Ready for their close-ups: Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Archer Sylvan, Tom Junod, Seth Wickersham, Chris Heath, Ryan D’Agostino, Devin Gordon, Mark Byrne, Vanessa Grigoriadis, Reyhan Harmanci, Patrick Hoffman, Edgar, John Cook, Allison Benedikt, Raphaël Bourgois, Ben French, Noah Robischon, Rachael Savage, and more…
As the January thunder rumbled, the stuff of life in the media world wound its way through a magazine launch on the Upper East Side, a product meet-up at a classic blogger bar, and through the airwaves in the form of Fleishman Is in Trouble.
When members of the American Society of Magazine Editors gathered last Thursday at Columbia University for the first in-person judging of the National Magazine Awards since the pandemic, one of the most frequent topics of conversation was Taffy Brodesser-Akner (herself on hand to judge) and her TV adaptation of her novel Fleishman Is in Trouble. The show has been a hit in the media crowd not just because of the abundance of magazine worker characters in the show or because Brodesser-Akner has pulled off the rare magazine-writer-to-TV-showrunner pivot (though, word among the ASME crowd was that, after taking a break from profile writing, she has a new feature in the works for The New York Times Magazine), but also because many of the editors in attendance were still giddy over their own cameo appearances. Here’s a survey of the many media types Brodesser-Akner managed to wrangle into her production.
Real men’s magazine veterans populate the book party for the fictional legendary men’s magazine writer Archer Sylvan, played by Brodesser-Akner profile subject Christian Slater. Drinking iced-tea-masquerading-as-bourbon at Pete’s Tavern in the scene are ESPN senior writer and Esquire legend Tom Junod, fellow ESPN senior writer Seth Wickersham, GQ correspondent Chris Heath, Hearst editorial director for projects Ryan D’Agostino, former GQ executive editor and contributor to The New York Times Magazine and The Atlantic Devin Gordon, and former GQ associate editor Mark Byrne.
Junod emphasized to The Fine Print that, unlike the others, he wasn’t a mere background actor. “I’m the only dude there who got a line and a credit,” he said, fondly recalling shouting “Steiner!” to a younger writer. “I think my shamelessness got me my line,” he added. Gordon, on the other hand, was just happy to have finally gotten his chance to make a magazine writer cameo on TV. “It seems like everybody a generation slightly below me is on Gossip Girl this season,” he said.
The scene was a sartorial flashback for Gordon, who edited Brodesser-Akner at GQ. “I put on shirt sleeves and a tie for probably the first time in three or four years,” he said. The production was able to furnish him with a silver tie clip that recalled one that he wore every day throughout his time at the men’s magazine but lost when he moved to Boston. “It was my one bit of semi-cherished clothing from my GQ time. I was like, ‘I would have worn this tie clip. If you can find a silver tie clip, that’d be cool because that would really take me back,’” he said. “And they did it, they found one.” At the end of the day, they let him take it home.
Junod took a more playful approach for his costume, as befits a credited actor. Rather than dressing as he might have for a day at the office, he took a page from the heyday of media parties. “I definitely came from the era when people dressed for those parties,” he said. “I felt the obligation to put it on.” So he wore his own suit — a Suitsupply purchase, though it looks more expensive — and his signature turtleneck. “My only disappointment in the day was that they didn’t have a black eye patch for me,” he said, “because I asked for a black eye patch.”
Campside Media co-founder and Brodesser-Akner’s fellow magazine-writing-legend Vanessa Grigoriadis doesn’t appear in the reunion party for Toby Fleishman’s Israeli study abroad program, but her Red Hook home does. “My house is the party house — it’s the one that’s intercut with the horrible party on the Upper East Side. My house is the cool party house,” she told The Fine Print. “One day Taffy called me up and she said, ‘Am I looking at a picture of your house on a location scout page?’ And I was like, ‘Indeed you are.’ And she said, ‘Oh, well, I’m gonna book it for Fleishman Is in Trouble.’”
