Freeloader's Just Another Character Now

At USA Network and Vanity Fair's Character Project

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The Event: USA Network and Vanity Fair's Character Project launch party
The Date: March 12, 2009
The Venue: Robert Weiss Gallery, New York
The Celebs: Co-hosts Jeff Goldblum and Mena Suvari; actresses Rosie Perez, Rose McGowan and Lucy Liu; and Vanity Fair Editor Graydon Carter
The Food: Miniature ceviche, blood sausages and ginger snaps circulated, but in all-too-short supply. A recession plus a Vanity Fair crowd means never eating anything bigger than an almond in public.
The Drinks: An open bar, blessedly stocked with champagne, red and white wines of multiple varieties, and all the top-shelf booze one would need to browse thought-provoking portraits of Americana
The Swag: Gift bags stocked with complimentary copies of the Character Project's "American Character: A Photographic Journey" from Chronicle Books, the April 2009 issue of "Vanity Fair" and a few other goodies were snagged before Freeloader could grab one. Swag is about as rare as a stable stock portfolio these days.

USA's Character Project invite

The Scene: Before we describe USA's launch party for its Character Project exhibition, let us first paint a picture of the typical cable-network event. The crowd is about 60% network and corporate execs, 35% media buyers and ad clients, and 5% obligatory network talent and celebs, who peace out as soon as their photo opps are done. Since the crowd is so media-centric, there's enough drinking to sustain a small fleet but little conversation beyond who's getting what GRPs and how to incorporate Twitter into the next campaign.

Imagine Freeloader's surprise, then, when we entered the Robert Weiss Gallery two hours after start time for the launch of USA's Character Project. Not only was the crowd far from the typical cable clientele, the venue was noticeably livelier, too. It was an art gallery, after all.

Everywhere you turned, art aficionados, scenesters and people who generally looked way too pretty to be in cable ad sales populated the gallery, perusing portraits shot across the country by photographers such as Mary Ellen Mark, Eric Ogden and Richard Renaldi. In short, it looked like a Vanity Fair party. Wait a minute ... it was a Vanity Fair party!

While Character Project partner Vanity Fair supplied the eye candy and the art cred, USA supplied the compelling content. The Character Project was conceived as an experiential extension of "Characters Welcome," the brand slogan USA adopted four years ago to encompass a schizophrenic programming lineup that included everything from wrestling to the U.S. Open to "Monk" to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. The photo project, a partnership with the Aperture Foundation, took place during summer 2008, when USA commissioned 12 photographers to shoot their most inspirational regions of America. The result was equal parts photo realism and Annie Liebovitz-ian celebrity portrait, both of which suited a USA event co-sponsored by Vanity Fair just fine.

Freeloader was also impressed with the venue, which scored major points just for not being in midtown, cable's favorite party neighborhood. The Robert Weiss Gallery had a private second-floor VIP room that led to a balcony, all of which practically screamed movie premiere, or at least the Bowery Hotel. Normally Freeloader has to crash parties this glamorous, but we got in with not even so much as a once-over from the guest-list gatekeepers.

All of this leaves Freeloader cautiously optimistic for media parties in a recession. They may be less frequent, with no discernible food and scarce swag, but at least our party compass will get a little more mileage. And really, shouldn't innovation in challenging times extend to freeloading?

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