Marketing image for Morgan Spurlock's documentary "POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold"
This guy gets branding. Morgan Spurlock's "Inside Man" is scheduled to debut in April 2013 on CNN.

Branding oneself is so important to success in today’s culture. That’s been said for quite some time now. Pop sensations such as Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga make a good chunk of their income not from selling music, but by licensing it — and themselves. Book writers cultivate their name not by writing books but by appearing on television, maxing out on social media and engaging in long speaking tours.

So, it was no surprise when it was announced last week that Morgan Spurlock, the director of Super Size Me and several other documentaries, has parlayed his brand into a regular show on CNN. The show, entitled Inside Man, will premiere next spring. It will “carry the distinctive stamp of its host while taking viewers on colorful and informative journeys into fascinating corners of American society,” according to CNN. “Each week Spurlock will provide an insider’s view into rarely-seen sectors of American life that include gun lovers, marijuana growers, migrant farm workers, and end-of-life caregivers.” Which is all a rather coolio way of saying he’ll be doing human-interest stories.

A few thoughts on the irony of Spurlock’s big step into the mainstream. It’s ironic that CNN, which has been suffering in the ratings, and is looking for a way to rebrand itself to a younger audience, is reaching out to Spurlock. Can Spurlock’s brand improve, or, rather, rebrand, CNN’s? Perhaps. Spurlock has some history with this sort of show, having done 30 Days, which was very similar. Spurlock, I think, is genuinely interested in humans — fat ones, poor ones, gritty ones, strugglers and visionaries — so let him give us his POV on the sort of people that catch his eye. (The other irony here is that Spurlock’s last film was POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold — it’s all about using brands to tell a story. It’s a wink-wink, nudge-nudge look at the overwhelming power of branding, but also its virtues.)

And, take note: CNN also picked up Anthony Bourdain to host a travel show. Bourdain has successfully turned his devil-may-care, real-man, post-punk cook shtick into one of the hottest brands around. I have some issues with Bourdain — his constant lambasting of vegetarianism is half-cocked — but I like the guy, and I appreciate his passion for global diversity. The hiring of Bourdain, combined with that of Spurlock, shows a real intent on the cable network’s part to rebrand itself as young, edgy, open and yet compassionate. There’s another word for that: progressive.

CNN is, of course, part of giant media conglomerate Time Warner, but if it thinks that branding itself in this way could save itself in the ratings game, then that’s a brand I may just be interested in buying.

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He is a former Premiere magazine senior editor, who graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom's freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He has written several Kindle Singles, including the bestselling Kindle Singles Interview: Ken Burns. Tom's current list of favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi by Godfrey Reggio; 2. Hoop Dreams by Steve James; 3.Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley; 4.Crumb by Terry Zwigoff; 5. Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen