from Self, October 30, 2015 at 12:02 a.m.

    No! No! Don't make me watch it!!

  12. Neilan Tyree from The Propeller Group, October 30, 2015 at 2:18 a.m.

    Once again? You NAILED it. It seems like I've spent MUCH of my adult life defending Donny (whom I've never met) from the haters. So when he "moved on" from Adland I thought, "Well, bully for him!"

    I primarily came to appreciate him because  he and his team beat MINE on several occasions (and I don't like to lose). Whenever he did? It was also because...he bested us.

    And I remain a HUGE fan of the agency (one of the few biggies I've never worked at, FYI).

    SO I was eager to see this? Now? Eek! I just... I just...can't. 

    One remaining question? Can an agency sue its founder for slander? Aiyeeee!

  13. Leslie Singer from SingerSalt, October 30, 2015 at 8:57 a.m.

    What's really sad is what he could be doing with his fame and money. Think Jon Stewart, Bette Midler etc.. The self indulgent 'look at me, my closet, my house, my d&^%, is just gross. Thanks for your spot on insights - always a great read.

  14. Dana Farbo from Self, October 30, 2015 at 9:40 a.m.

    I have not seen the whole pilot but have to admit that the clips are pretty entertaining! Tempting enough to entice me into watching.

  15. Jerry Gibbons from Gibbons Advice, October 30, 2015 at 2:30 p.m.

    My favoriate Donny bit is Michael Jeary's comment, "The last time I say Donny was him buying a new Tee Shirt - in the young boy's department."

  16. George Parker from Parker Consultants, October 30, 2015 at 5:10 p.m.

    "AdScam's" forecast, "Donny will not last as long as "The Pitch," which also presented ad people as self indulgent wankers. I wonder how much of Donny's $200 million it took to convince Christie to embarass herself in this farago of entertainment?

  17. George Parker from Parker Consultants, October 30, 2015 at 5:12 p.m.

    Ooops... Missed an "r" in farrago. Still, no one is perfect... Except "Donny."

  18. Jim English from The Met Museum, October 30, 2015 at 11:54 p.m.

    Thanks Barbara.  Thinking that the Don Draper phenomenon may have inspired Donny.  Creative ad people headlining prime-time programming,  not just the commercial breaks.


  19. Bruce Dundore from Lazaroff/Dundore, October 31, 2015 at 4:48 p.m.

    Hate to say this and I'll probably burn in hell, but saw the trailer and it wasn't half bad. Maybe I'll burn half in hell. 

  20. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, October 31, 2015 at 5:35 p.m.

    Bruce-- the pilot is very entertaining. the second one not so much. there is a chance they can save it with fresher story lines than that of public grooming. (The Kardashians so thoroughly covered this that it feels dated-- never mind that it was a mainstay of Samantha's story lines on Sex in the City.)

  21. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, November 1, 2015 at 8:20 a.m.

    I've always liked The Donny. First because his agency was kinda like a family business that his father started and he made gigantic and sold at the perfect time. Second, because he wrote a book and gave more space to his high school (Van Buren out in Queens Village) than to Penn. Third, I once sent him a piece of advice after he got into some squabbles with a few Midwestern agencies saying that "it is hard enough pleasing clients and consumers without having to please competitors" and realizing it was such good advice I adopted it myself. Fourth, in 2012 on Morning Joe, they showed a spot I did for Mitt Romney and they asked him what he thought and he said one word as the camera moved in, "Smart." As for the new show in this new season: better than Supergirl, more promising than Fear The Talking Dead, not as comical as the moderators in the Republican Debates, but my guess is that it gets renewed.

  22. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER replied, November 1, 2015 at 1:10 p.m.

    George Parker, the Pitch---as dreadful as it was---lasted three seasons. Meet The Press has been on since Creation, but they really no longer meet the press as much as meet the moderator.

  23. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com, November 1, 2015 at 7:23 p.m.

    Tom-- nice points, thank you. Well, the female verson on Bravo from the same production company -- "Odd Mom Out" did get  better as it developed, and was renewed for a second season. So we shall see. Donny's not a bad actor. And everyone in the cast is great. 

  24. Alan Wasserstrom from None, November 3, 2015 at 2:09 a.m.

    I've only seen an ad for the show on the Golf channel of the shirtless guy with a kid and reinforced my true love of all but one Penn Wharton school person I've met. Sorry, won't be watching, but a nice article nonetheless.

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