Before Fred/Alan, Alan and I worked together in college radio, independent production, and eventually at MTV. Our most visible work there was the branding (before any of us called it “branding,” including the now iconic MTV logo.
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.
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.
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."
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.
"What next?" was the theme of the out-of-office meeting that Nickelodeon President Gerry Laybourne called with her staff. Alan and I were specially invited guests.
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).
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.
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 Winter 1990
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Poor VH-1. Conceived in a competitive fervor, less because anyone in the audience actually wanted it, more because MTV Networks couldn’t let Ted Turner grab their business. No one at the company really wanted it to succeed, under the mistaken impression that there were only so many people interested in video music (a claim backed up by research that was ill conceived, maybe on purpose). Don’t lose too much money, please break even, and the job was done.
The MTVN operators worked hard to convince itself that there was a consumer demand for the network. After all, wasn’t MTV just a rock radio station on steroids. And didn’t a more adult audience reject rock radio for more mellow music. And besides, the record industry was begging MTVN for so many favors that MTV could not fulfill them all and keep its business on track. VH-1 could serve a multitude of useful purposes.
Fred/Alan was there at it’s inception and played a pivotal role for three more makeovers during the next seven years.
In the first big change since launch at the beginning of 1985, we were convinced that VH-1 needed to sharpen its message and its target audience. Stake a claim. Self centered baby boomers that we were, it seemed obvious to us that there was an opportunity to be obvious about it, and that VH-1 was the perfect place for our obviousness.
Noel Frankel had started working with Fred/Alan as a freelance copywriter and art director, and persuaded us to become our full time creative director with two campaigns that had completely opposite affects. The Nick-at-Nite print campaign piggy backed on the twisted, successful strategy we’d used on-air to establish America’s first oldies TV network. He conceived these VH-1 ads, and the TV spots that accompanied them, using the high key photography of the famous Art Kane to provide a sophisticated attitude that VH-1 needed to have to attract our audience.
It was a good campaign. Unfortunately, VH-1 refused to support it was a network that had a focused point of view. Viewers continued to reject the channel, and within a year or two we were onward and upward to yet another “re-branding.”
We never did too much actual advertising for Mosaic Records. They’d done quite a bit before Fred/Alan got involved with the company and it didn’t really pay off for them. Besides, our catalogs were growing their business pretty well organically. So, it was pretty hard to convince them to spend their hard earned money to experiment a little.
Our strategy was pretty simple. The New York Times was the print medium that got them the most new orders in the world. And, NYT also got a lot of lift for other, quality direct response products.
Marty Pekar was the only advertising copywriter Mosaic trusted other than Alan. And besides being a recorded music fanatic, he had a good knack with direct response ads. (There’s a real skill. Each word counts towards convincing someone to actually order, and if it doesn’t… get rid of it. Seriously.)
The advertising worked really well. Though the exact number of orders generated has been lost to the sands of time, we can report that every placement was profitable for Mosaic Records, and added hundreds of regular customers to their catalog mailing lists.
Jazz singer and crooner Tony Bennett completely revived his career with his 1995 appearance on Unplugged. But, it was Fred/Alan that awakened Tony’s and MTV’s interest in each other in 1988. I think it was a great, funny spot, just right for the network.
This commercial was the first spot we did as a full service agency, the slickest and most expensive we’d ever done, and awakened me to the possibility that this was the beginning of the end of the game, and that I hated being part of, no less owning, an advertising agency.
To make a long story short, Alan and I had happily, productively, operated Fred/Alan as a boutique company with five employees, where we consulted on high level branding assignments of cable media properties like Nickelodeon, Nick-at-Nite, and MTV, and produced everything from promo spots to television shows. In late 1987, everything changed when Nickelodeon asked us to up the ante and become their full service ad agency, and MTV soon followed suit. Since neither of us had actually worked in an agency (though for years we’d made a lot of advertising and been agency clients) we started hiring experienced creatives, account managers, and media buyers. Strike one.
Our first big creative hire, Noel Frankel, was (is) an amazing copywriter and art director. At Fred/Alan he was directly responsible for some of our great campaigns for Nick-at-Nite and VH-1. He came up with this spot utilizing the iconic "I Want My MTV!" of LPG/Pon and Alan’s 1987 positioning of the network “TV or MTV?” and mashing it up with Tony singing adapted lyrics from Cole Porter's “I Concentrate on You,” an unabashedly old school standard from the Great American Songbook. I was nervous; we’d never licensing anything for anything at MTV and the cost was probably going to be in five figures. Noel assured me, “If the client likes it, they’ll pay for it.” Sure, I guess, but it’s not the way we were used to doing business. Alan and I always worked as if it was our own money.
Alan and I hired our old friend, the amazing arranger Garry Sherman (sure he did all the classic Coke jingles, but also everything from the original “Good Lovin’" to Steely Dan to Midnight Cowboy) to prep the music.* We’d misunderstood a joke of Noel’s and made the track too contemporary. Strike two.
To bring the spot home we hired two more friends. Robert Small and Jim Burns were Robert Small Entertainment, and they’d design the production and Robert would direct. The entire set was built, beautifully I should add, Tony was on stage ready to shoot, when I get a call from Noel at the shoot.
"The floor’s no good. We need a shiny floor."
Oh no, how much will that cost?
We’d never spent more than $20,000 on a whole promo campaign. Now we were approaching $100,000 for one spot alone.
"Don’t worry. The client will pay for it all!"
I called Tom Freston and Bobby Friedman at MTV. They approved the floor.
* An interesting, funny, sad aside. By the end of 1980’s the era of the live studio musician had almost come to an end for commercials. Instead of a two day $25,000 arrangement and $25,000 orchestra, people like Garry were taking a full week creating finished tracks on synthesizers and getting $5000.
When it came time to shoot the spot, we realized that actors playing musicians in the orchestra behind Tony would look phony, since they didn’t actually know how to play music. But, we could hire real musicians (of which there were plenty available, since there wasn’t much work anymore) as extras (Garry played the conductor), and believe it or not, they were cheaper to book than actors. A real shame.
A bunch of the Alan and Fred story —at MTV (and Nickelodeon, for that matter)— happened before Fred/Alan, from 1980 until early 1983. If you’re interested, Fred’s covering some of it over on his personal blog.
