Doyle, Mork, & Bernbach

  • by October 1, 2013
Last Thursday, I caught the debut of “The Crazy Ones,” the CBS sitcom created by David E Kelley, featuring Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar. They star as a father/daughter creative team, Simon and Sydney Roberts, running their eponymous Chicago ad agency, Roberts & Roberts.

There’s definitely a tone problem with the show: violently uneven, the pilot swings from Williams’ manic, razzmatazz riffs to “American Idol”-ish musical moments to embarrassingly awkward/sexy lines to scenes between a childlike, divorced father and his adult daughter/partner that become almost maudlin.

But the feeling that Kelley was going for overall, I think, could be characterized as “zany.” That’s a sister-in-law sensibility to “wacky.” I hate both.

Also, despite his genius level of previous output (as the prolific creator of “Ally McBeal” and “Chicago Hope,” among many others), Kelley seems to understand law and medicine way better than advertising.



That said, there was some clever stuff, starting with the name, which I thought was a play of sorts on “Mad Men.”  What we discover during the most cringe-worthy scene (involving Buffy being humiliated in public by Kelly Clarkson, but more on that later) is that the title is based on the Apple ad of 1997, “The Crazy Ones,” because that was what drew the Gellar character into advertising in the first place.

You see, this seemingly small and faded (but fabulously modern and lavishly appointed) Chicago agency is in danger of losing its main account, the McDonald’s business. Williams, playing an erratic, washed-up ad star (“How much does a Clio go for on eBay?” he asks at one point) tries a “Hail Mary” pass to save the account: to “upgrade” the brand by updating the 1972 “You Deserve A Break Today” jingle for a new TV commercial.

“Our concept is real beef, real potatoes,” he says, in one of several lines that could have been written during the Reagan administration.

More important, in what universe are they operating when a kajillion-dollar account could be saved by a jingle for a TV campaign? Obviously, that’s a fatally dated premise. Not only does it not acknowledge the existence of that whole, messy interwebs business, but these days, an agency of that size would probably share the account with the agency of record, plus 90 other sister-wife agencies.

But then again, this is a sitcom. Anyone in advertising at the time of “Bewitched” would probably have reacted the same way: “Why are they using a pointer to show print ads on an easel? We do television now, damn it!” (Then again, Larry Tate as the uber-kiss-ass is timeless.)

David Kelley has been quoted as saying  the series was inspired by real-life Leo Burnetter John Montgomery, who worked on McDonald’s and pitched him the idea many years ago.

The problem is that using a real-life brand like McDonald’s creates a huge, fawning and overly reverent product placement that overshadows everything else. Still, in recent press accounts, all associated with the show claim that no payment changed hands, which makes that Titanic Mickey D’s plug even weirder.

Meanwhile, Williams as Roberts somehow conjures up a meeting with Kelly Clarkson, who has to be wooed to the dark side to sing the new updated jingle. But she doesn’t want to sing about “meat.” She wants to reform her own good-girl brand, and sing about sex. So the oddest (but also weirdly entertaining) scene ensues: Clarkson  gets down with Bob Benson -- actually the actor James Wolk who played a mysterious, annoying account guy on “Mad Men,” but here, as Zach, becomes a breakout star.

Together in a sound booth, they sing “It Ain’t the Meat, It’s the Motion,” as Clarkson gets down with an attempt to be graphically sexy. Look away!

Williams says it’s too sexy -- that she “woke up the puppet,” which kind of made me cringe. So then daughter Gellar takes it upon herself to “pivot” Kelly to sing a family song by going into the whole Apple “Crazy Ones” riff while interrupting Kelly as she enjoys a meal in a restaurant with her “family.” (Real Kelly, fake family. Odd.)

“They didn’t even have a product to sell,” she says about those days at Apple. “They were promoting an idea.” And she lists the icons featured in it: “Gandhi, Picasso, John Lennon, Martin Luther King, Jr.” Clarkson shoots back one of the best lines: “Were they paid?”

