There are a few changes I'd really like to see in the new year. I'm not talking about New Year's resolutions. I learned a long time ago that I'm no good at keeping them and, by mid-February, I find myself riddled with guilt and self-recrimination. I am, however, really good at thinking up things that OTHER people ought to do to make the world a better place. Because it's winter and I have lately succumbed to the temptation to dabble in the couch-potato lifestyle, I have been watching more television than I have at any other time in my life. This is no great intellectual strain, though I do manage to exercise my hands by manipulating the remote in search of something that might activate my funny-bone or exercise my mind.
For starters, I'm bitterly disappointed at the reception I get through that converter box that held out so much promise of better reception − if not better program content. The reception is lousy. Programs tend to break up at critical moments or disappear all together. And I seem to have traded one of the major networks for some station that runs nothing but old movies; really bad old movies. My favorite “new” station broadcasts things like “The Rockford Files,” “Simon and Simon,” “Knight Rider” and others that I didn't have time to watch the first time around. Aside from the nostalgic fun of revisiting some of my long-time favorite programs from an era when TV actually entertained us, I find the commercials to be perversely intriguing. They're so awful. Years ago, advertisers actually made clever commercials– commercials we paid attention to because they were inventive, eye-catching, even funny.
A good, effective commercial is one that grabs your attention and pulls you in to the extent that you forget you're watching a sales pitch. A good commercial is written, choreographed, rehearsed, performed and filmed by professionals, edited and refined. There are far too many do-it-yourself commercials on the air. These “Mom and Pop” ads turn me off for a couple of reasons. First, if you are making your own commercial, please don't have your teen-aged daughter, your 8-year-old son, your mother-in-law, your best friend, your favorite customer or yourself in it. Not unless you or they are professional actors. Non-professionals tend to talk too fast, too softly, too insincerely. Children, especially, mumble and recite rather than act. They are totally unconvincing, even if you should manage to understand what it is they're saying. Just because they're your kids or grandkids, and just because they are cute, adorable, or winsome in your eyes, it doesn't follow that I'm going to agree and be fascinated by what amounts to a home movie.
Another piece of advice would be to hold off on the carnival-spiel commercial. Hire an actor, not a potato-peeler salesman who would be more suited for a booth at the county fair. A close relative, the used-car salesman type, is just as tiresome in a television commercial. In other words, I wouldn't let these guys into my living room and I don't want to see them on my living room television.
Probably my all-time most detested commercials are the ones where the pouty young girl complains about her dead-end, boring, underpaid job and has to be prodded to attend Such and Such College to take a course in criminal justice or the health care industry. I especially despair at that paper-doll cut-out Lisa who goes through her paper-doll wardrobe changes and ends up with a career in health care, purple scrubs, and what appears to be a droopy mustache and goatee. I know it's just the shadows in an unfortunate photograph, but you'd think someone would have bothered to get a better picture.
There are only a few people who can do anything about these awful commercials, and I don't suppose my criticism will change things much but, just in case you are contemplating making a commercial for your business, or if you've been offered the opportunity to perform in one, bear in mind that I'm not alone. There are a lot of us out here who would rather go back to the days of Mr. Whipple, Mrs. Olsen and the Alka-Seltzer tummies.