Carrie Nation: My Favorite Things To Hate

Last week, NBC’s much-discussed live production of “The Sound of Music” brought in 18.5 million viewers -- the network’s highest ratings since the finale of “ER” in 2009.

After that groundswell, the show’s producers  told the New York Times that they plan to do a live musical in 2014, and then “again and again,”  repeating the winning formula of reviving a family-friendly classic with familiar songs.

A smart and brave old/new idea, it turned out to be tailor-made for television. The broadcast proved what we’ve learned from many big-tent events: We all crave these mass moments, when we can huddle around the campfire and enjoy the same thing in real time.

In this case, SOM supplied a common currency and language so that three generations could tap along to the songs together, and that was a mitzvah.

What went unremarked upon, however, was that in tailor-making a series of five spots for sponsor Walmart, NBC went too far, entering into a “when the dog bites, when the bee stings” situation.

But meanwhile, back to the mistakes in the show.

Obviously, Julie Andrews was the apron-wearing, fantasy nanny/substitute Mom, guitar-playing frolicker of the much-beloved movie version, and no one can compete with her.  But the whole notion of a musical set in Austria during the Anschluss starring country singer/ “American Idol” winner Carrie Underwood (a slab of Velveeta on a Wiener Schnitzel, if you will) evoked an avalanche of activity on Facebook and Twitter. All the Carrie-slinging brought new meaning to "hate-watching," the term born from post-modern viewers who love to judge and cringe.

For her part, Carrie actually motored through the live performance without any flubs. She sang well. And her acting showed the earnestness of a rising high school junior, and the ease and the naturalness of the Statue of Liberty.

Given that the many veteran Broadway performers in the piece blew her off the stage (as did her husband, Baron von Vampire) the Carrie-casting seemed sad, and even a little human-sacrificey. It was a hugely cynical act on the part of NBC. Obviously, though, it worked -- she delivered her fan base and then some.

Still, as I alluded earlier, even more cynical and cringe-making were the customized spots that NBC produced for Walmart. They were so forced and staged that they made the other colorful Walmart spots that ran in the very long pods (hey, costume and set changes are required!) look really great -- like Audra McDonald acting next to Fraulein Underwood.

An NBC ad sales executive was quoted as saying, “The idea is to create these customized vignettes around this real-life family that correspond to and mirror what is going on in the show.” And each of the five spots was based on one of the show’s songs, like “My Favorite Things,” and “Do-Re-Mi.”

Sounds a little too matchy-matchy to me.

And, as it turns out, the tone-deafness and insensitivity of the spots were stunning. SOM is about a traumatized family, with seven motherless children, living with a shell -shocked military father in the shadow of Nazi takeover. The NBC-made SOM commercials featured a real-live  family from Gardner, Kansas, the Brookses, with 12 children and a vibrant mom and dad, all apple-cheeked and beautiful. They live in a huge, comfortable home, groaning with upper-middle-class comforts and Walmart goods. The family was made to sing, dance, and act out these phony, sitcommy, and most of all, alienating set-ups that even the most veteran performers could not have pulled off.

For example, the last spot showed them communicating through their various screens and mobile devices throughout the house to say good-night and Auf Wiedersehen (but it wasn’t Heidi on “Project Runway.”)

Then the parents carried the youngest kiddies off to bed, which was good, because with all of the players, I could count only eight to 10 children at any given moment.

They reminded me of those old washer-dryer print ads (maybe for Maytag?) that showed a beaming, well-dressed family of Kennedy-sized proportions standing in front of their big-ticket appliances.

All in all, the Brookses really tried, but they were plunked into a situation as stiff and unnatural (and even as human-sacrificey) as Carrie’s acting.

But the worst part was the tag line: “Own the season.” Really? Isn’t Christmas all about sharing good will, and not owning? Walmart’s evil, world-domination wish was showing.

The only way I could see “owning” coming into the picture was via an NBC executive, rubbing his hands together greedily, saying “With this broadcast we will own the night.” And own it they did.

Next up? “Fiddler on the Roof” -- with Justin Bieber starring as Tevye the Milkman. And for 2015, Danica Patrick in “Bye Bye Birdie.”

Imagine the tweets!

And I will be judgey without watching.

Recommend (4)
11 comments about "Carrie Nation: My Favorite Things To Hate".
  1. Debra Gaynor from Marina Maher Communications , December 11, 2013 at 1 p.m.
    Oh Barbara....so deliciously naughty. Yet so true!
  2. lisa shawn from self-employed , December 11, 2013 at 1:08 p.m.
    Barbara... you nailed. I found casting Carrie Underwood, with that her pretty but broad, earnest American face and flat twang, almost a cruel set-up, no matter how solid her voice might be. Yes, yes... why not Justin B. as Tevye next?
  3. Thomas Siebert from WOLFGANG SOLO: Strategic Communications & Benevolent Propaganda , December 11, 2013 at 2:23 p.m.
    I really think “Own the Season" is -- considering the context -- just about the most reprehensible tagline in advertising history, and that's saying a lot. It basically suggests a time of giving, sharing and family is actually a self-centered opportunity for power, control and acquisition. It's like an even worse version of the bullying "Game on, Santa," from Best Buy a couple years ago, which also reduced Christmas to a materialistic competition of one-upmanship.
  4. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , December 11, 2013 at 2:31 p.m.
    So true, TS. To people creating holiday messages, everything's a competition and they all want to win.
  5. Stephen Quinn from Walmart , December 11, 2013 at 2:32 p.m.
    That is not what the SOM is about. What it is about explains the huge success of the show, Carrie Underwood, Walmart and why so many Americans hung in for 3 hours and were delighted.
  6. Barbara Lippert from mediapost.com , December 11, 2013 at 2:45 p.m.
    I appreciate your comment, Stephen Quinn.
  7. Rob Frydlewicz from RAF Consulting , December 11, 2013 at 3:16 p.m.
    With a Southern belle as Maria and an African American as the Mother Superior, I was disappointed NBC didn't continue the melting pot miscasting by having Lucy Liu as the Baroness and Ricky Martin as the Captain.
  8. Patrick Hirigoyen from The Hirigoyen Group LLC , December 11, 2013 at 3:45 p.m.
    Commercials? Really? Don't most people zip through those? At the commercials, I flipped over to the NBA on TBS, and still caught almost all the big numbers. I would be more impressed if the sponsor intervened just a few times to note that their presenting it with "limited commercial interruptions."
  9. Patrick Hirigoyen from The Hirigoyen Group LLC , December 11, 2013 at 3:45 p.m.
    Sorry, should have written "they're" instead of "their"
  10. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , December 11, 2013 at 7:17 p.m.
    I didn't like it the first time because they make WW II sound like it was a walk in the Nazi park. Unfortunately, this IS where people are getting their history lessons. Didn't watch this one. Didn't even remember it was on.
  11. Jim English from FJC , December 12, 2013 at 11:13 a.m.
    Thanks Barbara, "Own the season" is horrendous. Hey Walmart, the season is not for sale.