What should I be doing instead of this?


By P.F. Wilson · August 10th, 2000 · Channel Surfing
It's strange how your perspective can change. When I was (sort of) in the music business, I gradually came to look at the industry from a different angle. Now the same thing has happened with TV and advertising, as I write about one and work full-time in the other.

At first, with each of these media, I thought about the artists and what they were saying, what they were thinking and what inspired them. Later, I began to think about those who were the catalysts to get the artistic statement out. I'm speaking of the business people, such as record label executives, TV network programmers and advertisers.

With music, my new viewpoint came as a result of listening to tunes that weren't that good. I began to wonder, "Did anyone listen to this before it was released?" It wasn't a matter of not liking it. There is lot of music (and TV programming, movies, books etc.) that I don't like. But I understand why others do.

With TV and particularly with advertising, I have been doing this spectrum analysis. No longer do I wonder how the idea came to the adman. Well, I do. But not for long. What I try to picture is how the "spot" (a little ad jargon for y'all) was pitched to the client. Did they have to explain it?

With good ads, I don't do this. It's obviously good, so of course the client rubber-stamped it.

Even average and mundane ads can pass with little or no scrutiny. Dodge's latest clearance sale, for example. Show cars, have ol' Ed Hermann (the guy who played FDR, not Herman Munster) do a voice-over. Show, tell, get the hell out. Fine.

It's the dumb ones that leave me wondering. Was the agency able to dupe the client? "It's cool, trust us!" Mazda's campaign last year for the Protégé. "We're using a vulgar '80s song with new lyrics." So they ripped off VW, and figured they could get away with it by using an edgier song (The Nails' "88 Lines About 44 Women").

Of the two paths, Mazda might have wanted to go the show-and-tell route. Straightforward beats lame. Of course, a third path should have been explored: Fire the agency.

Similarly, TV leaves me wondering about the decision-makers. I would like to enter into evidence Exhibit A: The Strip on UPN. Great location for a show. Las Vegas. Yes, Dan Tanna snooped around "The Meadows," but that was over 20 years ago. Michael Mann took Crime Story to Vegas in the late '80s, but that show was set in 1963.

So The Strip turns up in (almost) 21st-century Las Vegas. And it's AWFUL. I tune in every week because I love the town. I hope that they'll right the ship, and it won't suck. UPN originally passed on it, by the way, but called the bullpen when their other shows blew up. The Strip won't be on UPN's fall schedule, however, and while that makes sense, it's still baffling how they got the OK to begin production.

The writing is dreadful. A sample line from the pilot: "My Grandmother always said, 'If it's too good to be true, it must be Vegas.' " Ah! Couldn't anyone tell how bad that was? Apparently UPN did, at first, but desperate times changed their minds. The production company (Warner Bros., ironically) had to have had somebody watching the dailies. Or perhaps not.

Nice premise. Two cops quit the force (although the details of the incident are pretty dopey) and go to work for the owner of Caesar's Palace. And that's were they should have made some phone calls to round up some talented people. The casting stinks, save for one half of the duo (Guy Torry) and his wife (Stacey Dash). The rest couldn't act their way out of a paper bag.

Art by committee is now commonplace, and artists themselves would say it's a bad thing. That may very well be, as Bruce Williams would say. But in some cases it may be the only viable course. That, or allegedly creative people could, perhaps, think. ©



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