In Depth

Adalian Column: Doesn’t Hollywood Realize We’re in a Recession?

If America’s headed for another Great Depression, somebody better tell Hollywood’s celebrity class.

While millions suffer through unemployment—and the rest of us wonder if we’ll be next—more than a few residents of Hollywoodland apparently have decided that now would be a perfect time to act like complete and utter fools. Among the more notable recent examples of showbiz stupidity:

Late Show With David Letterman

—A gum-smacking Joaquin Phoenix mumbled his way through an appearance on “Late Show With David Letterman,” virtually daring Mr. Letterman to slug him. It all seemed a very calculated attempt to either generate publicity or produce footage for a mockumentary he’s working on with Casey Affleck.

Whatever the rationale, Mr. Phoenix’s “performance” was insulting, to both Mr. Letterman and the audience. In troubled times, Americans need entertainers to distract us from hardship, not engage in self-indulgent performance art.

—“Grey’s Anatomy” star James Pickens Jr. told US Magazine his co-stars Katherine Heigl and T.R. Knight would be leaving the show, as has long been rumored. Perhaps Mr. Pickens didn’t realize he was talking to a reporter. But even if he was tricked, why in the world would Mr. Pickens think it was his job to blab about his colleagues’ contract status, particularly given the endless drama that’s already taken place behind the scenes at “Grey’s” over the years.

—Ms. Heigl and Mr. Knight, meanwhile, didn’t have great weeks themselves. While they’re not responsible for Mr. Pickens’ big mouth, their previous utterances (or lack thereof in response to rumors) set the stage for the latest installment of “Grey’s” wackiness.

The fact is, it’s stunning—and yet not at all surprising—that either actor still appears ready to walk away from a top-five series. Have they never heard of McLean Stevenson? David Caruso? Julianna Margulies? Craig Kilborn?

Ms. Heigl probably prefers to focus on the fact that leaving a medical drama after 100 or so episodes worked out quite nicely for George Clooney. While that’s true, Mr. Clooney also took the classy route for his exit: He fulfilled the full length of his contract, never whined about anything and even came back to help send off Ms. Margulies’ character.

Grey's Anatomy

I have a feeling that, no matter how successful she might become, Ms. Heigl’s tenure on “Grey’s” will never be compared to Mr. Clooney’s “ER” run. She’s bashed her co-stars and producers in the press, complained about the lack of Emmy-worthy material she’s given and generally comes off as a spoiled brat.

In fairness, Ms. Heigl has to contend with an increasingly vicious media world in which the lines between tabloid and traditional press get blurrier by the minute. The pressure to land scoops that spike Web traffic has become intense, leading otherwise responsible journalists to write stories they probably shouldn’t.

Still, Ms. Heigl and her handlers have consistently demonstrated complete tone-deafness by allowing her on-set issues to turn into media fodder.

—Finally, another week went by without a settlement of the Screen Actors Guild contract standoff. The union is set to meet with producers on Feb. 16 and 17—barring another internal meltdown—but it’s hard to believe some members of SAG still harbor the notion that fighting with studios makes any sense whatsoever in the current economic climate.

Actually, given the behavior of folks like Mr. Phoenix and Ms. Heigl, I don’t know why I’m surprised at all.

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Not everyone in Hollywood took leave of their senses last week.

At one point in the week I talked to reality producer Mike Fleiss about the stunning revival of his long-running series “The Bachelor.” During our conversation, I asked him why the show had gotten off-track for a couple of years.

“I’m the one to blame,” he told me. “The show was being phoned in there for a couple of seasons. We were a little complacent. I was off making my movies (“Hostel,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) and we all took our eye off the ball.”

Mr. Fleiss easily could have blamed bad casting choices, or taken a shot at ABC for not promoting the series enough. He could have whined about the 5 million “Bachelor” ripoffs that have flooded the market since his show succeeded.

Instead, Mr. Fleiss did something few in Hollywood ever seem willing to do: He actually took responsibility for his actions.

Imagine that.