HA! didn’t work for MTV Networks (even with the super duper amazing work we did for them). The Comedy Channel didn’t work for HBO. So they merged in CTV: Comedy Television. Obviously, management didn’t have much of an imagination.
HBO insisted that their guy be in charge. And after a decade of success together, MTV Networks insisted that Fred/Alan do the positioning and branding.
I’ve always been obsessed with the way that Motown Records grew from a ghetto Detroit neighborhood by nurturing local talent in their rooming house-turned-soul-hothouse with all the means of production and distribution under one roof (it’s been the way that I’ve nurtured talent in all my businesses), and I thought that CTV should be the same hothouse for comedy. It was a natural. A 24 hour comedy network in the heart of New York City.
Fred/Alan creative director Bill Burnett was the perfect writer to lay out the dream, and completely nailed it. A rock’n’roller turned writer, he was the same age as Alan and me, incubated during the cultural revolution of pop that the Beatles ushered in and Motown thrived in. Based on the form that Alan developed over the years, starting with MTV in 1987, Bill would understand the idea and make it come alive.
Bill’s brand positioning document above put it right out there. But, as you read it you’ll notice he created the notion of setting up a COMEDY CENTRAL to do the talent cultivation keeps coming up over and over again.
CTV management bought the positioning, but more pertinently, they changed the name of the company. They never followed through on almost any of our ideas, but we renamed the network. And after all our successes over the years in developing channel trademarks, the marketing director wanted the glory for himself and ended up with the piece of junk (one man’s opinion, of course) globe they used for 20 years.
Ah well, you can only win some of them.
…..0 comments Tagged: positioning, branding, Comedy Central, marketing, 1991,.
Bill Burnett, co-proprietor of Stretch Media with Debrah Lemattre, and cartoon creator extraordinaire, was the creative director of Fred/Alan back in the day.* A few months ago he sent along these three radio spots for TV Heaven, which ran as paid advertising during the years we had repositioned them as the first oldies TV station in America.
We’ve already posted the fantastic animated VH-1 campaign Bill conceived with Mad Magazine wacked genius Don Martin, and we’ll get some more of his stuff up soon, including his strategy that ended up with his naming Comedy Central.
Bill Burnett writes about the spot on his company’s website, Stretch Media:
“This series of radio spots for TV Heaven 41 in Minnesota are fun.
“We started with an idea inspired by that scene in “The Right Stuff” where John Glenn sees something freaky outside his space ship’s window. From Astronauts we went to Ancient Astronauts….ancient TV Watching Astronauts that is. Explaining through television the many reports of crop circles, mysterious drawings in the valleys of South America, and deciphering ancient ruins like the Sphinx. I wish I could remember the names of the actors who did such a wonderful subtle job with the voices. They were (and I’m sure still are) masters. Play them all and have a heavenly time.”
* Bill was also the creative director at Hanna-Barbera Cartoons during my tenure as the last president of that world famous studio (before Ted Turner sold the company to TIme-Warner). He wrote a phenomenal series of essays about the studio where he positioned the company’s innovative philosophy better than any other time in its history.0 comments Tagged: TV Heaven, radio, advertising, branding, Bill Burnett,.
“I got these from a house cleaning at [Marv Newland’s] International Rocketship. They are layout ideas for the early animated MTV logos back when MTV actually showed music videos all day. I don’t know if these were ever actually animated & aired, but they are cool nonetheless!”
I think a lot of these MTV logos were comped for commercial bumpers for an TV advertising Fred/Alan did in 1989.
“TV or MTV?”
I’ll look around for some of the spots.0 comments Tagged: 1989, MTV logo, advertising, commercials, television, MTV, graphic design, illustration,.
It was a critical time for Nick-at-Nite in the early 1990s. Fred/Alan’s innovation had already defied all odds by running just “reruns” and become one of the top rated cable networks. Better yet the channel was “branded,” which meant that advertisers would pay more for their commercials. But there were only so many ways to re-package and re-present old shows, and we’d pretty much used them all.
