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Appreciation: Local TV Commercials I Have Known and Loved (Despite Themselves)

While watching the morning TV news yesterday, I thought of local TV commercials. They are getting to be a rare breed these days, given the rise of the Internet as a marketing medium, and the nationalization/globalization of TV watching (both on “regular” TV and online). I have lived in a number of large cities, each with its share of home-grown commercials. No slick productions or fancy computer graphics here — just sincere local businesses trying to get your money. Here are some of my favorite local TV commercials from years past, perfect for this Throwback Thursday.

As a kid growing up in Detroit, Maurice Lazar, owner of Belvedere Construction, was a fixture on the family TV set in his guise of “Mr. Belvedere”. This 1984 commercial is the oldest one I could find, but if you ask anyone who grew up in Detroit during the 1960s or 1970s, they know about these commercials. I’m sure there are some people who, although they can’t remember their own phone number, remember Mr. Belvedere’s – TYler 8-7100.

I hope you noted the near-Method delivery of Mr. Belvedere’s lines, as well as the au courant wood paneling in the background.

Later, when I lived in Chicago, TV was a refuge from the stresses of graduate studies. Chicago did not lack for uh, interesting local commercials. Here’s one from Moo and Oink, a meat market chain that featured the beloved mascots Moo the cow and Oink the pig.

Although the Moo and Oink stores are closed, Best Chicago Meat bought the trademarks, including the iconic pig and cow. Moo and Oink products are now on grocery shelves in areas surrounding Chicago. Don’t know if they’ll resurrect the commercials though…

Along the way, I lived in the Washington, DC area. At first, I couldn’t think of an old local commercial that played in DC. So I did a search for “old DC TV commercials” on YouTube. The first one that came up was for Mr. Ray’s Hair Weave! I definitely remember these commercials, and passing by the shop when driving home on Georgia Avenue. I didn’t see a line of people with hair problems outside, clamoring for Mr. Ray’s services, though…

Crazy Gideon was L.A.’s answer to the infamous New York City purveyor of cheap, crappy electronics, Crazy Eddie. But Gideon, who at times could be incomprehensible even to polyglot Angelenos, had a style all his own.

Recent gentrification of eastern downtown Los Angeles doomed Crazy Gideon’s, but the Yelp reviews of his store (and commercials) are still with us. These reviews are as bizarre as the commercials were!

What’s your favorite old or new local TV commercial?

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REDESIGNED LOBO CAUSING SOME HACK AND SLASH BACKLASH

From Bill:

Like most people out there, lots of negative harsh words are being said about the newest redesign of DC’s 80’s classic cult favorite comic book character LOBO, which made its debut in September during the publisher’s “Villains Month” campaign. The creative team behind it, consisting of Marguerite Bennett, Ben Oliver, Cliff Richards and Daniel Brown, have been getting lots of angry emails about taking the machismo out of the Main Man. Here’s DC Comics Editor-in-Chief Bob Harrass on the change:

“The Lobo you’ve seen so far in the New 52 is not who you think he is. In this one-shot, you’ll be introduced to the real Lobo. A ruthless killer, Lobo is on a quest to kill the man who has taken his name. In this design, Ken updated Lobo’s facial tattoos and weaponry by adding laser edges to his blades and gloves that’ll give him extra strength with their mechanical usage. In the end, Ken transformed Lobo into a lean, mean killing machine.”

But in the end, it’s up to you to decide which one’s the better of the two. As for me, there’s only one obvious choice.

Watching Mike Nichols' The Graduate (1967) on Netflix

An Appreciation: Mike Nichols (1931-2014)

I know that this is a bit of a departure from the usual topics here at Pop Rocking Culture, as well as a bit late, but I wanted to write about the late director Mike Nichols.  Nichols passed away earlier this month at the age of 83.  Among other things, Nichols attended the University of Chicago, although he dropped out to pursue an acting career.  (As an aside, I have a degree from the U of C.  Over the years, I’ve noticed that the University of Chicago, like Harvard, is one of those places where the dropouts are as famous as the grads.) Nichols had a successful career as part of a comedy duo with Elaine May during the late 1950s and early 1960s.

But when I think of Mike Nichols, I think of a couple of my favorite movies:  The Graduate (1967) and Postcards from the Edge (1990).  To me, The Graduate is one of the rare movies that is better than the source book.  Mike Nichols’ directing gave The Graduate a needed lighter, more comedic touch (Nichols received an Academy Award for Best Director).  The casting was also a great contribution to the movie’s success.  Much has been mentioned about Dustin Hoffman’s replacing the originally-intended Robert Redford in the part of Benjamin Braddock.  Hoffman, with his earnest, somewhat naive persona and his “average guy” looks, made the character of Braddock sympathetic.  As Nichols eventually realized, it would have been more difficult to get an audience to sympathize with a circa-1967 Robert Redford.  And although Anne Bancroft still played Mrs. Robinson as the self-absorbed predator of the book, her comic timing in the scenes with Hoffman rendered her somewhat likable.

Postcards from the Edge is based on Carrie Fisher’s semi-autobiographical novel.  (An aside for those of you who only think of Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia, go read Postcards.) Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine play daughter and mother (based on Fisher’s real-life mother, Debbie Reynolds) in the film.  Although Postcards the movie isn’t as good as the book, it’s still pretty funny.  The interplay between Streep and MacLaine is classic, and puts a humorous spin on an otherwise tense relationship.  (For those who care, this film passes the Bechdel Test.)  And watch for the bit where Streep “hangs from a building” during a movie shoot.

Mike Nichols also worked with Meryl Streep on the great, but very serious, Silkwood (1983) as well as the comedy Heartburn (1986), adapted from Nora Ephron’s semi-autobiographical novel (yes, another one) about the dissolution of her marriage to famed journalist Carl Bernstein.  In Heartburn, as in The Graduate, casting plus directing are key elements.  The last time movie audiences saw the character of Carl Bernstein, he was portrayed by a still “earnest and somewhat naïve” Dustin Hoffman in All the President’s Men (1976).  Casting Jack Nicholson as the “Bernstein character” is a 180 degree shift from the earlier film.  Although, like Postcards, Heartburn the movie doesn’t measure up to the book, Nichols’ direction makes it entertaining.

I think that because of his earlier work with Elaine May, Mike Nichols the director had an awareness of women as “real people”, and therefore was able to bring forth fully-formed female performances.  I am sure that it wasn’t hard to do when working with good source materials such as Postcards and Heartburn. However, Nichols’ directing abilities were apparent when it came to fleshing-out the relatively flat character of Mrs. Robinson, as well as later on with the more challenging real-life personas of Karen Silkwood and her friend Dolly Pelliker in Silkwood (screenplay co-written by Nora Ephron and Alice Arlen).

With Nichols’ death, Hollywood has lost a true talent.