What with all the hype and ironically appropriate oversell, you may have thought that portrayals of advertising workers on TV began with “Mad Men.” Let me assure that it did not. In fact, the history of TV would indicate to alert viewer that a great many people who wound up working in the field of fictional prime time programming got their start in the ad game. That’s just how prevalent admen have been in TV history.
Whatever the ad firm is in “Mad Men” is what Tate/McMahon is to the generation of TV viewers who came of age in the 1960s. Darren Stevens is married to a witch who can instantly grant him his every wish, yet he works in an industry devoted to selling the most useless products to the most people. Either Darren was a complete idiot or he ranks as the single most malevolent adman in the history of TV.
This mult-layered ensemble dramedy of the 1980s is about many things, but one of those things is the world of advertising. When the show first aired, two of its leading character owned and operated the Michael and Elliott Company. If you can figure out which two characters worked in the advertising game from that, perhaps you have been watching too many commercials and not enough classic TV. When their own little shop was forced to close its door, Michael and Elliott both went to for the Machiavellian Miles Drentell at the nationally-recognized DAA. The episodes of “Thirtysomething” that traced the Faustian relationship that developed between Miles Drentell and Michael Steadman became the highlight of the series and offered a fascinating glimpse into just how the world of top-level advertising agencies work.
A few years before Michael Steadman and Elliott Westin left the world of small time ad agency ownership behind and joined the cutthroat world of big time advertising, the reverse happened on “Bosom Buddies.” While many view “Bosom Buddies” merely as a one-joke “Some Like it Hot” ripoff, those who actually watched every episode will tell you it was a smart and clever examination of friendship, principles and ambition. The first year of “Bosom Buddies” told stories of how two young guys tried to find a way to make a personal statement in the creative abyss that is New York advertising agencies. The second season commenced with Kip and Henry falling into an opportunity to open their very small-time local ad agency and refashioned the show to make it about how to eke out a decent living when that life is guided by principles rather than commerce.
The Don Rickles Show
Can you imagine Don Rickles trying to get you to buy something? “Hey, you hockey, buy this shampoo or you’ll go even balder!” For a brief period in 1972, Don Rickles seemed to be attempting to contact the spirit of the long-dead “Dick Van Dyke Show.” If it resembles anything at all, the Don Rickles show that cast him in the role of advertising executive resembles the show about a TV writer. If, that is, that show had been rewritten to make the Morey Amsterdam character the lead.
The Twilight Zone: A Stop at Willoughby
What do you suppose the suicide rate is in the advertising game? Gotta be pretty high, I would think. I mean just how many years can you put in thinking of ways to sell stuff you know is crap to as many people who can’t really afford it as possible? In the “Twilight Zone” episode “A Stop of Willoughby” we get a peek at a successful New York ad agency worker’s moment of crisis. Gart Williams is the portrait of a man who wakes up one day to realize that everything in the world is nothing but a commodity to be packaged into an ad and sold to unsuspecting consumers. If advertising is a high-risk industry for suicide, one has to seriously doubt that most real life examples are quite as lyrical as the one to which Gart Williams is driven.