Bill Burnett started at Fred/Alan in 1987 as a hilarious freelance copywriter, eventually becoming our creative director (and he went on to write and create cartoons for Fred in Hollywood). From his blog (check it out to see both spots, and more), here’s Bill’s take on a great campaign he created for us and our client VH-1:
One of the high points of my career was in 1988, when Don Martin, “Mad Magazine’s Maddest Artist”, agreed to make a series of ads with me at Fred/Alan Inc.You have to understand, I idolized Don Martin. I was that kid who snuck Mad Magazine into class and covered it with a Moby Dick book cover. And Don Martin was one of my favorites. With his geeky characters whose feet folded over the curb and his uncanny sense of absurdist slapstick, he cracked me up over and over.
So, there I was, charged with creating a campaign for VH-1 that would position the network as an MTV for baby boomers. What better way to accomplish that than to invoke the boomer’s bible–Mad Magazine? To the best of my knowledge we are the only people who have ever made an animated film of Don Martin’s cartoons, either for commercials or pure entertainment value. That makes these spots pretty special.
I just took a spin around the web and found that there IS a guy in Brazil who has been doing some decent Don Martin animations . You can find them by Googling “Don Martin Animation”. It’s not clear to me that he did them with Don’s blessing, but they’re kind of fun. (We did our spots with Don’s complete participation.) And apparently there was an unaired Mad Magazine special that contains an animated Don Martin cartoon.
Still, I think our ads are unique in that they remained true to the spirit of the master and also delivered a strong marketing message. These ads spoke to the prevailing thirty-something sense of living with stress and anxiety and troubled times, and the corresponding feeling of entitlement. “After all you’ve been through, you deserve your own channel.” Don’t we all feel that way? We’ve all been through a lot. We DO deserve our own channels. And with the Internet exploding into niches the way it is, we’ll each have our own channel before too long.
"Please forward the $300. My wife is spending money faster than I can earn it."
From the moment Fred/Alan started doing MTV’s advertising in 1988 we’d wanted to create a print campaign that would capture the feeling of change and surprise we’d been able to inject into the on-air identity from the first seconds of the channel.
Finally, in 1990 our clients agreed to a consumer advertising in Rolling Stone magazine, which eventually would run across two years. Their (then) large scale format was perfect and we were able to commission some amazing artists to participate; to contrast our photographic music trade campaign (and emphasize our identity roots), illustration was the primary medium. Our excellent art director Tom Godici picked all the art* (with some kibbitzing from the sidelines) from both sides of the generational divide, with a mix of household names, ad biz faves, and soon-to-be’s.
Our favorite story from this campaign involved Robert Crumb. Generally, Tom would contact the artists personally, tell them something about the campaign, and emphasize we’d want their take on our headline “Just when you think you know what it is… it’s MTV.” Our only request —it was optional, and most didn’t— was that the MTV logo would be included. Crumb’s representative told us to send over some of the other artists’ work and that he’d send it over to Crumb in France, but that it was extremely unlikely he’d participate. Tom dutifully packed up the stuff with a personal letter telling Crumb we knew he hated contemporary music but we loved his work.
Months later the package was mailed back, seemingly unopened. Sure enough, the original contents spilled out, to all appearances, unread. But Tom’s eyed popped when along with all the other stuff flies out an old, yellow edged piece of onion skin typing paper with a Crumb drawing (the one up above) and a note.
"Please forward the $300. My wife is spending money faster than I can earn it."
So, 1990 rolled around, nine years we’d been developing and executing MTV’s DIY, low-fi style. It was time for a change and a music business trade magazine campaign was just the place; Billboard, Hits, maybe Cashbox. The music industry had begun to take the network for granted, assuming it was just their amazing artists(!) that was responsible for the boom in sales. F/A creative director Noel Frankel directed the first ad with Winger, and then art director took the helm for the rest. A classy, quality, photographic look, black & white, featuring top artists of the day, and lyrics from their top recording.
This commercial is Alan and all his talents at their best.
Our great friend and colleague from MTV, Nancy Kadner, had bought me a Swatch when they were first imported in 1983. Two years later Max Imgrueth had set up a US office and she was running marketing. Since Swatch’s approach was essentially the same as MTV’s ever changing logo she sensed a good fit and we started plotting some stuff together. We’d loved Swatch’s first TV commercial for MTV with The Fat Boys, and when Nancy and her colleague Steve Rechtshaffner intro’d us to their manager Charlie Stettler it was a lovefest, and we became friends for three decades.
Charlie was a complete character. A Swiss national in New York City, he’d embraced hip-hop early and completely. Putting the two together for Swatch’s first Amercan commercial, he made a fee-free deal that would insure his trio national television exposure at a time when MTV refused to program hip-hop. Two years later, Swatch wanted to make a spot for their limited edition Christmas watch, Nancy, Steve, and Charlie asked Fred/Alan to create it.
Up until that point we’d only done media promotion, never anything for an actual, physical product, so we took the assignment seriously. As seriously as you could with an act that weighed almost a ton between them. Alan, our resident writer and director, constructed a spot that fused the hip-hop spirit of improvisation and the slickness of TV. The bit with the couple on the couch being interrupted by Buffy, the Human Beatbox was scripted. The “Swatch” shouts and the rap bed were improvised in the back of the shooting stage. Alan constructed the track and the graphics in the video studio in post-production.
As Alan recalls the shoot: “I remember only that Buffy had no underwear and we had to stitch two pair together; that I experienced the ultimate director humility when, with me four inches from his face directing him in the scene, I watched as his eyes settled and closed and he fell asleep (hey, it was after lunch and he was taking ‘antibiotics’); and that I had no idea what the track would be or how to end it until I heard The Fat Boys rapping ‘Ho, ho, ho’ in the next room. Which taught me the rule I live by: be 100 percent prepared and 30 percent flexible.”
Director: Alan Goodman Producer: Linda Schaffer Assistant Producer: Daria McLean Production Manager: Steve Sheppard Executive producers: Alan Goodman & Fred Seibert
JB was half a decade away from his latest chart hit and hip-hop was beginning to explode, completely usurping The Godfather of Funk’s excitement. A pioneering BronxDJ, Bam had hit it big in 1982 and was looking for his way back on the charts.
Fred/Alan had been around less than a year and exhilarated by all the possibilities in front of us. We called anywhere that seemed interesting and one of those places was Tommy Boy Records. Fred had read about their trailblazing Malcolm X & Keith LeBlanc mix “No Sellout,” the first sampled record, picked up the phone and started talking to label president Monica Lynch and founder Tom Silverman, figuring (correctly) they might be kindred spirits.
In 1984, Tom called and told us about an amazing session they’d just recorded. James’ contract with Polydor had expired a few years before, and Tom snagged him for just one single, a Bambaata duet, a perfect marriage of mentor and student. Indies didn’t know too much about this music video thing (they could just about afford the record), but they’d videotaped the vocal dubs in lovely (ahem) VHS. Could we somehow make it into a video? The average video in 1984 probably cost $40,000. Tommy Boy’s budget was $5000.
