Apr 20

Trust me, ad agency types leave the doors open

I really enjoy the TNT series “Trust Me,” which depicts the inner workings of a fictitious Trust_me Chicago advertising agency.

The cast is outstanding. The plot lines are compelling and credible and the writers deftly co-mingle real-world accounts like Rolling Rock and Dove Soap with ersatz ones like ArcMobile.

Mason and Connor are the show's protagonists. One's a creative director. The other's a writer. Their relationship has been strained because the former was promoted and now this once tight team has to deal with the fact that they're no longer equals. They both work for an amazingly idiosyncratic group creative director named Tony Mink, who is at war with the agency's other group creative director, a totally obnoxious Brit.

Anyway, the show is very cool and nicely complements my other favorite ad show: “Mad Men.” I only have one issue with “Trust Me.” The agency executives all work behind closed doors! What's that all about? It doesn't ring true, especially for an ad agency in the year 2009. Most have amazingly open workspaces, accented by exposed brick, arched ceilings, and Stanley Kubrick-like ductwork (I have no idea what that means, but it sounds right.) What they don't have is what the “Trust Me” office sports: old fashioned, individual offices with doors that are not only closed most of the time, but locked as well.

RepMan readers know I'm not a big fan of the craft of advertising. But, I do admire many of their uber cool office environments I've visited over the years. Firms like Chiat Day pioneered the open office environment that encouraged creativity, communication and a communal esprit d'corps.

So, trust me, you'll like “Trust Me.” But, someone needs to clue in the writers about the office layout. It doesn't ring true and blemishes an otherwise spot-on depiction of the mostly brutal, brutish and sometimes brilliant lives of modern-day mad men.

Aug 12

It Was Only a Matter of Time

It was only a matter of time before the mindless pablum being produced by Hollywood movie moguls went so far over the line that it engendered a mass response.

The offending movie in question is "Tropic Thunder," a clearly inane, low-end vehicle from Dreamworks directed by, and starring, Ben Stiller (who else?). In the movie, Stiller’s character, called Simple Jack, is repeatedly called a retard.  Americans with intellectual disabilities don’t care for Stiller’s pranks and are organizing a nationwide protest against "Tropic Thunder." Tropic_thunder

Dreamworks, the movie’s producer, says the Stiller character was created to poke fun at the extraordinary lengths some actors will go to to land a role. Yeah, sure. The reality is obvious: intellectually-challenged people are yet another easy laugh target. And, if there’s anything consistent about today’s "funny" movies, it’s that they go for the easy laughs at the expense of the physically and mentally challenged.

Stiller’s brand of comedy (and, by the way, feel free to insert Will Ferrell or scores of other leading "comedic" actors) plays to the lowest common denominator. He’s been offending Americans of all types, sizes and shapes for years now. So, it’s refreshing to see someone stand up in the name of common sense and decency.

There’s a fine line between humor and insult, and Stiller’s brand of comedy has been overstepping the boundaries for years. The only way he and his ilk will ever stop is if it impacts their wallets.

So, here’s hoping Americans with intellectual disabilities, as well as their families and friends avoid "Tropic Thunder" in droves. Maybe, it will force the writers, producers and directors to roll up their sleeves and do something unique: create something that’s funny rather than offensive.

Jun 09

Variations on a theme

What would happen to a public relations firm if they kept providing the same solution over and over? For that matter, what would happen to any company that kept re-cycling the same old, same old?Comedy_2

Answer: they’d lose clients.

So, how do actors such as Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, Adam Sandler, Steve Carell and Mike Myers keep getting away with it? And, how does Hollywood, in general, keep getting away with it?

Myers did breakthrough work with the first Austin Powers movie. But, since then? Ugh. Now, I’m seeing billboards for yet another 1960s-themed flick from Myers. This one is The Love Guru and is obviously based on the exploits of the late, and not-so-great, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Can’t these guys come up with something better?

Carell, meanwhile, is in a re-make of ‘Get Smart.‘ Gee, that sounds riveting. For his part, Ferrell re-cycles the same basic character in movies covering ice hockey, basketball, weddings and god knows what else. But, new? Original? Nope. Not from Ferrell. And, not from this group. And, yet, Myers, Stiller, et al, are the leading lights of the Hollywood comedy genre.

It’s sad that they consistently re-cycle mediocre content. It’s sadder still that Americans accept such mediocrity.

So, here’s my question: the business world won’t accept re-cycled drivel. And, Hollywood’s a big business. So, why are they the exception to the rule?

May 02

What’s next? “To Catch a Cleaning Lady?”

Having exhausted the various permutations of their long-running ‘To Catch a Predator’ series, NBC is nowTomandjerrytomstrapomatic2
launching a new one called, ‘To Catch a Contractor.’

The promo heralds a show that will uncover all sorts of sleazy, diabolical and even criminal practices being perpetrated by those always perplexing, always behind schedule and always over budget contractors. Fair enough. Who hasn’t had a bad experience with a contractor? In fact, it’s almost a rite of passage to be a homeowner.

