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As part of his ongoing Undercovered: series for the Today show, this week NBC’s Ronan Farrow has a 3-part investigative look at Hollywood. The longform reports delve into issues including gender bias in film, China’s entry into global movie making, and a behind-the-scenes look at awards season which culminates Sunday at the Oscars.
Farrow is more aware than most about the business. “I grew up in a Hollywood family,” he readily admits. His mother, Mia Farrow, and grandmother, Maureen O’Sullivan were actors, and his father Woody Allen, is a 24-time Oscar nominee.
TVNewser: What made you pick that subject matter, a look into the movie business?
Farrow: The series is called Undercovered: and it is genuinely designed as an antidote to some of the problems people in my generation and viewers in general have with the modern news cycle: that they hammer you over the head with the same story over and over again without explaining why or pulling the curtain back behind the headline. So for me it falls in line with the general premise of the series. So, for the Oscars we’re going to be hearing a lot of ‘who are you wearing?’ on the red carpet. For me the chance to report on something that affects people’s lives, it’s welcome.
TVNewser: Your mom is in the business, as were your grandmother and grandfather. Your dad won four Oscars. Was it easy to get people to open up about the more controversial side of Hollywood?
Farrow: As you know, I have never particularly shied away from sacred cows, in this case the entertainment industry. What makes me so excited about it is they do really allow me to and encourage me to speak truth to power and investigate tough issues. So when that means confronting things that are problematic in various cases doing reporting that is not welcome, like the truck side guards piece. Time and time again I’ve been really impressed that the network and the show have stood behind these stories.
TVNewser: I do have to point out a little bit of an irony. [Wednesday’s] story was called #OscarsSoMale, and you come back on set and it’s three men talking.
Farrow: We were all very aware! Cut to the wideshot… yes. We have multiple hosts (Savannah Guthrie, who returns March 3, and Hoda Kotb) on maternity and parental leave. But from what I’ve seen it’s been a pretty good balanced gender representation. But yes, definitely we were aware.
TVNewser: Do you miss not having that hour on cable during the day and covering the Trump administration?
Farrow: I mean. Sure. These are jobs that are invigorating in totally different ways. I spent a long time in the thick of the headlines in the middle of the day and dodging and weaving as they changed. And that’s important and I respect the people that do it. But I do have to say as a viewer, and someone who’s been in the trenches, I constantly found myself craving the deeper dive. It is not necessarily the norm in this industry to spend time building your sources and in edit and really build a story that can be a lasting piece of content. So I had to make the choice to stay on the cable side or move to the taped stuff, and I just thought it was a rare chance. People are excited about it in the building but more than that is the audience response to it. People are emotionally connected to these stories.
TVNewser: Not to mention the viewership. You might have 5 million people watching this morning. Good luck getting that at 1 o’clock in the afternoon on cable news.
Farrow: And it’s a different audience. But you’re right, day in, day out there is a larger audience with these network stories, and bringing them stories they might not get to see is something that I really feel fortunate about.
TVNewser: Before you came to MSNBC you worked in government, in the Obama administration. How was the transition to TV news?
Farrow: To me these are linked in some way. Being in government and seeing how that system works, over 4 years, was really important to me. I was in Afghanistan and I was in Pakistan. The experience in government informs my desire to help make sense of the world and help make sense of it myself. I found that I’m not alone, especially now in this political climate, for exactly this kind of reporting: deeper dive that confronts tough reality.