We had three things going for us: Fred had a vision of James Brown’s feet, producer/director Tom Pomposello, and producer/artist Marcy Brafman. Oh, and we were so psyched to be working with James (OK, at least were working on something of James) Fred/Alan was willing to make zero dollars.
Tom had just started working with us, but he was an ace blues guitarist and didn’t really know much about television. But, he came in every day eager to do anything we had, and he was willing to try anything. When we asked him to produce this video, no matter how much time it took, he jumped at it.
Marcy was a producer (and painter) who’d been the senior producer that launched MTV in Fred’s promo department. She’d recently become the creative director at her friend Peter Caesar’s independent video production facility in Manhattan and Peter had one of the few digital painting devices in the world at his studio. Fred/Alan was willing to hand over the entire $5000 fee to Caesar Video.
We’d always loved James Brown (we weren’t dead), and for some reason Fred had always imagined the hardest working man in show business’s dancing feet generated electrical sparks.
Put the original VHS footage in a Blendtec, with all this stuff plus a dash of hip-hop graffiti, and a lot of long days and night. It made a pretty happening video. Low-fi? Sure. It was shot on a home video camera, for funk’s sake.
Writer/producer Scott Webb is probably the creative hero more responsible for the Nickelodeon you love everyday than almost any other single person. It’s not for nothing that he began at Nick as a writer/producer and went on to become the network’s very first worldwide Creative Director.
In June of 1984 Fred/Alan was asked to help revive Nick. WASEC/MTV Networks management knew the success we’d had with the ‘branding’ of MTV (though the B-word wasn’t in use yet), and thought they need to taste more of our secret sauce. The channel had the worst ratings on cable and kids everywhere disliked it intensely. We thought the reasons were clear, Nickelodeon was not welcoming to kids of all ages. It looked and sounded like it was for babies, which was exactly American children thought of it.
We thought the solution was to stop telling kids what was on (they didn’t really care) and promise them that Nickelodeon was the right place for them to hang around when they were watching television. Why? Because Nickelodeon was going to actually listen to them when it came time to pick the shows. No one else listened to kids, but we would.
Gerry Laybourne and Debby Beece, Nick’s head honchos, pretty much gave us carte blache as to how we’d pull off this task to them. We, in turn, insisted they hire Scott Webb. Scott had been through boot camp with Fred’s mentor, Dale Pon, so we knew he was whip smart, creative, and strong. He had worked for Fred at The Movie Channel, so we knew his phone number. We knew that even though he didn’t resemble any other hack promotion producer in America (he was less of a TV head than a comic book geek) he’d have exactly the right vibe to reinvent Nickelodeon —and all of television— for the future.
When he brought in the soundtrack for his first promo Debby thought we’d made a horrible mistake. It’s funny when you hear it now, but at first she thought it was too fast and that no one could ever understand it. (Put it up against any episode of The Fairly OddParents and it sounds downright sloowwww.)
Scott wrote this promo in a media vocabulary that kids would recognize. Comics was the image, “everyday” was the message (it wasn’t just Saturday morning for kids TV anymore), and fun was the takeaway.
From this day forward, Nickelodeon would never worry about kids again. Six months after “Everyday” ran, with hundreds of other creative spots that followed Scott’s model of “talk with kids, act like kids,” Nick’s image was fixed forever. They went from worst to first in the ratings, where they’ve remained for 25 years.
Throughout the 80s, our in-house creative team at MTV had established all the original vocabulary (written and visual) for the channel. In 1983, Alan and I resigned and set up Fred/Alan as the media’s first “branding” consultancy and advertising agency. Bob Pittman was a smart and shrewd competitor; he signed us right back up. MTV Networks was our first client.
By 1987 we were being driven insane by a raft of new employees who thought they had the secrets of MTV in their heads, and kept telling us how to “improve” our work for them. The problem was, each and every one of them had a different version of what was right. We suggested that there should be a definitive (yeah, right) “positioning” document so we were all singing from the same (that is, our) hymn sheet.
Alan wrote an amazing story. I should emphasize the word “story” because, unlike the marketing documents written by typical advertising geeks, or marketing executives trained at business schools, Alan Goodman is first and foremost a brilliant thinker who has complete control of the craft of writing the English language. He wrote a persuasion that thought through the issues at the network (advertisers aren’t sure where MTV fit into their 1980s conception of television channels) and defined within the wider context of media consumption by viewers (“Normal TV is boring. MTV is alive and looks interesting.”) His story had drama and conflict, and ultimately, a solution. And, by the way, he wrote my favorite description of successful media. To paraphrase: television can’t be predictable, it needs to be dependable.
(Everyone liked Alan’s piece so much that it became the template for the future of MTVN marketing. Soon enough, “positioning” documents became de rigueur. To this day, Alan writes these things, as do many other, less talented thinkers. MTV Networks doesn’t do much of anything without “positioning” it first.)
The result? “MTV vs. Normal TV” became the common thinking around the network for quite a while (I would argue they still try to think that way today) and became our ad campaign:
"TV or MTV?"
We wanted to keep “I Want My MTV!" (which was created by our friend, and my mentor, Dale Pon; but we’d been the network clients for it). But marketing executives of the 1980s were already infected with the virus they have today. “Why stick with a working plan? We want something new!”
870 Seventh Avenue, @56th Street The Omni Park Central Hotel New York City Original production home of the Jackie Gleason Show
….. The original Fred/Alan office was incredibly ugly. The evidence in these posted pictures (and the few others we’ve saved) should give you a slight taste of someone’s warmed over mid-century lack of sense. But, it didn’t really matter, because the people we had in the company were an incredibly inspired and talented group.
In the mid-80s, we’d inherited the space from our friend and first producing partner, Buzz Potamkin, who executed our famous MTV “moonman” IDs and produced Dale Pon’s “I Want My MTV!”. He’d just started Buzzco and offered to share space he’d found at the top of what’s now the Park Central Hotel in Manhattan, for about a third of the going rents. It had a modicum of fame because it was where Jackie Gleason his 1950s Honeymooners offices (which eventually had us name our production arm Chauncey Street, adress to Ralph Kramden in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn), but God knows who had it in between.
