It’s always fascinating to follow typecasting. An actor gets a role and makes such a big splash that he becomes a “type,” so casting directors look for others with a similar “look” or style to fill future roles. Or an actor becomes so famous in a role that he can never get any other parts, and the role of a lifetime becomes the curse of a career.
So it’s fascinating to see the ongoing media and social media reaction to Ronan Farrow, the thoughtful and highly accomplished 26-year-old son of actress Mia Farrow and Woody Allen. When his show “Ronan Farrow Daily” debuted on MSNBC last month, it was clear some reviews and social media reactions could have been written months in advance: you just k-n-e-w some would suggest that Farrow -- who attended college at age 15, is a lawyer and former government advisor -- was just some celebrity offspring schlemiel who got a job only because of his name. And now the efforts to make him conform to talk show or media typecasting have begun.
It’s especially fascinating because Farrow already carved out a “brand” as a media personality type -- on Twitter. As Mashable put it, “Off the strength of 140 characters, the 26-year-old has built a huge social media following and nabbed a news show on MSNBC...Farrow’s Twitter fame is concrete.” In recent months, while under contract to MSNBC, with his show yet to debut, he was pitch forked into the national headlines, and displayed a personality defined by his tweets.
In October, he became the subject of media speculation (and truly stunning photo comparisons) when his mother suggested in a Vanity Fair article that he might “possibly” be the son of her ex-husband singer Frank Sinatra. Ronan Farrow responded in a tweet that became an instant classic: “Listen, we’re all *possibly* Frank Sinatra’s son.”
In January, after the Golden Globes ran a tribute to his father Woody Allen, Farrow created an even bigger buzz with this tweet: “Missed the Woody Allen tribute did they put the part where a woman publicly confirmed he molested her at age 7 before or after Annie Hall?”
That referred to to Allen’s adopted daughter, Dylan, who accused the director of molesting her 20 years ago, allegations that were soon (re)played out in op-eds quoting Mia Farrow, stories about Dylan, and a blunt op-ed retort by Allen. An unusual build up to a cable talk show launch, to be sure.
Once Farrow debuted in late February, the predictable stories and reviews ran. He looked “awkward” on his first show. His show got low ratings. It didn’t do well with a younger demographic, which led the National Review to label Farrow “The Young Man Only Old People Like” -- a breathtaking example of mega-quick typecasting (your 24/7 ideological war at work).
Criticisms began. Doesn’t Farrow realize cable shows demand a strong, ideologically overpowering, confrontational personality like Bill O’Reilly? Can’t he take stronger stands? One reviewer suggested he looks great on Twitter but bombs as a flesh and blood host. He’s no Rachael Maddow...he’s no Frank Sinatra.
FACT: former San Diego Mayor Roger Hedgecock was “awkward” on his first day as a radio talker and morphed into a slick Rush Limbaugh replacement host. FACT: Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, Chris Matthews, Martin Bashir, Melissa Scott-Perry and other talkers had more nuanced incarnations before they jettisoned all or parts of their old identities and blended into America’s politically polarizing ideological media culture.
So far Farrow is being Farrow. When he won the Walter Cronkite Award for Excellence in Journalism after only three days on the air he tweeted: “Maybe I can earn a Cronkite award by investigating how long it’ll take me to actually live up to a Cronkite award.”
Can he keep his existing persona? Or will he become one more respectable media personality shaped by the media culture? Will Farrow cave to pressures that he look like other talk show types, or create a new, younger, less tiresomely predictable media type?
Will he turn out to be “Cookie Cutter Talk Show Type’s Baby” -- or will the song he’ll insist on epitomizing throughout his broadcast career be “My Way?”
Joe Gandelman is a veteran journalist who wrote for newspapers overseas and in the United States. He has appeared on cable news show political panels and is Editor-in-Chief of The Moderate Voice, an Internet hub for independents, centrists and moderates. He also writes for The Week’s online edition. CNN’s John Avlon named him as one of the top 25 Centrists Columnists and Commentators. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: www.twitter.com/joegandelman