The Aug. 17 installment of “Names,” which the Boston Globe enthusiastically passes off as a gossip column, offered that the 42nd president of the United States and his wife would spend the following night on Martha’s Vineyard. Sunday will take the Clintons to Nantucket. The point of this Massachusetts island-hopping is to raise funds, of course, and there are few better places for Sen. Clinton to encourage campaign cash to rustle in the breeze. Except for the Hamptons. Or, for a different mood, Aspen, Telluride, and Vail. These six resort destinations constitute the market served by a fascinating two-year-old cable network called Plum.
Plum is more Bill than Hill—pluralistic, with a bottomless appetite for information and something for everyone who aspires to be a Somebody. There’s local news and an excellent weather report, copious chat, foodie stuff, kiddie stuff, and coverage of special events ranging from concerts to arts festivals. It’s got a light-hearted cynicism, a tremendous elegance with name-dropping, unmaskable high ambitions, and a few high ideals. Even when the public figures on display come from the right, Plum remains Clintonesque in its talent for simulating intimacy. For instance, the lawyer and novelist Stan Pottinger has an interview show called Beyond Politics. “Really good pizza is chewy,” decrees Justice Antonin Scalia, a guest. “It’s not just crisp, but it’s chewy, the dough is.” Patricia Duff—a blonde most famous for extracting loads of money from the billionaire Ronald Perelman and second-most famous for piling up loads of the same for the DNC—hosts a talk show called Duff Talk. And it happens that Bill Clinton is the first human seen on Plum’s self-defining highlight reel.
Variously alluring and alienating, that eight-minute montage goes roughly like this: Bubba doing a polo-shirted impromptu interview from up inside Black Dog or some place; a mountain Ansel Adams would cry for; an equestrienne; Ted Kennedy; a basket of peaches; Russell Simmons, Brian Williams, Tinsley Mortimer, Rudy Giuliani; picturesque working folk getting some mollusks together; an attractive polo player; sugar snap peas; Mario Batali; supermodel Sophie Dahl reading a story by her paternal grandfather, Roald; Donna Karan captured in light that is not flattering but fawning; an equestrienne; snowboarding, surfing, nightclubbing; Al Sharpton and Al Franken; Dick Parsons, Jeff Zucker, Clive Davis, and the dude who runs Comcast. Indeed, the reel sometimes gives the impression that it exists so executive vice presidents at media companies can suck up to their bosses by talking about watching it. At other points, it glides effortlessly into the realm of self-parody, as when a Plum reporter asks Tim Russert and Katie Couric what’s so special about Independence Day on Nantucket. Tim: “Look at this! Main Street, USA! This is America!” Katie: “I feel like I’m in a Norman Rockwell painting.” The editor doesn’t then cut straight to stock footage of a yacht. It just feels like it.
If you have the means to summer in the right places, I highly recommend the best of Plum’s programming. The children’s shows are smart and weird, and these guys called the Neistat Brothers put on an eponymous show that inches sublimely close to working as a children’s show for adults, as when they rig up an antique Bible with a DVD player, the better to watch porn in church. Best is Bob Builds His Dream House, a show documenting actor Bob Balaban’s apparently quixotic mission to put a roof over his head. Balaban self-mockingly portrays himself as a neurotic freak in a way he must have picked up from Woody Allen. His friend author Steven Gaines tells us that Balaban has been house-hunting since around the time he got paid for playing François Truffaut’s sidekick in Close Encounters of the Third Kind. “Bob Balaban has been in your house,” Gaines tells Hamptonites. “He knows the prices of about 5,000 houses through the three decades that he’s been looking.” Balaban’s original broker is both retired and dead. Now, Balaban is the slave to blueprints depicting a brand-new house designed to look like a grand old one, like a simple little cottage that has been annexed and extended over a hundred years. It’s a terrifically phony project, building this bridge from the 21st century.