The most striking features were the round, stalagtited reception area (above) and the rugs (just one example, below). Each floor of the hotel had a different, mid-century rug knockoffs in the wildest colors and designs they could print. Someone had the money saving idea of using the remnants for the flooring in our space. So right where they’d run out of carpet, they just slammed the next one up against it, no matter the clash. We must have had 25 different designs jammed together. Talk about psychedelic.
No matter. The cheap rent let us populate the place with an incredible group of folks —not all of them in our company— free thinkers all; more than 25 years later many of us still work together. We had a wild time.
A few years in the company was getting a little worn out exclusively working on branding projects, and we looked for assignments that would get us a little closer to the television show productions we hoped for when we started the company in 1983. Sometimes things would come our way that allowed us to bridge past our visible strengths towards our bigger goals. Like Rockschool.
This was a wacky gig. Whatever it is that moves rockers to be legit (can you imagine Hip-Hop Fantasy Camp?) has spawned a number of how-to-rock venues, but this BBC2 TV series was one of the first that tried to be formal about it all.
Fred/Alan didn’t produce the showitself, but in 1988 we were asked by our friend David Thomas at Thirteen to repackage it for United States consumption. We were to keep the name, but produce the American wrap-arounds with host Herbie Hancock (still hot enough off his MTV hit Rockit), and design the branding, instruction books, and advertising.
There’s one school they make you go to…now there’s a school you’ll want to go to.
A TV series where real rock stars show you how they make their music.
With guest starts Chet Atkins, Bootsy Collins, Sly Dunbar, Bernard Edwards, John Entwistle, Larry Graham, Gary Moore, Ian Paice (Deep Purple), Carl Palmer, Nile Rogers, Robbie Shakespeare, John Taylor (Duran Duran) and more.
And special appearances by Stanley Clarke, Jimi Hendrix, Iron Maiden, B.B. King, Motorhead and The Police.
The early 1990s made us face the limits of the business we’d built.
Starting as a production company in 1983, we made a TV series for the Playboy Channel and promos for TV networks and record companies. Soon we’d evolved into the only company branded cable channels; we’d introduced the idea to our former employers and clients at MTV and Nickelodeon. In 1988, Nickelodeon asked us to become their advertising agency. MTV and other clients soon followed.
At first we loved it. After a couple of years, we came to loath it.
The creative and strategy work was fabulous, when we could actually do it. Our lives had become the grind of supporting the overhead of over 40 people, constantly defending ourselves to clients who’s businesses we’d built from scratch, and constantly looking for new business.
Worst of all, Alan and I had stopped actually working together, the reason we started the agency in the first place. We were managing teams and arguing, not about the work (which would have been fine), but about the guarding of some real or imagined disputes between the members of our respective charges.
And the business of advertising agencies was getting stupid. Clients were coming to the conclusion that they could do much of the marketing strategy themselves, sometimes even the creative. There was constant downward pressure on fees, with the standard —15% of the media spend— coming down more than a point a year. The agency reaction was basically to combine in gigantic roll ups to protect themselves. Fred/Alan itself had buyout offers coming more rapidly every year.
I called Alan one night in February 1992 and before our conversation was over we’d agreed to announce the closing of Fred/Alan the next morning. We had a party for all our current and former colleagues at our offices on lower Broadway, a lot of laughs and tears were had, and locked the doors for good in May.
It’s funny to see it in print. Ted Turner invented CNN the Cable News Network, Bill Paley created CBS the Columbia Broadcasting Company, John Lack invented MTV Music Television. But, there it is. Two guys most people never heard of invented America’s first oldies channel on television.
By mid-1985 Alan and I had developed the branding and vocabulary for MTV and Nickelodeon, and MTV President Bob Pittman had asked Nick General Manager Gerry Laybourne to figure out what to do with the dark hours after Nickelodeon went off the air at 8pm*. Gerry and her team tried to develop original programming for a number of months before giving up and asking us for suggestions. We were ready for them.
A couple of years before PIttman had purchased the rights to 300 episodes of The Donna Reed Show, a black & white series from from 1960s, because they were cheap and he thought they might be useful someday; I’d heard about the acquisition and started hatching up ways to use them. When we became independent producers in 1983 we spent over a year trying to convince ABC to create an “TV oldies” show in their daytime programming block. They eventually passed. “We’re a television network. We can’t run old, black and white shows!”
So, when Nick came a calling Alan and I had worked out the whole thing in our heads. We could run an entire network with programming that no one else wanted, but was solid enough to get a good rating. Perfect for the audience and perfect for advertisers. Our channel would be the television equivalent of oldies radio, the most successful format in decades. Just like “The Greatest Hits of All Time" we wouldn’t try to hide what we were. The networks might have reruns (sad face), but at Nick-at-Nite we’d be RERUNS!!! (happy face!). It would be a blast.
The powers that be at Nickelodeon did not like The Donna Reed Show at all; it was seen as a pre-feminist throwback that set a depressing role model. I’d watched it for weeks at a time in high school during an illness, and figured any show that could hold the attention of a high school boy for weeks had to be, at the very least, entertaining.
We convinced them to give it a try. Look for shows that fit the budget, were good (meaning strong characters and solid stories), package it all up under our guidance, and go for it. No one was sure what we were smoking, but after our last ditch presentation to Pittman, met with smiles and enthusiasm, they agreed to let us at it.
Alan and I were at Nickelodeon everyday for months lining things up (though we were still ‘outsiders’ we effectively served as the channel’s creative directors for the next seven years). Programming chief Debby Beece came up with the name ‘Nick-at-Nite;’ and she lined up a great debut line-up of Donna Reed, My Three Sons (the black & white years), Mr. Ed, and Route 66. Tom Corey and Scott Nash had already designed the Nickelodeon logo, so we tapped them again. We had a couple of bumps with our Nick promo team, the most important element in our scheme, because a couple of them with hipper-than-thou and thought oldies TV was the dumbest idea in creation. We convinced them by pointing out we didn’t think we were doing great art, just “good TV” (eventually one of our cornerstone promises to the audience). Scott Webb, Bob Mittenthal, Jay Newell, and others wholeheartedly committed to our vision and created some of the most memorable packaging a television network had ever seen.
Nick-at-Nite was an instant success. Within months it was the #1 cable network in prime time. It started being referenced in the popular culture, and became shorthand for suddenly retro culture. In competitive research Nick-at-Nite got credit for any old program a viewer liked, no matter where it ran on TV. And, it paved the way for Nick spinning off the 24 hour TV Land (check out Alan’s first written “positioning” for NANin 1987, “HELLO OUT THERE FROM TV LAND!”).
In many ways, Nick-at-Nite was one of Fred/Alan’s most satisfying triumphs. Creating success where most everyone else thought we had nothing. It doesn’t get any better.
