Scott D. Pierce: Was ‘Girls’ fight part of plan to juice ratings?

First Published      Last Updated Jan 30 2014 05:00 pm

It's entirely possible that Judd Apatow is a whole lot smarter than I gave him credit for. That there was method to his over-the-top mad reaction to an awkwardly worded question that produced a media sensation.

I've avoided writing about the contretemps between the "Girls" executive producer and a journalist at the Television Critics Association press tour on Jan. 9 because, well, I'm unconvinced that anyone cares about how TV critics do their jobs.

But I can't help but wonder if what happened during a news conference to promote the little-watched HBO show was something the "Girls" producers had in mind long before the question was asked.

The question was asked quite clumsily of series creator/writer/star Lena Dunham: "I don't get the purpose of all of the nudity on the show, by you particularly. And I feel like I'm walking into a trap where you go, 'Nobody complains about the nudity on Game of Thrones,' but I get why they are doing it. They are doing it to be salacious and, you know, titillate people. And your character is often naked just at random times for no reason."

Dunham replied, "It's a realistic expression of what it's like to be alive," adding, "If you are not into me, that's your problem, and you are going to have to kind of work that out with whatever professionals you've hired."

A rude answer to a clumsy question. And it was Dunham who raised the issue of her attractiveness, not the critic.

We should have just moved on. But Apatow went after the critic. "Do you have a girlfriend?" he asked. "Does she like you?"

It got worse. It was unnecessarily nasty. It was like killing a gnat with a bazooka.

Several questions later, executive producer Jenni Konner brought it back front and center when she said she "literally was spacing out because I'm in such a rage spiral about that guy that I literally could not hear. … I just was looking at him and going into this rage — this idea that you would talk to a woman like that and accuse a woman of showing her body too much."

Read the question again. Does that seem a gross mischaracterization of what was asked?

It might be that Apatow, Dunham and Konner were primed to overreact because of frequent attacks on social media. Dunham praised Apatow for his approach to "trolls," which is, in his words, "If someone says something really nasty, I will … retweet every nasty, dumb thing they've ever said to a million people, and then the community takes care of them."

Or just maybe the overreaction and resulting controversy were a way to get people to write about a show few were writing about. If so, it worked. The Season 3 premiere Jan. 12 drew 1.1 million viewers. That's very low, but it was 28 percent more than the Season 2 premiere.

If it was a plan, it was genius.

Scott D. Pierce covers television for The Salt Lake Tribune. Email him at spierce@sltrib.com; follow him on Twitter @ScottDPierce.