Grigoriadis hastened to explain that she didn’t buy the house — which also appeared as Owen Wilson’s home in last year’s Jennifer Lopez rom-com Marry Me — with magazine earnings. “My husband is an architect and a contractor,” she said. “We bought the house right after Sandy, when prices were not high in Red Hook. It was a steel fabrication warehouse that we converted. Everything is new. There weren’t even any windows.” After all that work, she wasn’t going to let the Fleishman crew sully it with the smell of cigarettes. “We wouldn’t let them smoke in the house, which I also told Taffy and then two days before the shoot, they were like, ‘Cool. So we’re gonna smoke right here,’” Grigoriadis said. “We’re like, ‘No, you’re not gonna smoke in the house. We’re already letting you have a party in the house.’ She was like, ‘They’re Israelis, they smoke.’ I was like, ‘This is 2016 in your show: People still had to smoke outside.’”
When Grigoriadis watched the completed show, she was hit hard by the arc that Lizzy Caplan’s character Libby, a former men’s magazine staffer who gave up her career to raise kids in the Jersey suburbs and struggles to find meaning in her life, lives through. “There has been an upswelling of middle aged female, mom writers who are freaking out about the last few episodes of Fleishman Is in Trouble and calling each other crying, including me, and being like, ‘Oh my God, my life is exactly as bad as I thought it was, and perhaps even worse,’” she said. “I wish I had the life that goes with this house, where people just hang out and have fun and feel free, because every mom writer feels that we have the opposite of that. We all have the Lizzy Caplan life. It doesn’t matter how successful or not successful we are, because we’re all sort of anxious, unhappy people.”
Former head of society and culture programming at Gimlet Reyhan Harmanci can be spotted with her husband, crime novelist Patrick Hoffman, and their two children strolling through a park as Claire Danes walks by. Initially, she was hoping to land a bigger part for her son. “My son Edgar is an actor,” she told The Fine Print. “He played the baby in Shiva Baby [a 2020 film by Emma Seligman]. He was replaced by a cloth doll about three days into his five days of shooting, but he’s pretty sought after for skills. And Taffy, I think we initially had talked, or rather I begged, for Edgar to play young Solly [Fleishman’s son], but that didn’t work out for a number of reasons. So then I immediately began pitching my infant daughter for the show and Loisdid bear a resemblance to Hannah [Fleishman’s daughter], and so there was some discussion of Lois becoming young Hannah. But, sadly, we were not available to shoot whatever day they were shooting a young Hannah scene. So then we were given the opportunity to be background players.”
Insider investigations editor John Cook has played in bands in New Jersey’s media suburbs for longer than some of us have been in media. His current band Maplewolf has become a fixture at Maplewood and South Orange gatherings, and Brodesser-Akner was no stranger to their work. “Taffy lived in Maplewood, and she attended backyard barbecues and parties where our band actually did play,” Cook told The Fine Print. “I like to think we actually inspired the scene as avatars of the fundamental emptiness of suburban life.” So when it came to casting a suburban Jersey dad band for a barbecue featuring Libby’s family in the show, it was only natural that Cook would be asked to sing “Freebird.”
Some members of Maplewolf weren’t available, so Cook put a band together especially for the production: Matt Katz on drums, Dave Diamond on guitar, Dave McKnight on bass, and Brett Mayer on the organ. “I don’t like ‘Freebird,’” Cook said. “If my band were to play ‘Freebird,’ we would do some version that would try to be interesting or interpret in a way that might make it a little bit more palatable. But the idea here was like, ‘Well, I’ve been commissioned to play “Freebird,” so we’re just going to do it note for note.’” They gathered to practice in Cook’s basement, and, he said, “just did ‘Freebird’ over and over again and drove my family crazy.”
When the band arrived at the Power Station recording studio in Hell’s Kitchen, where the production had booked them time, they had the song down too well for the producers’ liking. “We do a couple of takes of our note-for-note replica and then they were like, ‘This sounds not like you guys are at a barbecue. You’re at a barbecue and you’re frustrated dads cutting loose on the weekend, so you should be overplaying. You should be sounding like a shitty New Jersey dad band,’” Cook recalled. “We were like, ‘Well, can we just get one try to nail it, and then we’ll do it?’ So we did our take of nailing it and then the biggest victim was the drummer who had to play like an asshole.”
The band lip-synched to their recording on the day of the shoot at a home in Nyack, New York. Cook performed so theatrically that he later got a Twitter shoutout from his boss, Insider global editor-in-chief Nich Carlson. His wife, New York Times Opinion editorial director Allison Benedikt, and their three kids also took the day off to be extras in the scene. “Allison was an extra talking in conversation with the other people at the barbecue and then the kids were playing football and throwing the ball around,” Cook said. “Our middle one, Sam, was trying to network with the professional actor kid who played Libby’s son in the show. He was trying to get advice on an agent or something.”
Has the TV appearance landed Maplewolf any new gigs? Not yet, but Cook’s ready to appear in another friend’s inevitable adaptation. Which one? “Dan Kois’s Vintage Contemporaries,” he said. “I say that because I saw Dan and Taffy last night at his reading that he gave for his new novel.”
Brodesser-Akner saved her own Hitchcockian-creator-cameo for near the end of the final episode, in the foreground as Caplan’s character leaves a party.
OUT AND ABOUT
On Thursday evening, Villa Albertine, an ultra-luxurious French soft power operation headquartered in the old Payne Whitney House on Fifth Avenue, hosted a launch party for its new annual magazine States. The champagne was plentiful, though the party was a bit hard to mingle in for a very, very rusty francophone. The magazine itself, which each guest received along with a beautiful black and white Villa Albertine tote, was one of the most extravagant print objects this reporter has encountered outside of an archive. We haven’t had much time to study the written contents (though it was hard to miss that they spelled “Villa Albertine” inconsistently on the inside cover flap) but the art and design elements, which included gilded pages and specially commissioned homages to The New Yorker, are stunning.
Villa Albertine editorial director and States editor-in-chief Raphaël Bourgois told The Fine Print that he’d consulted with former Astra editor-in-chief Nadja Spiegelman while putting the issue together, but that many of the inspirations for the magazine were French. “There’s a French magazine that was published for four years during the Trump presidency that was called America. It was a literary magazine and they would ask American writers to write about America. It was one of the inspirations,” he said. “But in France, we have a lot of these kinds of magazines called mooks — between a magazine and a book, so a mook — and the idea is to have it very well crafted and a lot of illustrations.” He credited Parisian design studio Des Signes for the magazine’s look.
They haven’t been able to secure wide distribution yet, but, Bourgois said, the magazine is available in the Villa Albertine bookstore.
Also on Thursday, a passel of product people gathered at The Magician on the Lower East Side for a meetup was organized by Condé Nast vice president for subscription and membership products Ben French, vice president for product and global platforms Noah Robischon, and vice president and global head of ad operations Rachael Savage. The gathering attracted a crowd from a fair number of companies, including The Wall Street Journal and French’s previous employer, The New York Times (spotted in the crowd was books editor Gilbert Cruz). In the conversation circles that formed throughout the bar, people traded the legal developments on the legality of third-party data handling and setting up clean rooms — as well as explaining to younger attendees how The Magician earned a reputation in the early aughts of being a “blogger bar.”
➾ 6 p.m. Kaleidoscope co-founder Mangesh Hattikudur will co-host a party for his new astrology podcast Skyline Drive with the rapper Himanshu “Heems” Suri and music by DJ Zeemuffin in Greenpoint.
➾ 6 p.m. Washington Post columnist Philip Bump will celebrate his new book The Aftermath with a party in Chelsea.
➾ 7 p.m. Wired contributor Virginia Heffernan, former Motherboard staff writer Edward Ongweso, Jr., New Yorker staff writer Gideon Lewis-Kraus, and New York Times contributor Andrew Ross will discuss the anthropologist David Graeber’s posthumous book Pirate Enlightenment, Or the Real Libertalia at the Brooklyn Public Library’s Dweck Center.
➾ 7 p.m. Cleveland Review of Books will celebrate the launch of their first issue with readings at McNally Jackson Seaport and an afterparty at 9 p.m. at the nearby T.J. Byrnes bar.
➾ 7 p.m. Bret Easton Ellis will discuss his new novel The Shards with New Yorker staff writer Naomi Fry at BKLYN Studios in Downtown Brooklyn.
➾ 7 p.m. Former Spike New York editor Dean Kissick will speak with The Manhattan Art Review’s Sean Tatol in the first edition of Seaport Talks at T.J. Byrnes. There’s no recording allowed, but the invite reads, “there will be free drinks until they run out.”