* Back in the day, satellite transponders were scarce and extremely expensive; Nickelodeon leased their nighttime hours to the ARTS channel. When they got their own 24 hour berth and became A&E the cost was too much for Nick to bear without hope for revenue.
The year is 1988, time for our coming out party, the first kickin’ campaign as a full time advertising agency.
Nick-at-Nite had a big problem, and Fred/Alan needed to fix it.
Advertisers loved the Nick-at-Nite ratings (it was one of the top three primetime cable networks), but the ad sales team was inexperienced and unskilled, and they never knew how to answer the questions from the agencies media groups designed to push the cost of the spots down through the floor.
Primary among them was, “Why should we pay as much for your old black & white as for newer color ones?” Stupid as it sounds —the high ratings meant lots of the same people watching everything else on TV were watching Nick-at-Nite— the sales team thought it was a worthwhile argument.
For the first few years after the creation of Nick-at-Nite, Fred/Alan’s primary role was in the day-to-day activities of the network itself. Promotion, branding, programming, acquisitions, we were involved in every aspect of the channel.
Then, in 1988, our collaborations with MTV Networks had evolved so far that they asked us to morph our production/consulting company into their full service advertising agency. Not knowing all that much about advertising other than it seemed to pay a little better than consulting, we agreed.
Enter Noel Frankel.
The first Nick-at-Nite ad comp, on writer/designer Noel Frankel’s wall
Noel was an experienced ad man, a print designer and copywriter. Aside from his consummate graphic design and painting skills, Noel brought a sophisticated strategic mind and, maybe more importantly, a twisted, quirky sense of humor. Perfect for Fred/Alan, which needed to start acting like we knew what we were doing. Even though we’d invented the Nick-at-Nite television network (a first —and probably to this day— only time an agency had actually invented a whole TV network), but now we needed to prove we could also invent an ad campaign that would solve their high hurdles with advertisers.
As his first freelance project for us Noel brought in comps for the Mr. Ed’s After-shave ("A trace of saddle blanket…bouquet of pasture…"). It captured the voice we’d inpsired, but it wasn’t dependent on footage from the episodes. There was a slick, color feel that belied the show’s black & whiteness, and when the ad ran in TV Guide, Entertainment Weekly, or any of the media trade publications, it would be a blast of fresh air. No network ever had such great fun with its own shows.
Then Noel adapted the campaign for small size, one color ads, and we added copywriter Bill Burnett to his team. If anything, Bill reveled in the weird even more than Noel, and the campaign started taking on some totally surreal tones.
The other agencies took notice. All of a sudden the networks started getting incoming calls looking for media time. The young media buyers were becoming big fans of the network and wanted their clients to be associated with our cool advertising; they started agitating their clients to get on board. Nick-at-Nite had solved their big problem.
Worthless? These worthless ads really put Fred/Alan on the map as an advertising agency with a sense of advertising way different than anyone else in the country.
Tom Burchill had a good idea in 1984. Lifetime (the result of a merger between Cable Health Network and Daytime Television) would become “Talk Television”, the TV euqivalent of talk radio. The hosts would be everyone from Regis Philbin to Dr. Ruth. Good idea, poor execution, run by the wrong executives, who were still trying to make broadcast television, when cable had clearly morphed into something different. And even talk radio hadn’t yet supercharged into the conservative powerhouse Rush Limbaugh initiated in 1988.
But I enjoyed the work we did. Lifetime was our first Fred/Alan branded network after Nickelodeon, and the IDs were done with Corey McPherson Nash, Buzzco, Colossal Pictures, Olive Jar Productions. Tom Pomposello produced, and that’s Tina Potter as “the annoucer.”
(Tom Burchill recovered, I should hasten to add, when he dumped the talk format and Lifetime became the very successful “Television for Women.” We, alas, were not involved.)
"This drugery, this sham, this goldmine." —Fred Allen From a xerox hanging on Fred’s door during our first five years.
In 1983, we (Alan and Fred) were in the lobby of the then-hot ad agency Scali, McCabe, and Sloves, having endured another excruciatingly boring presentation for our employers, The Movie Channel (MTV’s sister channel at Warner Amex Satellite Entertainment Company); that is, the advertising was painful and dull.
"We could start our own agency. Obviously, it’s not that hard."
"We could call it Fred Alan, that would be funny." We barely had an idea who Fred Allen was, but we knew he’d been a superstar of radio and that he was hilarious.
We started laughing and looked over at the receptionist who’d heard the entire exchange. Stonfaced.
"I guess our clients would have to be old enough to remember him."
Alan found a first edition somewhere and gave it to me with double meaning. The first was that I’d started an indie record company in the 70s called Oblivion Records. The second was that Fred Allen had some stunningly relevant quotes. My favorite?
Fred/Alan started with working with Nickelodeon in late 1984 when Bob Pittman was made President of MTV Networks and he fired the existing staff, which had succeeded in losing the company tens of millions of dollars, and worse, making Nickelodeon the lowest rated cable network in America.
Bob assigned us to the remaining executives, Gerry Laybourne and Debby Beece, and suggested to them the Fred/Alan approach to branding could help them succeed. We immediately introduced them to our notion of network “promises” and then redesigned the network with Tom Corey and Scott Nash (Corey McPherson Nash, Boston) and hired some of our favorite writers and producers to create a ‘brand’. There was no money for programming or advertisting, so all the work needed to be done by the airtime on the channel itself. Nonetheless, our efforts succeeded in bringing Nickelodeon from worst to first in the ratings within six months, and Nickelodeon remains America’s #1 cable network of any kind, earning billions of dollars and making millions of kids happy.
Howard Hoffman is an artist and animation director who’d worked with Fred/Alan on a number of projects. One day he presented a zany idea. Howard spent Augusts at the Maine summer camp of his youth running an animation workshop, and wouldn’t it be better if the kids were animating something “real” like some Nickelodeon network IDs? That could be cool, right?
Well, sure. How bad could they be?
Not bad at all, it turned out; they were great. Howard made Nick IDs (and we filmed the kids introducing their shorts) for several years, and they were some of the best pieces we ever ran on the network.
In 1986 music videos were still the coolest thing on earth and our friend Steve Dessau thought there was a way to make some money with them. Edgar Bronfman Jr. had just taken over his family’s liquor business and was obsessed with music (he’s now the CEO of the Warner Music Group). He was frustrated that liquor couldn’t use television to sell its wares and that he couldn’t take advantage of his favorite entertainment trend.