We tossed around a lot of stuff, mainly variations of what we were already doing. But more marathons (“See all the black & white “Bewitched” episodes in order!”) or stunts (“The Nick-at-Nite String-a-thon!”) weren’t going to cut it; NAN was already the best in the business at that. Nick-at-Nite needed to do something bigger!
I’d always loved The Dick Van Dyke Show, and we were about to debut it, bringing one of the great classics back to TV for the first time in a long while. It was funny (and 12 year old me had a crush on the young Mary Tyler Moore).
For a long while, I felt like an oldies channel needed a personality. We’d accomplished a lot with packaging and promotion, and over at HA! I tried like crazy to get then to make a deal to use Lucille Ball as “the patron saint of TV comedy,” but no go.
Now, I had a bright idea. Why don’t we actually hire Dick Van Dyke as the Chairman of Nick-at-Nite? He certainly looked the part, with a executive mane of gray hair and an authoritative mustache.
Programming head Herb Scannell (soon to be CEO) upped the ante. He did a little back of a napkin math and realized the idea could be even bigger. “We’ll announce it as a million dollar deal.” Back in the day, there were no big deals being done with name talent, just little hosting gigs here and there. ”Salary, promotion, and programming production commitments, we can swing it.”
Sure enough, the announcement made headlines across the business, and then further, in newspapers across the country. Nick-at-Nite (and cable) was starting to come into its own.
By the way, those people in full dress with Dick up above. A rare clean-up day for the Fred/Alan staff at the industry event announcing Dick’s “promotion” to executive status.
Left to right: Robert Hunter (accounting), Alan Goodman (founder), Bill Burnett (creative director), Dick Van Dyke, Fred Seibert (founder), Bill Horvath (art director), Tom Barreca (account supervisor), Dave Landesburg (account executive), Lou Bauer (media director).
—Fred0 comments Tagged: Dick Van Dyke, NAN, Nick-at-Nite, branding, Bill Burnett,.
On the eve of Fred/Alan’s closing in May of 1992, one of our biggest fans in the press, Adweek columnist Richard Morgan, interviewed us about what he saw as a disheartening event.
MTV AGENCY ELECTS TO DIE BEFORE IT GETS OLD
Fred/Alan, the New York agency behind the MTV look, is closing down this Friday for a myriad of reason. C-founder Fred Seibert found himself too interested to reject all nonagency opportunities, such as the president’s job he recently accepted at Hanna-Barbera. Partner Alan Goodman, already doubling as the executive producer of the month-old Hangin’ with MTV show, has other projects as well. Then, too, Fred/Alan had a knack for winning high volume assignments from low-billing clients.
Mostly, though, Fred/Alan is closing because the agency business did not fulfill its promise — as advertised.
“About a year ago,” Seibert explains, “we can to realize the business we believed existed —you know, the business popularized in the lore and myth of advertising— was gone. We realized that in no way are agencies marketing partners anymore; they’re creative vendors.”
“And as an old-school agency,” partner Goodman interrupts, “we no longer fit in. We’re more the type that works so closely with clients we help invent their products. Even diseases, like athlete’s foot, used to be created by agencies.”
Everybody misses the good ol’ days, but the exit of Fred/Alan, whose oldest partner is 40, is particularly disturbing. After working as the advertising department at MTV, Seibert and Goodman spun themselves free. They were at once seduced by their association with agencies while at MTV and intrigued by what they perceived to be a wide-open niche. Campaigns fo Barq’s, Swatch, Buf Puf, and Nick-at-Nite followed, promising their shop a veritable lock on the youth market. Fred/Alan’s youthful orientation was so convincing that three years ago I wrote:
“It’s surprising something like [Fred/Alan] didn’t happen sooner… While boomers continue to move through life’s timeline like the proverbial pig in a python, the original TV generation gives way to other TV generations. They’ll have taken over, no doubt, at a time when big agencies are still stuck with leadership weaned on print.”
I was, at best, half-right. As for the industry at large, Fred/Alan sees total denial. “Until two years ago,” Seibert says, “the TV networks paid the same exorbitant amounts for their shows and ordered the same limos. Then they woke up and realized their world didn’t exist anymore. Well, the agency business is going to wake up and realize that it, too, has been pretending.”