Interesting to bring that up, because what bothers me as much as the “unpaid” McDonald’s placement is the towering (and fetching) line drawing of Williams that decorates the agency lobby It’s an obvious rip-off of Keith Haring. Did the artist’s foundation get paid for that? 

Overall, the show made me sad. The sometimes-desperate tone of the debut reminded me of hearing the “Attention must be paid!” speech that wife Linda delivers at Willy Loman’s funeral in “Death of a Salesman.”

The show is an elegy for so many things: Robin Williams’ career, Sarah Michelle Gellar’s career, network television, the 22-minute sitcom, the 30-second spot, the jingle, and everything else that is becoming history.

But don’t cry for the The Crazy Ones”: It killed in the ratings, holding onto the lion’s share of “The Big Bang Theory”’s gargantuan audience to register 15.61 million viewers. It also clobbered the new Michael J. Fox show’s premiere on NBC.

My final vote: only 98% terrible. Based on all the Mork and Buffy fans out there, it will probably float for a couple of seasons.

What they should concentrate on is rolling back the network TV-style slickness. The opening -- featuring kids auditioning for a cookie commercial -- was great, as it seemed to include bloopers from the actual shoot.

And given the hugely talented cast and great look of the show, it might even become new and improved.

20 comments about "Doyle, Mork, & Bernbach".
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  1. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, October 2, 2013 at 7:23 a.m.

    Kind of you. I thought it sucked absolutely, winning in ratings or not. The two-star leads covered up some bad writing (or made it sound worse), and how often do star turns gel into winning ensembles? In sitcom land, not too many. I'd say kill it and put us out of its mercy, but I really don't care. There are other things to watch or do. I actually liked the MJF show better, but won't be a loyal viewer of that one either.

  2. George Parker from Parker Consultants, October 2, 2013 at 9:26 a.m.

    Barbara... Dead right, big time suck-o-la. There hasn't been a good show about the ad biz since Doris Day in "Lover Come Back" was the head of an agency and did EVERYTHING... AE, CD, AD, writer, photographer, film director. Back in those days, they earned their money. Oh, and 30" spots are not becoming history, you can buy one on the next "Super Bowl" for a mere $4 million. One week to go to King Cole (Hush.) !!!

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 2, 2013 at 9:30 a.m.

    Tag, you are ace on it. It was a horrible show with a couple of good lines that could be used in other sitcoms or skits. It's a show from the fantasy past that made people come into ad agencies and say "I'll do anything to get into this business, even scrub the floor." (Note: That was said to me one time verbatim as I was sitting in my office with nothing going on.) Michael J. Fox is a better show with sharper writing that still needs to mature.

  4. Debra Gaynor from Marina Maher Communications, October 2, 2013 at 10:58 a.m.

    How do you give a sit com such a profound name ("The Crazy Ones") and then make it so dopey? I hope this show is a work in progress because it has a lot of the right elements but, as you note, uses them all wrong. I'll watch for a few more episodes because I think Robin Williams is a (mad) genius.

  5. Patrick Reynolds from Triton Digital, October 2, 2013 at 11:01 a.m.

    Haven't seen it. Don't want to. But I did work at DDB on McDonald's in the '90s and it was far from "zany" and noticeably bereft of nyuk, nyuk types. It was a machine cranking tons of television, radio, and print executions for a client fighting tooth and nail for heart strings-- and purse strings.

  6. Mike Einstein from the Brothers Einstein, October 2, 2013 at 11:03 a.m.

    Judging from this small sample, the resale value of this show's gonna be nil. Thanks for the warnings.

  7. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, October 2, 2013 at 11:25 a.m.

    i hope you do a column on this every week...i missed the show and i think i will use your re-cap instead of watching it.....

  8. Leslie Singer from SingerSalt, October 2, 2013 at 11:35 a.m.

    ...the soundbite I heard where Robin Williams admitted doing the show because 'divorce is expensive' might say it all. And everyone should stop making the assumption that the advertising business is 'zany'. It was zany for about 10 minutes in 1968.

  9. Terry Wall from First Impressions VIdeo, October 2, 2013 at 11:40 a.m.

    Saw the movie "Crazy People" many years ago. Thought it sucked, too, and yet, was better than this groaner! But that's me.......