Who better to sell an idea to him than the only credible MTV guys who weren’t working at MTV (us)?
Partnering with Steve’s company (we set up a joint venture called Mystery Train Partners; see the business card below), we convinced Edgar Jr. that the Myers’s Rum Video Network could be his own “network” at the “video nightclubs” that were springing up around the country. It kind of worked.
The whole story of VH-1 is probably only interesting to those who lived it, given how non-interesting the network has been for most of it’s life, and we were involved from the beginning for almost 15 years. While Fred and Alan had left MTV 18 months before, they were still considered a vital part of the brain trust that could help launch networks at the company. Here’s a few notes on the network identity/branding work we did the first time out. In 1985.
Origin: Ted Turner decided that MTV played devil’s music (hey, Ted was little skewed in those days) and was going to launch an “acceptable” alternative. MTV Networks wasn’t going to lose the goose that laid the golden egg and decided to fight Ted playing his own game. (In 1982, when ABC annouced a competing cable news service, Turner put CNN2, now Headline News, on the air within weeks and crushed ABC.) We strategized and executed the company’s second music network within weeks.
The name: Our boss, programming head Bob Pittman, was annoyed that his team rejected his pet name for MTV, TV-1, on the grounds that no one had a “1” on their TVs (remember, in 1981, people still had TV dials that went from channel 2 to channel 13). By 1985 he was powerful enough that the new music channel became, by his decree, VH-1: Video Hits One.
The programming: The programming needed to be available, inexpensive, and seemingly popular. Oh, and it couldn’t “cannibalize” MTV’s viewers. So, it would be poisitioned as music video for an older group (MTV was for folks 12 to 34 years old), 25 to 49 years old. Less rock and more pop. In reality, it meant any darn music videos MTV wouldn’t touch.
The logo & network IDs: My mentor Dale Pon and his partner, ad legend George Lois, had done the iconic “I Want My MTV” advertising, so George was asked to design the logo. Having not one pop music vein in his body, we got what we got.
Fred/Alan gathered up our most reliable animation collaborators, and churned out as many IDs as we could in four weeks (not easy with traditional cell animation and 1980s motion graphics). IDs that wouldn’t seem like they “belonged” on MTV. In other words, have fun, but not too much fun. As you can hear on the last pieces, it was the beginning of our Top 40 radio jingles era.
Eugene Pitt and The Jive 5 were as perfect an element of network identity as Fred/Alan ever found. All the filmmakers who worked with us on Nickelodeon lined up to be the first to use their soundtracks on their network IDs.
The Fred/Alan television branding execution often started with defining a network’s sound. A background in music and radio made this logical for them, though it was a philosphy grounded in their belief that TV was driven by the sounds first, with the visuals often following the audio lead. In the case of the Nickelodeon rebranding in 1985 the time frame was short, under six months, so the audio and the visual identities were developed simultaneously.
For over a year Alan and Fred had been thinking about old radio jingles, and thinking of ways to incorporate a human, vocal sound on their identities. In 1983, working on The Playboy Channel’s Hot Rocks, they scouted around for an a cappella group to record distinctive IDs for the music video show. Alan’s former colleague, writer and producer Marty Pekar, had started Ambient Sound to capture contemporary recordings of classic doo-wop groups from the 50s and 60s. He introduced them to the leader of The Jive 5, Eugene Pitt, as “not only a great singer, but a smart man.” They found Eugene to be, as Rock and Roll Hall of Fame CEO Terry Stewart said, “the most underrated soul singer in America,” and a wonderful collaborator. When the opportunity to work with Nickelodeon presented itself, Fred, Alan, and producer Tom Pomposello immediately knew the Jive 5 would be the perfect underpinning for defining the vocabulary of the network.
Convincing Nickelodeon was another story. When we brought up the notion of a sound identity, Nickelodeon executives, still not fully understanding of where we intended to steer the channel, suggested a consideration of Raffi, then a recent phenomenon as a singer for young children. “He’s very popular; our research confirms it.” Fred/Alan tried a lot of arguments to bring them around to a doo-wop sound, but they fell on deaf ears. “Doo-wop’s 30 years old, no kid has ever heard of it.”
In the late 70s Fred was producing jazz records and became friendly with Michael Cuscuna, soon to become one of the medium’s most revered producers and the leading reissue producer in history.
In the early 1980s Michael and former BlueNote/Columbia/Warner Records executive Charlie Lourie started the pioneering MosaicRecords as the first company specializing in boxed set reissues of classic performances, available only by mail order. Michael and Fred became reacquainted when he ordered their first set (The Complete BlueNote Recordings of Thelonious Monk) and he asked Fred/Alan to get involved with helping them out of the hole. It turned out their ‘sure thing’ idea wasn’t having many takers and they were worried about shutting down.
We turned them down two years in a row with a lot of unsolitcited advice about what they could do better —we were broke and our company was barely alive itself— even if we were talking through our hats. Everything we knew about direct mail cataloging was from being mail order catalog readers ourselves and from a direct mail how-to book Fred had read (at least the first chapter). We admired what Michael and Charlie were trying to accomplish at Mosaic, but our bandwidth was just too narrow.
Three years later Fred/Alan was doing a little better and Mosaic was doing a lot worse; Michael and Charlie successfully prevailed on us to finally help. We knew no more, but full of the arrogance of youth we took Alan’s first generation portable computer and invented the first Mosaic 12-page brochure on our summer rental’s picnic table. Alan wrote every word (Fred supervised “strategy” — what else is new?), our friends Tom Corey and Scott Nash designed the thing, Jessica Wolf supervised the production and we mailed out the first Mosaic catalog ever in the autumn of 1986.
We waited for the order phones to ring, and lo and behold, in the first three weeks Mosaic’s business had increased 10 fold. They were in business forever. Alan’s still writing the brochures, Fred’s still lobbing in ideas from the side. We’ve never been prouder of any project. So proud, in fact, that Alan continues writing all new release copy, and former Fred/Alan CFO Fred Pustay is now a Mosaic partner.
Back in the day my partner Alan Goodman and I were known as the logo guys. It was both flattering and annoying, because we’re not designers and it deflected attention from the brilliant people we worked with often, like Manhattan Design (Frank Olinsky, Pat Gorman, and Patti Rogoff designed MTV’s logo) and Corey & Co. (who designed Nickelodeon’s). But after we became known as the group who developed (not designed) the MTV logo, our reps were set in stone for a while. Eventually we were able to morph it into the idea of developing media brands, which more accurately reflected how Alan and I thought of ourselves.