Such is the future, as seen by Fred/Alan. It differs from conventional wisdom in that it attributes Madison Avenue’s glorious past to a dearth of marketing skills at the client. It’s rooted in a time when clients consisted of sales-and-manufacturing teams that let their agencies run wild. That all changed in the 60’s, however, as clients took on marketing responsibilities themselves. “They no longer entrusted such an important function to an outside party,” Seibert says.
Seibert contends the change was hardly noticed, obscured in part by the 60’s creative revolution. Besides, who cared when the explosion in television rates served agencies well as it served the networks? Agencies took marketing direction from clients almost as gladly as they too commissions.
Somewhere along the way, Seibert says, agencies became “no different than a free-lance writer/art director team. The client set a strategy and gave it to them, and they fulfilled it. If the client didn’t like how they fulfilled it they gave it to another team. Then another. But that’s how a real partnership works.” The agency/client relationship has since taken on so many vendor-like traits, Seibert adds, it’s completely acceptable to “blow an agency off just because it doesn’t take you skiing.”
That’s not to say there weren’t clues along the way. For starters, Fred/Alan recalls producing 100 commercials a year before calling itself an agency. The principals, acting as strategic/creative consultants at the time, pitched all of their ideas without storyboards. “We’d simply go in and act it out, just like in those stupid old movies,” Seibert says. But the day Fred/Alan changed its designation to agency, the same people at the same clients started demanding storyboards. “You’re an agency now,” they’d say.
Other clients, while pleased with Fred/Alan the consultancy, started looking for excuses to fire Fred/Alan the agency. It was, quite simply, their way with agencies. One went so far as to jettison the relationship immediately, citing his policy never to work with agencies. “For him,” Seibert says, “an agency meant layers of bureaucratic nonsense.”
As it leaves the business, still believing the function of advertising is as vital as ever (even if the agencies aren’t), Fred/Alan relishes shaking things up as much as it did. Weiden & Kennedy, the hottest shop going, admits openly to stealing from MTV, which in essence is stealing from Fred/Alan. The sad thing is that the optimism that continues to propel W&K is depleted at the source of influence. Of Fred/Alan’s 30 disbanding workers, only one is seeking his next job in a traditional agency.0 comments Tagged: closing, self promotion,.
Few designers understood Fred/Alan’s approach to television network logos as well as our first non-Fred, non-Alan creative director, Noel Frankel.
Our point of view started to form after Frank Olinsky of Manhattan Design brought in the first iteration of the last presentation on the MTV logo. He thought that every usage of the logo (for shows, posters, ads, etcetera) should have a different illustrative approach. We then pushed that idea further and came up with the thought that there could be different logo variations working right next to each other in one piece. In a world where print designers were hired to come up with a trademark, and then motion graphic designers were brought in to “make it move,” Fred/Alan felt that television had become the primary platform for design, so the marks needed to take this fact into account. Build motion into the initial composition, don’t add it afterwards. Our feeling was that you could freeze any frame of our moving logos and use it as a print graphic. Tom Corey and Scott Nash at Corey, McPherson, Nash picked up on this as soon as we started working together, and embedded it into the Nickelodeon and Lifetime logos they did for us. Besides, we felt that a corporate logo would have hundreds of people messing with it anyway, so if we could come up with a way that each designer who worked with it over time could “own” their own designs, the usage of it would be exponentially more exciting.
Noel brought a level of conceptual and executional sophistication to the process that peaked with HA! A bit of background is in order.
In 1989, HBO announced The Comedy Channel as a basic cable offering that was meant to compete formatically and demographically with MTV. Having learned from Ted Turner’s Cable Music Channel that the best defense is a strong offense, MTV Networks quickly announced it’s own comedy network. Given our deep relationship as the original branders-in-chiefs for the company —and the incredible importance of brand establishment at this stage in cable television’s history— Fred/Alan was brought in immediately.*
Naming was the first challenge. Nickelodeon was named before there was even a company (or we would have come up with a better name), and naming MTV and VH-1 were completely driven by Bob Pittman’s focused leadership. So, for MTV Network’s comedy network the best creative minds in a highly creative company generated 400 names, no one could make a decision, so they asked us to come up with a name. Never ones to waste our time with a client who wouldn’t make up their minds, we decided the better part of valor would be to pick one from their list and sell it hard. HA!** was on the list, we loved it, and MTVN paid us a fortune to spend weeks convincing them a name on their own list was best. (So goes the game in corporate America.)
