A wild and mysterious thing happened last week. The company that owns Girls Gone Wild, and all its related brands, went bankrupt.
Everyone who owned a TV set during the '90s and early 2000s knows about Girls Gone Wild. They secretly filmed college girls on spring break taking their tops off, compiled all the footage onto a VHS cassette and sold them to horny guys of all ages around the world by the truckload. The company's founder, Joe Francis, made truckloads of money too. And let's not fault him. He saw a market opportunity. He capitalized. He profited. It was legal. Well... most of the time anyway.
But the story raises more questions than answers.
Girls Gone Wild filed for bankruptcy because casino mogul Steve Wynn won a defamation lawsuit against Francis. And no, it wasn't because Wynn was found to have small breasts when he took his top off. It's because Francis claimed that Wynn threatened to kill him with a shovel. Quincy Jones, the famed record producer, testified in Wynn's defense. Wynn's lawsuit was added to three other existing claims including one from a woman that was filmed without her permission (this was in the Girls Gone Wild: Sorority Orgy series, which I must have missed while catching up on the last two seasons of Homeland, but I hear it was just terrific). Francis plans to fight, saying: "Just like American Airlines and General Motors, it will be business as usual for Girls Gone Wild."
The company filed for Chapter 11 reorganization, listing $50,000 in assets and $16.3 million in debt. The litigant mentioned above claims the company is hiding its assets, including its trademarks for videos, websites, the Girls Gone Wild magazine and clothing and apparel that total more than... ready? $20 million.
Questions? Oh, I have a few! Because the whole thing is mysterious to me.
1. Why was Girls Gone Wild still in business anyway?
What are they selling? Are there that many horny men around who are paying for videos and DVDs? Have they never heard of the Internet? Do people still have video players? Do people still watch DVDs? Doesn't everyone just download movies anyway? I've been doing extensive research for this blog (yes, that's right, extensive research!) and don't all the titles look the same? How about a Girls From "Downton Abbey" Go Wild? Or Girls From HBO's "Girls" Go Wild. Where's the innovation?
2. What assets?
The company's bankruptcy filing listed $16.3 million in debt and $50,000 in assets. How can a company like this even have any assets? Is it the stacks of VHS tapes sitting in the corner? The Hollywood rights to "Sexiest Shower Scenes?" And from what I hear of Francis' spending habits there's certain not to be much cash lying around. So what else is there? Here's a depressing thought: My little company has more assets than Girls Gone Wild. That should make Francis stop and ponder while he's ordering another round of drinks on the private jet he owns.
3. Why would Steve Wynn threaten to kill Francis with a shovel?
The guy's a billionaire. He can't hire someone else to do it? And a shovel? Ugh... that seems so, I don't know...Goodfellas. I would expect more from a man of Wynn's stature and reputation and I'm very disappointed. From now on I'm taking my business to Circus Circus whenever I'm in Vegas.
4. How can there only be four lawsuits?
And why is there only one from someone who didn't give permission to be in their videos? They've shot videos of thousands of girls over the years, with dozens pulling up their shirts at the same time. Most of these girls were highly inebriated. These are people's daughters. Wait... is that my daughter? I'm sure the producers got most of them to sign waivers. But how is it possible that everyone signed? And even if they did sign how is it possible that dozens of angry dads didn't sue anyway. Wynn couldn't lend them a couple of extra shovels?
5. There's a Girls Gone Wild magazine? Who's reading that? And where do you even buy it? Is it one of those two or three lonely magazines that are collecting dust on the shelf behind the 7-11 clerk next to the cigarettes and condoms? Are people still reading magazines? Is anyone still reading this? Anyone? Bueller?
6. Why is Quincy Jones involved?
Isn't he like 110 years old by now? And why did he never make another album as good as The Dude? What happened to that guy?
7. Is Francis really comparing himself to American Airlines and General Motors?
Because if he is then: respect. It takes a lot of chutzpah to compare your little soft-porn business with $50,000 in assets and tired old brands to two of the country's largest and most well known companies. Then again, I've flown AA and driven GM cars and I'm betting a GGW video is a better experience. So maybe Francis has a point.
8. Someone actually believes that Girls Gone Wild has trademarks valued at $20 million.
$20 million! It is amazing to me what some people think their business is actually worth, let alone other people's businesses. "Oh that guy's loaded!" People aren't as rich as you think. And your business isn't as valuable as you think either. Would you pay $20 million for the Girls Gone Wild brand? Would you even pay $14.99 for their Best Butts Ever montage HD video? OK... now where's my damn credit card?
9. Is there a flattering picture of Joe Francis somewhere?
Because every article, every image, every picture I see of him online, he looks like a douche. I probably feel this way because I'm jealous. He's made millions off a silly idea that he was smart enough to turn into a goldmine. He's built a business around topless girls. I make a fraction of that selling computer software to primarily bearded tech guys wearing sandals. So yes, I'm jealous. But does he have to look so damn smug? And do those tech guys not realize that their toenails are discolored? Gross.
10. Most importantly: Why Chapter 11?
Why would a business like his do this? That means they're re-organizing. What is left to actually re-organize? Why even try? The business ran its course. It made a boatload of money for Francis. Why not just declare Chapter 7, liquidate and move on? Bankruptcy is why America is so great: We can go into deep debt, and if things don't work out, leave our creditors holding the bag. Kind of makes me teary just thinking about it.
Eventually Girls Gone Wild will go the way that so many other famous brands went: into the sunset. Francis should consider himself lucky. He's being forced into bankruptcy by a couple of lawsuits. Many business owners I know don't see the writing on the wall until it's too late. Instead they try to keep a dying business alive for too long and it sucks away their savings and their energy. Businesses are just things. And all things have an expiration date. Girls Gone Wild, like many of the girls they're still featuring, passed its expiration date a long time ago. What about your business?
A version of this blog appeared in The Philly Post.