After setting the vocabulary (more important than design in many ways) and “look” of MTV Alan and I left MTV Networks to set up our independent Fred/Alan Inc. and our first client was… MTV Networks. By 1984, the five year old Nickelodeon was in trouble, having lost an accumulated $40 million (that’s in 1980’s money, like $200 million today) and worse, it was the absolute lowest rated cable network in America. Dead last. MTVN chief Bob Pittman asked Alan and I to help. It was a tough decision for us to make since we were broke but had no interest in children’s television or the people who worked in it. The ‘broke’ part won out.
The key decisions we made:
• Keep the name “Nickelodeon.” We figured that 10,000,000 kids (there current circulation) knew the name and what it stood for. Management wanted to switch to “Nick,” since it was easier to spell and say; let’s forget that everyone outside the company would wonder why they were named after a garage mechanic. There were a lot of reasons for killing it: no one under a certain age had ever heard of a nickelodeon, and those who had knew it had nothing whatsoever to do with children; the word was hard to spell correctly in the age of pre-Google and spellcheck; and, the word was way too long and thin to dominate a television screen.
• Treat the network like an exclusive club, where only kids could join, not like a TV station with all kids shows. Kids in June of 1984 (when we started work) needed something they could call their own. They felt on the rear end of life, they told us so constantly. Adults (parents and teachers) made all the decisions for them. TV in the 80s wasn’t for them. They were scared of getting older, but their unconscious biology kept egging them on to age faster.
• Ban the word “FUN” from the Nickelodeon vocabulary. Every network promo told the kids that Nickelodeon was fun. It wasn’t. We thought it was better to be “fun” than say “fun.”
• Redesign the logo. Famous television designer, a moonlighting Lou Dorfsman, had designed the logo in 1981, and our brilliant friend Bob Klein had added a silver ball that zoomed around the screen in and out of everything a kid might find exciting.
Alan and I didn’t find it exciting. We’d been working a lot with a new friend, Tom Corey, who owned Corey & Co. (tragically, Tom’s passed away, his companies are now called Corey McPherson Nash & Big Blue Dot) in Boston. He came down to the Fred/Alan office in New York with his partner Scott Nash and heard our pitch for the network. we told them about our decisions I talked about above, and told them while we didn’t know anything about kids’ programming we knew that the offices of Nickelodeon were as quiet as a chapel (as one of the internal wags put it) and that in order to spice the place up we hoped that when our jobs were done they’d all be shooting spitballs at each other. Tom and Scott dug in eagerly.
I wish I had their presentation. It was pretty informal —a bunch of logos sketched on a page— and none any of us were all that crazy about. Eventually, we settled on one that was 3D in nature that revolved around itself, and kind of a standard designer treatment of a trademark. We were about to settle when Alan spoke up and said he didn’t think it was in keeping with our reputation as moving image thinkers about logos.
The MTV logo had been sold in with two thoughts. 1) Rock’N’Roll was a dynamic constantly changing medium and a logo should have a built in updating mechanism. And 2) More importantly, television was moving pictures. Logos were generally designed by print designers who wanted a perfect image, then handed off to moving image designers who had to figure out how to make the damn thing move. Often, it ended up with a big hunk of metal hurtling through space, cause what else were they going to do? We’d argued that in the 1980s that was a dumb thing to do. Why not just design a logo with movement baked into the conceptual frame right from the beginning? TV was the most important place to see the logo, and print designers could just *STOP* the motion and pick an image for an ad; it would be more dynamic even in the print that way.
Alan pointed out that’s how we’d made our bones, and besides were right, darn it. Movement was the way to go, constant change made for a energetic network, and kids were the most vital force in the world. Give them something they relate to: change. He was looking at the orange splat on their page. Tom and Scott argued that orange generally clashed with everything and that would make the logo stand out (as long as we didn’t let designers try and make it work “correctly.”) The splat could morph into any image we liked. And it wasn’t the MTV version of change. I came along for the ride that Tom, Scott, and Alan were proposing, and we trucked over to Bob Pittman’s and Gerry Laybourne’s office to make the pitch.
Bob and Gerry didn’t buy it. No one else there did either. “It doesn’t match anything.” “It’s flat.” “It’s not as cool as the MTV logo, what happened to you guys?”
Ultimately, we prevailed. I’m not really sure how, since all their objections were right on. But we were the “logo guys,” so they eventually bought our action. I’m thrilled they did, since our work with Nickelodeon is some of my favorite stuff in our careers. Tom and Scott went on to be among the premiere designers in television and kids (Scott’s now one of the leading children’s book authors and illustrators), Alan’s a successful producer and brand strategist (still consulting Nickelodeon), and they all deserved the accolades the world could throw at them.
(By the way, the book Nickelodeon Logo Logic was put together in 1998 by Sheri Dorr and Laurie Kelliher at their in-house creative services department after Alan and I had stopped full time consulting to the company six years before. The company had expanded so dramatically and so many people had trademark needs that without us —the “logo police”— around Nick’s Worldwide Creative Director Scott Webb needed some objective rules set down for designers and marketers to follow. I’m not so sure we’d agree with all their points but a trademark is a dynamic thing. Different people interpret it different ways, kind of like a musical composition, and it’s natural it’ll be looked at in new ways over the years.)
• Nickelodeon discontinued use of this logo after 26 years. They call it a “rebranding.” We would probably beg to differ.
• On his website, advertising executive George Lois claims to have designed the Nickelodeon logo. Since Fred/Alan developed the logo directly with Tom Corey and Scott Nash, his assertion is clearly false.
Fred/Alan worked with Nickelodeon from 1984 through 1992 as brand, marketing, and programming consultants, as their advertising agency, and through it’s Chauncey Street Productions subsidiary (managing director: Albie Hecht), as television producers.
Alan has continued to consult and produce for Nickelodeon. Fred produces cartoons and consults for the network. Albie became Nick’s President of TV & FIlm Production for many years and now produces TV shows for them too.
After Tom Pomposello introduced us to Fred Mogubgub’s pop-art style for the TV Heaven/Channel 41 station IDs, our creative department researched a series of ‘heaven’ quotations which would be read by actors for the animation soundtracks.
In another life Fred/Alan Managing Director Ed Levine (now a famous food writer) had co-produced two amazing records by New Orleans stylist Dr. John (real name Mac Rebennack) and had convinced him to play our annual holiday parties. Ed reminded us Mac was singing commercials (for their big payday) and thought he might do us a favor and put one of the appropriate quotes to music to give the campaign a little flavor.