Noel took it from there. He came up with an approach that allowed anyone who laughed to potentially be part of the network identity. A shouted “HA!” could emanate from anyone’s mouth, photographic or illustrative, and that would keep it fresh and allow for hundreds of fun network IDs.
Time was tight and the network needed to be on air by April 1, 1990 (get it?), a schedule twice as quick as the launch of MTV in 1981. Fred/Alan relied on producers we’d been working with over the past decade to produce the network ID packages, and they all jumped aboard and did some great work.
For those of you following our IDs for various networks during the 80s, most of these 10 second films won’t surprise. They were all good, but pay particular attention to the ones Drew Takahashi directed for his company (Colossal) Pictures (the X spots at the beginning of the compilation above). Always looking to innovate, Drew moved us away from the traditional 2D animation his company had done for us in the past and towards his passion of exploiting the then unique combination of video and computers. His pieces take the fun of Noel’s design and mashes them up with a number of television conventions from the vacuum tube days. Via early MacIntosh computers.
HA! TV Comedy Network
Network identity IDs
Logo design: Noel Frankel
Production: Drew Takahashi/(Colossal) Pictures SF, Alex Weil/Charlex NY, Marv Newland/International Rocketship Vancouver BC
* No, HA! doesn’t exist anymore. Neither does the Comedy Channel. After two years of slugging it out with each other, they merged into Comedy Central (named by Fred/Alan’s Bill Burnett) as of April 1, 1991.
** The one hiccup in the clearance for the name was that Jim Henson had trademarked Ha! (executed in a Bodoni bold) for his company Henson Associates. Gerry Laybourne from Nickelodeon negotiated with Jim to make it work out.0 comments Tagged: 1990, Corey McPherson Nash, HA!, MTV Networks, Manhattan Design, Network IDs, branding, cable, logo, television, Comedy Central,.
13 second video jingle VH-1 from fredseibert on Vimeo.
It seemed like a good idea at the time. This was the network that had my clearest fingerprints all over it, and ultimately became one of the list of reasons I had for leaving the business. In any event, the era of the early 90s remains a personal favorite of mine. But, of course, I’m biased (or maybe it’s just my age).
No one knew what to do with VH-1.
“Video Hits One” didn’t work.
“The Other Music Television” didn’t work.
And “Baby Boomers Deserve Their Own Channel” didn’t work.
Time for some Fred/Alan rebranding.
Tom Freston and I were having a rare sit down outside the office one day in late 1990 lamenting what had crashed and burned at VH-1. Launched as a “fighting brand” to Ted Turner in 1985, the channel had limped along never quite finding it’s way. Don’t know what came over me —maybe it was the continuing strength of our hit invention at Nick-at-Nite— but I blurted out that the “solution” to VH-1 was oldies.
“Music video is just about 10 years old, so the oldest generation of video fans is already between 35 and 45 years old, VH-1’s target. These people have no interest in the newest hair bands, they want to hear the music they already liked and fit it into a soundtrack of their lives. And this generation were teenagers smack dab towards the end of fast talking DJs and zippity jingles. Let’s remix the golden age of Top 40 radio and MTV and turn the channel into ‘VH-1! The Greatest Hits!! of Music Video!!!‘”
I’m not sure what came over Tom either, because he enthusiastically agreed and immediately cleared the way with management. We brought in a leading programming consultant, Fred Jacobs, who enthusiastically took to the idea and brought a lot of great ideas. We walked the entire staff through our point of view, and the reasoning behind it. As usual with a big organization, some people embraced the idea fully, and others were left grumbling (it wasn’t exactly the hippest solution, and MTV Networks was screaming with hipsters).
