Ever since it was announced last week that Prince Harry, Meghan Markle, and Spotify ended their partnership, people have been trying to get more details about what happened behind the scenes, especially after Bill Simmons decided to inflame the story even more by calling Harry and Meghan “f-cking grifters” on his own podcast without providing much context around why he has that opinion.
Yesterday, however, Ashley Carman at Bloomberg reported on the situation, with new information specifically on Prince Harry’s podcast pitches. As Ashley says, much has been made about Meghan’s Archetypes, and how that was the only pod that the Sussexes end up producing with Spotify – but what did Harry have in mind, and what were the plans for him?
Before we talk about that though, let’s consider the source, since so much of the noise around Harry and Meghan is generated by the British tabloids and the members of the royal rota with an agenda, which undermines its credibility. Which is why it’s such a challenge to have a nuanced and objective conversation about the Sussexes – no reasonable culture critic wants to get lumped in with the assholes but at the same time, Harry and Meghan are public figures and now content creators and we should be able to assess their work critically, even if it means the assessment is unfavourable.
Ashley Carman’s beat is tech media. She’s been covering podcasting and streaming news for a while – before Bloomberg she was with The Verge. She’s not the Daily Mail or the Sun, she’s not out here making up sh-t about the Sussexes on a regular basis; reporting on podcasts and digital media is her specialty, and she was reporting on Spotify and other streaming platforms looooooong before the Sussexes’ deal with Spotify and their eventual breakup. So my point is, she has established sources, and her article about Prince Harry’s podcast pitches is much more credible than the f-ckery that we typically hear from other outlets about the Sussexes.
Now that we’ve set the table then, here’s what Ashley is reporting:
“…while there’s been all this talk of Markle’s podcast and what she did or didn’t produce, what happened to a potential Harry show?
I spoke to people with knowledge of the situation about what ideas the prince floated and why none of them ever came to fruition. They requested anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak about his work. Spotify declined to comment, as did Archewell Audio.
Harry spoke with multiple producers and production houses, these people said, to discuss possible shows. Along the way, Harry listened to various ideas from others but mostly stuck by his own — including one about childhood trauma. The concept: Harry would interview a procession of controversial guests, such as Vladimir Putin, Mark Zuckerberg and Donald Trump, about their early formative years and how those experiences resulted in the adults they are today.
Harry also had an idea, the people said, for a show centered on fatherhood. Another one would have tackled major societal conversations episode by episode, ranging from climate change to religion. For the latter, Harry hoped to have Pope Francis on as a guest.”
So according to Ashley Carman’s sources, there were three pitches that Harry had presented at some point for a podcast of his own:
1. a show about fatherhood
2. a “hot topics” show
3. a show about the childhood trauma of controversial people
Of those three pitches, in my opinion, only one of them would be worth developing further and it’s the one about fatherhood. The “hot topics” show feels dated, there are a thousand of them out there in the podcast landscape; and it goes without saying that the one about the formative years of people like Putin, Trump, and Zuckerberg is… well… it’s obviously a bad idea, though it’s not hard to presume where Harry is coming from here since his childhood trauma shaped so much his perspective; and on this proposed show he could have been trying to relate to these men through that lens as a wider commentary about how we may all benefit when we properly and systemically address trauma in childhood. Basically – how do we stop the monsters from becoming monsters, right?
But that’s just it – the three names that have come up in his pitch, according to Ashley Carman’s sources, are monsters. These are terrible men who’ve done terrible things that have resulted in terrible consequences for so many people. And none of those actions are excusable no matter what happened in their childhoods. Harry potentially associating his brand and what he stands for with any of them is not a great look. Like what would his conversation with Mark Zuckerberg have been like? Especially when one of Harry’s big issues is disinformation and Facebook is such a HUGE driver of disinformation and misinformation? Hey Mark, Harry here, tell me about all the times you were sad when you were a teenager and is that why you built a matrix of vitriol and lies where so many millions of people have been calling for me and my wife and children to be decapitated?! It’s not like Zuckerberg is going to be all, oh Harry you’re so right, I couldn’t deal with my past and that’s why I’ve allowed this thing that I built to be one of the great ills of modern society, I’m sorry.
So, again, and this is an understatement, it was a bad idea. Which is why it never came to fruition – and that’s the point of the creative process. We should be allowed to have bad ideas. Because it’s impossible to have only good ideas. Of the three ideas that Harry pitched, only one of them is interesting enough to warrant further discussion – and one in three is not a sh-tty batting average.
In a creative space, bad ideas are everywhere. Bad ideas are, often, where the better ideas come from. Bad ideas can lead to debate, productive exchanges that can take you somewhere unexpected. And, sometimes, maybe you learn and grow from it. This is how writers’ rooms and other production meetings work. So in a creative space, it’s not about holding someone’s bad idea against them. But it is about how you pivot from a bad idea.
This is my question about Harry and the work – like how does he work through the bad ideas? Go back to the example that JR Moehringer shared in his piece in The New Yorker about ghostwriting Harry’s memoir, Spare. Moehringer wrote that he and Harry had an argument over how to end a story that Harry tells in the book about the cruelty he experienced during a military training exercise. Harry wanted to include his mic drop comment and JR Moehringer thought it unnecessary to the narrative and took away from the overall recollection. Basically Moehringer checked Harry’s impulses in service of the story. That was his responsibility as a ghostwriter and a storyteller, period. And that’s how creative collaboration is supposed to function.
Does it function like that at Archewell Audio though? Like who’s telling Prince Harry that some of his ideas are sh-tty? Ashley Carman wrote that “Harry listened to various ideas from others but mostly stuck by his own”. JR Moehringer had to really, really, really push back hard to finally convince Harry to concede. This is an experienced writer who had already ghostwritten several bestsellers before he agreed to do Harry’s. Does the team at Archewell Audio have the same skill? Are they able to push back on Harry’s bad ideas? Are they giving him feedback? And is he taking the feedback?
This will be a critical factor in the Sussexes’ future success – because they’re not going to come up with the best ideas right away, you have to tease those ideas out, and their team, who in theory should know more and be more experienced than them, needs to be given the time and the resources and the confidence, frankly, to tease them out. That means both the team and the boss participating equally in the creative process which is cycling through a lot of bad ideas, acknowledging that they’re bad ideas, and then moving on from those bad ideas in order to get to the good ones. It’s a skill we can all improve on, even Prince Harry.