  10. Bob Paine from The Bob Paine Group, October 2, 2013 at 12:26 p.m.

    I, on the other hand, loved it. Sure the situation, process and view of the industry is off way kilter for the fewer of us who still do this for a living but it's a spot on parody for the general public. My non advertising friends loved it. Very uneven, but remember it was a pilot. Lots had to be crammed in. Hopefully future editions will be even better and tighter.

  11. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, October 2, 2013 at 2:14 p.m.

    While you need to dramatize some of the humdrum of advertising in order to create the drama necessary for entertainment, some level of authenticity gives the audience more reason to believe and care. I didn't see any of it here. The threat of losing a major account that would close your business is not really the great makings for sitcom. Even if Bob Benson does sing.

  12. Adrian Lichter from Adrian Lichter, Inc., October 2, 2013 at 2:42 p.m.

    Anyone remember a Jackie Gleason/Tom Hanks movie from 25 years ago--NOTHING IN COMMON. Pretty realistic agency setting. The best I've seen.

    I was on the set, and they had actual storyboard sketches balled up and thrown in the garbage, as well as cold Chinese food containers on the desks. made me feel at home.

  13. Thomas Siebert from BENEVOLENT PROPAGANDA, October 2, 2013 at 2:46 p.m.

    It was bad, but Robin Williams did make me laugh several times and "Bob Benson" was close to a revelation. Pilots are always rough, so I'll give it a few more chances because I'm rooting for it. But it needs to get sharper, not softer. All the family stuff was sooooo phony and the actual ad business stuff ludicrous. But Robin Williams can make anything pretty funny. Except maybe "Bicentennial Man." Or "Toys." Or "Patch Adams." Uh-oh.

  14. Maarten Albarda from Flock Associates (USA), October 2, 2013 at 5:55 p.m.

    This paragraph is the winner for me: The show is an elegy for so many things: Robin Williams’ career, Sarah Michelle Gellar’s career, network television, the 22-minute sitcom, the 30-second spot, the jingle, and everything else that is becoming history.

    Anyone remember this gem from 1961 (the year I was born...): Sadly, nothing much has changed...

  15. Marla Goldstein from Around The Bend Media, October 2, 2013 at 9:06 p.m.

    I wanted to like it. Oh, how I wanted to like it. Robin Williams fan. David E. Kelley fan. Worked in agencies for a good part of my career. But I just couldn't. It left such a bad taste in my mouth. Sadly, I think it will go on, if only because the competition is weak (NBC, really? Sean Saves The World? Because no).

  16. Barbara Lippert from, October 3, 2013 at 8:19 a.m.

    thanks for the great comments, everyone!
    one thing I left out was that one of the reasons that shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Orange is the New Black, etc. are so great (comprising TV's new golden age) is that they don't have to have a beginning, middle and end with each episode.They can have arcs that extend over 12 episodes. They can get deeper and richer because they don't have to follow the sitcom problem/solution formula. And this show was only 22 min.

  17. Barbara Lippert from, October 3, 2013 at 8:21 a.m.

    Also, there were several references to Mad Men:
    Zach (who knew he could sing! and what an actor), the name, and at one point Buffy gets exasperated with her dad and says, "I feel like jumping out of a window!"

  18. George Parker from Parker Consultants, October 3, 2013 at 5:07 p.m.

    It's a good job "Buffy" wasn't working at DDB, Chicago, otherwise, I would have got the blame. This is the kind of shit that happens when the writers of a show have no idea of the history of the business they are writing about.
    Cheers/George "AdScam" Parker

  19. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 3, 2013 at 7:28 p.m.

    Here's an option: Big Bang, The Millers, DVD'd Parks and Rec, MJ Fox, Elementary.

  20. Jim English from The Met Museum, October 6, 2013 at 11:29 a.m.

    thanks Barbara. Couldn't help thinking of Robin Williams' work with real life daughter, Zelda, for Nintendo video game of same name. Nintendo has history with Leo Burnett, same as McDonald's.

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