Creatively we went right to work, because there was a lot to do, and not much of a budget to do it with (remember, it’s not like the channel was in the greatest shape). The format was going to be like “hit radio”, with lots of announcer breaks (voice over only, no more VJs that no one liked), a half dozen “promise” tags (the station slogans), and, for me at least, the most fun was going to be using authentic Top 40 style radio jingles (more later). I enlisted Rowe Jones (we’d worked together on TV Heaven) to do an ungodly amount of daily work for us from his Florida studio; he would write, announce, and produce all the daily copy, and he became the voice of the network.
The jingles were going to be an interesting puzzle. No one on television had taken the 30 year, iconic sounds of hit radio and translated them, and while I thought the sound would be a slam dunk, the visuals were another matter entirely. At Fred/Alan we always thought the most provocative “look” of a network was actually driven through the aural passages, that television was, in fact, as much as an audio medium as visual. I went right the best source in the world, Jonathan and Mary Wolfert’s JAM Creative Productions in Dallas, Texas. Jon was crazy for the idea, and once we settled a few union singer residual issues, he dove right in, taking our dozen tags (from “the greatest hits!! of music video!!!” to “a-nother ow-er! of video pow-er!!!”) and constructing a classic sound with a totally 90s feel.
The video was trickier because what was a “video jingle” anyway? No one had done it before. Perceptual distinction was called for, certainly, but what did that mean? We went to two innovators for the answers. VMA winner Alex Weil at Charlex and Academy Award winner Zbigniew Rybczynski of Zbigvision. And over the Christmas/New Year’s holiday of 1990/91 they bum rushed the execution of flawless packaging for this sort of new channel.
Basically, the gig was like this: we had a number of different jingles, from three second “stingers” to 10+ second full chorus pieces. Both directors would use the exact same tracks, but lay over hundreds of video variations. There wasn’t exactly a budget for all that, but Alex and Zbig would develop a certain number foreground action with singers, dancers, and actors, and green screen as many backgrounds as could be afforded.
Fred/Alan IDs: VH-1 jingles by Charlex from fredseibert on Vimeo.
Charlex founders Charlie Levi and Alex Weil burst onto the scene with their 1984 sweep of the first VMAs (with Jeff Stein and my wife-to-be-10-years-later) for The Cars’ “You Might Think.” High profile assignments for SNL and Fred/Alan soon followed. We were all about the same age with parallel backgrounds and cultural influences (I knew we were in exactly the right place at our first meeting when Charlie made a crack about Fred Flintstone; very rare in the advertising world that someone would go so lowbrow). Fred/Alan actually became the Charlex ad agency in the late 80s. Nickelodeon, Myers’s Rum, and HA! saw some pretty good Fred/Alan-Charlex collabs, and we all had a great time doing it.
Alex Weil was the consummate confederate for VH-1. He had an awesome pop sensibility, but sometimes he wanted to think he was more sophisticated than that. A perfect conflict. And the clash was superbly matched to these jingles. Alex took to them in a heartbeat, reveling in the casting process and the dozens of different mix & match backgrounds he was going to put together with the logos.
My favorite accidental casting came about when Alan saw 1990s Miss Soviet Union and her runner up, beautiful blondes both, on David Letterman’s Late Night and got them over to Charlex the next day (the spot are in the package above). I’m sure they (or their handlers) had absolutely no idea what was going on or what they were lip syncing, but they were VH-1 stars for the next three years.
Fred/Alan IDs: VH-1 jingles by Zbigvision from fredseibert on Vimeo.
Filmmaker Zbigniew Rybczynski was a surprise 1983 Oscar winner for his animated short “Tango and immediately picked shorts assignments for Lorne Michaels’ “The New Show” (where we were introduced by Colossal Pictures’ Lidia Przyluska) and then a whole passel of innovative conceptual music videos and films. Always pushing envelopes with technical R&D, by 1990 Zbig was one of the first directors dedicated to video composing using (then) rare HD video cameras from Sony.