But, I draw the line with NBC’s tactics. I never liked ‘Predator’ because I thought it crossed over into entrapment. And, something tells me the same will be true with contractors.

I can just imagine the various ways in which NBC and some ‘social justice’ group will ensnare some unsuspecting, but altogether sleazy, contractor. We’ll hear an NBC ‘plant,’ posing as a sultry, seductive housewife call out: ‘The door’s open, c’mon in. I’m just folding some wash in the nude. I made some brownies and iced tea. Put your tape measure down and have some.’

In my opinion, the whole thing stinks.

And, where will this mindless content end? Will we see future shows aimed at ‘catching’ cleaning ladies? How about the mailman? The FedEx delivery guy? You know a country’s moral fiber is scraping the bottom when we sit around at night watching one strata of society entrap another. Get a life, America.

Apr 24

Before Oprah, Ellen and all the others, there was Edward R. Murrow

I’m in the midst of watching a fascinating DVD compilation of Edward R. Murrow’s landmark televisionEdwardmurrow
series ‘Person to person.’

Broadcast on CBS between 1953 and ’59, the series featured one-on-one interviews between the uber journalist become talk show host and celebrities from all walks of life. There’s John F. Kennedy, speaking from his Boston apartment just one month after marrying Jacqueline Bouvier in 1953. Another segment shows Norman Rockwell discussing his painting techniques from his Stockbridge, Massachusetts, art studio. A third follows Eleanor Roosevelt around her Manhattan apartment in 1954.

There’s also Liberace, Marilyn Monroe, Sammy Davis, Jr., and so many other legends.

Murrow’s ‘technique’ was to sit in his New York studio and, via newly-developed technology, speak to the celebrities directly from their homes.

Person to person is a fascinating snapshot into a long gone America. It was a simpler time and Murrow served up simpler questions. There’s no antagonism, no hints of scandal or intrigue, and no discussion of anything other than blue skies and happy times. That said, the interviews are anything but bland.

Murrow and his guests are direct, to the point and, dare I say it, humble. The watchwords of Person to person are civility, urbanity and compassion; three words that are nearly absent from any contemporary talk show.

It may have been superficial in content, but Person to person reflects Murrow’s impeccable image of truth and honesty. Compared to the Jerry Springer’s, Howard Stern’s and others on our airwaves today, Edward R. Murrow is a breath of fresh air (despite his omnipresent cigarette).

Feb 04

Hollywood’s new blood sport: dead pools

The freak show that is entertainment news seems dead set on debating who will die first: Britney orBritney2
Farah.

Feigning concern, reporters, commentators and talking heads (and it’s getting increasingly difficult to tell one from the other) vie with each other for the latest ‘unauthorized’ videos or inside peaks at the two tortured starlets.

‘Brit’s a threat to herself and those around,’ waxed one pundit. ‘Farah’s courage in the face of certain death from cancer is laudable,’ sighed another. Faux feelings, to be sure. And, yet we stare intently as the news media chop block one another to get the latest, greatest videos of each failing (and fallen) star. The ratings, one would assume, must soar in direct correlation to each celeb’s descent into hell.

Who’s to blame for this macabre dance? It certainly wasn’t always this way. The 24/7 news cycle is one obvious culprit since it needs constant news to feed hungry viewers and listeners. Then there’s the perpetual dumbing of America, with each new reality show slightly more idiotic than its predecessor. And, let’s not forget America’s increasingly manic obsession with Hollywood itself. It’s a toxic combination that seems to just spiral more and more out of control each day.

Once upon a time, I thought this to be a uniquely American phenomenon. But, now, when I travel overseas, I routinely see Hollywood gossip leading the local newscasts. In fact, the lead stories on Arusha, Tanzania, TV sets on January 1, 2008, were (in order):

– Britney’s latest breakdown
– Benazir Bhutto’s assassination
– Civil unrest in nearby Kenya

The dead pool descriptor seems to work equally well for the Hollywood circus and the slow, but steady, death of responsible journalism. And, it seems to me we’re all to blame.

Oct 02

Growing up Spears

Life is tough enough without added burdens. That said, and in light of yesterday’s custody ruling againstBritney_spears
Britney Spears, could you imagine being one of her kids?

Those poor, if privileged, souls not only have the misfortune of having two highly dysfunctional parents. They also have to overcome the horrific image tsunamis their mom and dad have created.

Sure, the Spears/K-Fed kids will have every creature comfort money can buy. But, they’ll also have to deal with the emotional baggage that comes with an out-of-control pop star diva mom and a hanger-on/gold digger dad.

It takes years and years to build an image and reputation. And, as we all know, only a nanosecond to blow to bits. So, how brutal must it be to start life with at least one, if not both, arm(s) tied behind one’s back?

I’d like to think the Spears/Federline youngsters will turn out just fine, but the odds are heavily stacked against it.

They’re both years away from having to strike out on their own. But when they do, they’ll always have to deflect questions about their dysfunctional parents. And, that’s a high price to pay for someone else’s fame.

Apr 27

Why should Alec Baldwin have to apologize?

