Volume 8, Issue 24  |  March 24, 2023Subscribe

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Live…from Newport Beach, it’s Saturday Night Live! Well, sort of…


Saturday Night Live has endured a lot of criticisms over the years for skits that many consider unfunny. Others say it has lost its cultural relevancy in the age of TikTok videos despite having a few breakout comedy stars.

Still, I tuned in this past weekend to watch actress Aubrey Plaza guest host.

What does this have to do with Newport Beach? Stay with me.

You see Aubrey was one of the award recipients last October when the Newport Beach Film Festival and Visit Newport Beach hosted its annual HONORS Program at the Balboa Bay Resort. One of the stars of HBO’s buzzy show The White Lotus, she was gracious, funny, and genuinely appreciative of being invited to attend and receive the award.

Another recipient at the same event was actress Kiki Palmer, who hosted SNL last month and starred in the well-received film Nope last summer.

Gary Sherwin

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of Visit Newport Beach

Gary Sherwin

Same event and then two SNL hosts within a month of one another.

But wait, it gets better.

At that same event in Newport Beach, there was “Ten Actors to Watch.” Variety magazine co-hosts this award segment where they have 10 up and coming actors come up on stage to be interviewed and then acknowledged as rising stars.

Now two of those people, who many moviegoers do not know or have never heard of before (because they are not yet established) are Kerry Condon, from the film The Banshees of Inisherin and Stephanie Hsu, from Everything Everywhere All At Once, who were announced this week as nominees for “Best Supporting Actress” at this year’s Oscars.

Could this event, held on a Sunday morning during brunch at the Balboa Bay Resort, be a bellwether for the Oscar film race and be a cultural arbiter for the nation’s film industry?

This program last Fall was the fourth time this prestigious event was held in Newport Beach after Variety approached the Film Festival and Visit Newport Beach about co-hosting it which had, prior to that, been in New York.

How many times do you hear that any award show has moved from the Big Apple to Newport Beach?

The Film Festival and Visit Newport Beach had teamed up several years ago to host an award show in London each year which has become a staple of the BAFTAs, which is the equivalent of the British Oscars. Variety joined the event after it was launched and loved the partnership, so they brought one of their biggest U.S. events to town.

But wait again, it gets better.

PBS wanted in on the action, so last year they prepared a 30-minute documentary on the event. It was so well received that they did another one this year that was just released, which you can see on demand on the PBS app or by checking your listings when its airs on PBS SoCal.

And all of it takes place in Newport Beach. When you watch the program, it’s thrilling to see the drone aerial shots of the bay and the Balboa Bay Resort, as well as hear the nice Newport Beach shout outs of some prominent names in the entertainment industry.

Say what you will about Hollywood, it still has cultural relevancy as far as celebrities are concerned and having them come to Newport Beach only enhances our own relevancy as a popular visitor destination. When these folks visit and then post on their social media accounts, it extends our messaging as a community and makes us desirable since the actors sprinkle their celebrity pixie dust on us.

I landed one such post with Kiki Palmer that lives on in her Instagram feed which gave me some street cred with my 20-something daughters.

If you watch the PBS show, and I hope you do, it not only showcases some talent, like Aubrey and Kiki, but also includes some very established stars coming to town like actor and director Ron Howard. But ultimately, it a visual love letter to Newport Beach. 

It positions us as a place where the famous like to play which is a powerful elixir when you are trying to bring people to town to spend their good money at local hotels, restaurants and shops. It also continues our long tradition, going back to the 1930s, when stars first started coming to Newport Beach. It’s part of our heritage.

Did Aubrey and Kiki land their SNL gigs because they came to Newport Beach? Did Kerry and Stephanie secure their Oscar nominations because they got up early one Sunday morning and joined us for brunch?

Probably not. All have been doing some great work which is why they were invited to come to Newport Beach in the first place. But showing up certainly didn’t hurt.

But perhaps more importantly, the fact that they came to town is significant for the rising stature of the Film Festival and its ability to bring in people who attract media and popular culture’s zeitgeist. 

Having celebrities who are also social media stars and are in talked about projects is good for Newport Beach when they are here.

It also positions the Film Festival as an organization that is on the front end of rising stars and films, just like when the festival premiered the then little-known film Crash several years ago that went on to win Best Picture at the Oscars.

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that award show viewership is in decline. You can look at everything from the recently revived Golden Globes or the Oscars and see the steep fall off in ratings. But that doesn’t diminish the power of celebrity. The famous still hold sway and dictate much of the nation’s conversation. 

Online coverage of Aubrey’s hosting gig on Saturday probably got more eyeballs than the show itself. And that’s the point of doing these award shows in town. Let’s create the conversation and generate the buzz. Maybe people don’t watch award shows per se, but they read posts about them and who attended and what they wore.

Today’s marketing is about being relevant and in tune with what visitors are interested in. I’m sorry to say that print newspapers are out and TMZ is in. We can choose to ignore it or embrace where people spend their time and now it is primarily online. And we really love our celebrities.

Still, I was kind of proud that Aubrey was hosting this weekend. And I’m pleased that Kerry and Stephanie, both delightful people who most people don’t yet know, got a nice boost from our event.

Fame works both ways. It helps us market Newport Beach and maybe, just perhaps, helps a few Hollywood careers too.

Gary Sherwin is President & CEO of Visit Newport Beach and Newport Beach & Company.

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