Watching Zbig plan a shoot was a fascinating and often confusing experience. He didn’t make conventional storyboards, preferring to map out the mathematical components of his vision on graph paper. The VH-1 one project was no different. Polish born, he didn’t have any of the nostalgic feelings for the Top 40 style radio jingles that Alex, Alan, or I had; I’ve no idea if he even knew what they were. So, his vision was starker and weirder, not one bit pop (at least not what I was familiar with; people in potato sacks or pajama onsies?). But, the way we figured it, we had plenty of pop with Charlex, and the pieces were just a few seconds each. No one could really have enough time to hate them.
By the time he was done, I found Zbig’s pieces mesmerizing.
Alas, “The Greatest Hits!! of Music Video!!!” was destined to be another in the long line of losing formats for VH-1. Our ratings improved dramatically for a little while (as all new VH-1 formats seemed to do) but really just sputtered along for most of it’s time on the air. I’m not exactly sure why it didn’t work, except that maybe our timing was off by maybe 15 years or so (music videos are the most popular film form on YouTube, the world most popular video player by a factor of 10), and it didn’t help that management was only going along because they’d been order to do so. Within a year they were continually undermining it, putting in their hipster touches all over the place. So, ultimately, it was, at best, an idea out of time, and at worst, just plain wrong. John Sykes came into the channel in 1994, hated (hated) the Greatest Hits, and instituted his “Music First” format. It crapped out too.
December 26, 1990 & January 4, 1991
Jingles produced by JAM Creative Productions, Dallas, Texas
Videos produced & directed by Alex Weil @ Charlex, NYC, and Zbigniew Rybczynski of Zbigvision, Hoboken, NJ
VH-1 logo: Scott Miller & Myles Tanaka
Executive Producers: Alan Goodman & Fred Seibert, Fred/Alan, Inc., New York
…..0 comments Tagged: VH-1, branding, Network IDs, 1991, VH1, Video Hits, MTV networks,.
Design by Tom Corey & Scott Nash
We actually started Fred/Alan to make television shows.
In fact, we quit our jobs at MTV Networks to produce a series at the Playboy Channel. But, after that debacle branding and marketing took a higher bill paying priority for a while. There were some big and small shows here and there, but it wasn’t until 1987 we decided to hit it head on.
Albie Hecht, 1988 @ 277 Water Street; Photography by Elena Seibert
Albie Hecht was one of Alan’s closest friends, we all went to college together, and worked at WKCR. Like us, he’d worked in the music business as a record company executive, writer, and manager (Crack the Sky and Dean Friedman) but morphed into television, starting to establish his reputation. Our company was becoming a full service advertising agency, and we realized if we brought Albie in to run the agency’s commercial production, we could have our cake and eat it too. We set up a joint venture, and Albie took on the task of establishing us in series and specials production. Albie and Alan took the lead on all our shows.
Chauncey Street Productions was named after the street Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton lived on in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn in The Honeymooners (Fred/Alan’s original home was Jackie Gleason’s production office in Manhattan). We asked Corey McPherson Nash to adapt The Honeymooners print work we’d done for Showtime when they reran the show for our logo.
We had a good run. Despite all the scripts that never sold (par for the course), our series ran on MTV, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, AMC. Pilots and specials for CBS, A&E, and VH-1. More on these another time.0 comments Tagged: Albie Hecht, Chauncey Street, business card, Scott Nash, Tom Corey,.
Len Fischman & Alan Goodman, Fred/Alan, 870 7th Avenue,1987
Walking to work yesterday (2010) through Union Square in Manhattan, I was more than happy to run into Len Fischman, Fred/Alan’s print production manager from the late 1980’s until we closed in 1992. Smiling as usual, he was on the way to his post retirement gig guiding people around the World Trade center site.
Len really saved our bacon. As we transitioned from television branding consultants to a full service agency, Alan and I were eager to do more print, but we knew nothing about the process of getting a design out the door on time and on budget. Our friend, printer’s rep Jerry Edelman, introduced us to Len, and with a hand that was both gentle and stern, he toughened us up to the realities of keeping our clients happy while continuing to do good work. He was quite a bit older than all of us, and honestly, I think a lot of the time he wondered what the hell he was doing in a place that was so clearly inexperienced. But for us, it was great to have him as a guiding force.
Running into Len reminded me of good times and the excitement of learning new things. Thanks guy.