Dream magazine is a nightmare

Kevin Cowherd

July 23, 1993|By Kevin Cowherd

People in the industry told me Modern Neurotic never had a chance, that a new magazine targeted toward the chronically anxious would do a quick crash and burn.

But our thinking was: Look, millions of people wrestle with unresolved feelings due to unconscious conflict.

Why not give them a voice, something besides that inner voice that tells them to run downstairs and make sure the front door is locked for the 34th time?

Anyway, the cover of our premier issue was originally supposed to feature an agoraphobic housewife from Pompton Lakes, N.J., peering under a bed at this huge, grinning monster labeled "Our Hidden Fears."

Then Brad, our summer intern from Brown, suggested we put Sharon Stone on the cover.

"Sharon Stone?" I said.

"Absolutely," he said. "'Sharon Stone and this Summer's 15 Hottest Phobias!'"

"Gee, I don't know . . . "

"No, no!" said Melissa, one of our editors. "'Tom Cruise's 10 Sure-Fire Ways to Tell if You're Passive-Aggressive!"

Brad was into it now, waving his hands excitedly, getting off on the creative energy crackling throughout the room.

" 'Cher: Turn Your Free-Floating Anxiety into Big Bucks!' " he yelled.

" 'How Sick Was the King? Priscilla Presley Talks About Elvis' Character Disturbance!' " Reynaldo, another editor, blurted, and now the meeting was completely out of control.

To make a long story short, we went with Sharon Stone on the cover. We put her in this clingy little number from Bob Mackie with a plunging neckline and a feather stuck between her teeth. And naturally the whole thing was a disaster.

The critics slammed us for pandering to this country's obscene fixation on celebrities. What kind of serious health magazine shoots a cover with Sharon Stone sprawled on a bearskin rug?

"Bimbo Biochemics!" sneered the magazine reviewer for USA Today, and I felt like crawling into a hole and dying.

"Maybe we should have used Madonna on the cover," Brad said at our next staff meeting. But by then it didn't matter. The magazine was doing lousy in the test markets -- readers were actually snickering at the product -- and we pulled it off the racks soon after.

Sharon Stone . . . what on earth were we thinking about?

Spare Change (The Magazine for the Serious Panhandler) met a similar fate, I'm sorry to say.

The demographics looked good at first. An advice column ("Ask Malik") and consumer news ("Peoria Pete's Top 10 Wines for the Budget Conscious!" ) were well-received, as were some of our longer, investigative pieces ("Is the Aggressive Approach Turning Off Your Customers? Here's How to Soften Your Pitch!")

But apparently our newsstand price of $2.50 was a problem for much of our target audience, with surveys indicating that potential readers preferred spending the money on -- of all things food.

Now we're directing much of our energy toward Fuhgedaboutit! (The Magazine for Today's Wiseguy.)

Chock-full of tips and info for the mobster of the '90s ("You Whacked the Guy -- Now What? Get Rid of That Body the Smart, Easy Way!" "We Rate the Top 10 Maximum Security Joints!"), it's considered must reading for anyone involved in organized crime.

In the July issue, our popular It Happened To Me! column details Genovese family associate John "Johnny Dice" D'Orsino's narrow brush with death -- he somehow survived being compacted into the grille of an '89 Cadillac Coupe de Ville.

Prospects are similarly bright for Buttafuoco Times, which we feel will find its niche with beefy, gold-chain-wearing philanderers in the 30-55 age group. Long Island's most famous body-shop owner, Joey Buttafuoco, tackles subjects as disparate as dating etiquette ("She Was Askin' For It!") to his celebrity status ("I Did Connie Chung!") to his former relationship with Amy Fisher ("I Never Touched the B !")

Unfortunately, the outlook is not quite as sunny for Salad Dressing Enthusiast.

The magazine suffered a sharp decline in circulation in the May issue ("Bleu Cheese vs. French: Our Readers Decide!") and again in June (Roquefort vs. Thousand Island: Our Readers Decide!") before rebounding slightly in July ("Russian vs. Creamy Italian: Our Readers Decide!")

Many readers took us to task for failing to take a stand on the issues raised in our pages. Although we think that's a cheap shot, we're re-evaluating our editorial policy.

Note: After next month's issue, American Doodler (The Guide to Aimless Scribbling and Drawing) will cease publication.

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