Alec Baldwin’s decision to publicly apologize for a cell phone rant allegedly leaked by his estranged former wife, Kim Basinger, is another example of formulaic PRApologies_2
having run amuck.

Hollywood has a proven crisis model in place that includes an apology, an outreach to the ‘offended’ person or persons and some sort of rehabilitation program to ensure that the offending remarks or actions will never happen again. Mel Gibson and his anti-Semitic crisis outreach is now the classic response (as compared to that of Don Imus and his much-too-little, much-too-late post ‘nappy haired hos’ push). But, why is the ‘model’ trotted out each and every time a crisis, now matter how mundane, erupts?

Why should Baldwin have to apologize to anyone? What a parent says to his or her child is private (even if it is leaked publicly). I think it’s time for a Baldwin, a Richard Gere or some other Hollywood buffoon to step up and say, ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.’ I’m not going to listen to my handlers and I’m not going to cave to ‘conventional wisdom.’

The PC police and their ‘pound of flesh’ mentality have dictated that image and reputation management must include a carefully orchestrated program of apology, contrition, reflection and reincarnation. That’s BS. If the ‘crisis’ in question, like Baldwin’s, is private, it should stay private.

Mar 27

I don’t ‘heart’ people who overuse the F word

If you haven’t done so already, check out Lily Tomlin‘s outrageous ‘performance‘ in this extreme outtake from the movie ‘I Heart Huckabees.’

Her boorish, bullying behavior notwithstanding, what must she have been thinking? Does being a fading Hollywood star exempt Ms. Tomlin from decent behavior? Were her meds simply having an off-day? Lilytomlin_rgb_2

Equally perplexing, though, is the passive, almost nonchalant, attitude of her co-actors (including megastar Dustin Hoffman in the middle seat). What’s up with that? Were they too embarrassed to say anything? Too intimidated? Why didn’t they respond in kind when Tomlin turned her wrath on them and used the F-word in various forms and combinations?

Coming at this from an image and reputation standpoint, does Tomlin’s idiotic behavior say more about her or that of her nonplussed peers? Personally, I’ve lost respect for the whole carload of actors.

I’ve been subjected to CEOs who used cursing and shouting as part of their management-by-fear style. Sadly, hostile workplace suits weren’t in vogue in the 1980s when these tirades occurred, so beaten-down employees had one of two choices: endure the abuse or leave.

Happily, those days are long gone and abuse, whether it’s in the workplace or on a Hollywood set, simply shouldn’t be tolerated. Let’s hope Mr. Hoffman has stiffened his backbone since the Tomlin outburst and is now telling other abusive actors he doesn’t ‘heart’ screaming or abuse.

Mar 12

A tale of two movies

Chris ‘Repman Jr’ Cody and I recently viewed two movies based upon historical battles.

The first, ‘Letters from Iwo Jima,’ was outstanding (if a little slow in parts), and portrayed the heroic and, at times, downright moving Japanese defense of the Island of Iwo Jima near the end of World War II. It was not only fascinating to view a war classic told from an ‘enemy’s’ point-of-view, but equally poignant to see what factors motivated the average Japanese soldier to, in most cases, choose suicide over capture.

The second movie, ‘300,’ has received quite a bit of fanfare and been described in reviews as ‘epic,’ 300_1 ‘breathtaking’ and as ‘…taking the classic war movie to the next level.’ I couldn’t disagree more. The flick, which depicts the heroic defense of Greece by Spartan warriors some 400 years BC, is a real joke.

Director Zack Snyder’s use of computer animation runs amuck, especially in his portrayal of the Persian enemies. In addition to depicting the Persians as grotesque, distorted half-men, the director also equips the invaders with everything from hard-charging, fire-breathing rhinos to six-story tall elephants on steroids. And the Persian leader, Xerxes, looks like he’s just partied all night at some bizarre, transgender nightclub.

Snyder’s Spartan warriors are incredibly rugged, handsome and sculpted with six-pack abs to die for. Each of their women have bodies that could have easily graced the covers of ‘Sparta Today’ or ‘Cosmo Sparta Girl.’ And neither wear much, if any, clothing. In fact, the film ends up being little more than a cross between soft core porn and sci-fi.

Rep, Jr. found the film ‘entertaining.’ I saw it as dark and disturbing.

Why do Hollywood filmmakers play around with the truth? It began with D.W. Griffith’s portrayal of a noble Ku Klux Klan in Birth of a Nation,’ continued with Oliver Stone’s ‘JFK‘ and now reaches truly absurd depths with Snyder’s ‘300’. Will children (and less-astute adults) viewing the movie really believe the battle was fought as shown and with such bizarre half-men, nonsensical beasts and pretty boy leaders involved?

So, who should burden the responsibility for passing along ersatz, fictionalized drama as actual history?

Escapist movies are terrific and directors like Griffith, Stone and Snyder will always be around to distort facts. In my opinion, film reviewers have to dispense with superlatives and hyperbole and exhibit more journalistic integrity.  Calling ‘300’ an epic war movie only tarnishes Hollywood’s already sketchy image and reputation.