Session arrangements were made and Ed and our production team went over to the studio for what we thought we be a normal three hour session with Mac singing and playing solo piano. A little over an hour later they were back in the office doors. We were shocked and concerned they were back so fast; what had gone wrong?!
As often happens with magic talent at the right moment, nothing had gone wrong and everything had gone amazingly right. Mac had taken a look at the lyrics we’d prepared, with the syllables’ rhythm worked out perfectly, and come up with a melody that fit 10 seconds in about…10 seconds! He’d asked for other lyrics and we put everything we had in front of him whether they “worked” or not. One by one, with over a dozen set of lyrics, Mac ran them down in real time, and before our team knew it, he’d sung every word we had. All of a sudden we’d almost doubled our ID output, and with a N’awlins joie de vivre at that.
We eventually used visuals from all of our contributors — Fred Mogubgub, International Rocketship, Mark Karzen, Mark Beyer, and others from our agency creative team— with the unique soundtracks Dr. John provided us.
In 1988, a friend of ours bought a couple of failing UHF TV stations in the upper suburbs of Minnesota. He asked Fred/Alan to work our branding and programming philosphies on the station (linked together with common programming). We made them the first broadcaster* to use an “oldies television” approach and creative director Noel Frankel, dubbed it “TV Heaven.”
For the animated IDs we felt were so integral to branding TV in the 1980s, our producer Tom Pomposello convinced us that the pioneering work of animator Fred Mogubgub would be just the original ticket. Fred’s style had a kind of staccato, pop-art feel, and he’d made an animated film completely out of still images illustrating the text. We hired Fred, Marv Newland’s International Rocketship (Vancouver), and various illustrators and photographers. For text we researched enormous amounts of quotations with the word ‘heaven’ in them. Like “Heaven is on Earth when I look at you, but when I see you in a mirror it’s reversed.” We chose a few dozen and had them read or sung by actors like Fran Rizzo or Dr. John**, put the results together, and had a campaign that was one of our proudest accomplishments.
* Note our post title says “station” not “network.” Alan and I had created the first oldies TV approach for an ABC development deal we had in 1983. After they passed we held onto the idea and reworked in 1985 it when Nickelodeon needed to fill their non-kid hours from 8pm-6am. Immediately, ‘Nick-at-Nite’ became #1 in cable prime with the highly coveted (among programmers and advertisers) group of adults from 18 to 34 years old.
By 1988, the geniuses in the MTV Networks sales department decided that oldies programming (Bewitched, My Three Sons, The Donna Reed Show, and the rest) in black & white couldn’t be sold to advertisers, and the publicity folks insisted the TV writers didn’t want to write about “old shows”. At the time, no one there understood it was the format that innovative and it was the format the audience was in love with. They demanded Nick-at-Nite “reposition” itself. We suggested an all comedy network, since the most successful shows on the network were old sitcoms, and for nine months we preceeded HA!, Comedy Channel, and Comedy Central.
The Nickelodeon folks gave us permission to bring the format to the tiny, tiny TV stations in Minnesota; how much trouble would that cause a big, ole cable network?
Within three weeks of launch TV Heaven had generated more publicity than Nick-at-Nite had in three years. Our marketing client told us we would not only be fired from Nick-at-Nite but from all Nick related channels, maybe even MTV. We resigned TV Heaven and they never paid their bills to Fred/Alan.
Fred Seibert began working as virtually the first employee of MTV: Music Television in May 1980 (under programming head Bob Pittman). He quickly recruited his radio colleague Alan Goodman to help lead the strategic efforts to create a network promotional strategy. Pittman first raised the idea of animated IDs as the equivalent of radio jingles; Fred and Alan upped the ante by thinking of them as the video generation’s ‘album covers,’ the visual touchstones of their cultural life.
Frank Olinsky was Fred’s childhood friend. His tiny design firm, Manhattan Design, was chosen over giant international to create the iconic trademark. And in quick succession, we enlisted virtually unknown independent animators to create the network identifications. Colossal Pictures in San Francisco, Broadcast Arts in Washington DC, and Buzzco in New York were the first creative teams.
Within days of the network launch on August 1, 1981, the rapidly morphing, indelible logo was a fixture of the popular culture, and a revolution in media branding had begun its run.
The true creative breakthrough came when we stared at the dozens of Manhattan Design’s color take-outs on their amazing logo; we had to figure out the standard, fixed logo we thought was de rigeur for a ‘famous’ trademark. Frank Olinsky felt differently and thought every show on MTV should have its own logo, and supplied his takes on what they could be. The problem was that MTV: Music Television wasn’t going to have any shows, just a continuous wheel of hundreds and thousands of music videos in a row.
After weeks of delirium filled sessions of staring at all the cool designs they’d provided us we realized the solution would be to use all of them. Right, we could use all of the logos, and more, all the time in every piece of animation and promotion. Using them all at once would provide a frentic pace and color hysteria that we thought would be a perfect metaphor for pop music.
Inventing TV 'brands': Fred/Alan Network IDs 1980-1992
From the very first minute I went to work for Bob Pittman (he was 25, I was 27) at the Warner-Amex Satellite Entertainment Company in May of 1980, he told me about the company’s plan for a television channel that would be exclusively rock videos and how he envisioned the TV equivalent of radio jingles: network identifications (‘IDs’) short, wacked out pieces of animation that would reveal the network logo. Not like the staid CBS Eye (“You’re watching CBS.”) but rock’n’roll wrapped up into a little picture explosion.
As soon as we started working on what would become MTV: Music Television a month later I started thinking about these IDs and realized they could be the album covers of the new generation of music fans. For baby boomers the album cover came of age with the first AmericanBeatles album representing every phase of their cultural development. I had bemoaned my lateness to that party, but my self-importance hoped the MTV network IDs could serve the same purpose.
Little did I know they’d achieve an almost equal prominence, and more. For me and Alan Goodman, my first partner in the enterprise (and countless more), they led the way for how we would become the first people to ‘brand’ American cable television networks throughout the 1980s. First as employees at MTV, then for our clients at Fred/Alan, we made over 1000 more of these 10-second visual operas for networks ranging from Nickelodeon and Comedy Central to TMTV in Japan and Lifetime. We worked with some of the greatest indie animators the world had to offer (some we’re still doing projects with today) and started a lot of companies on their way. These IDs might have been the most fun I had during the years we were doing television branding. (And for me, inadvertendly, they began what was to become a late life career change into producing cartoons.)
The cool thing about advertising is you get to do a lot of different kinds of work. The drag is that it’s the clients’ work and the agency, in the end, has to do what it’s told. So, when there’s a chance to do stuff with yourself as the client it’s a lot of fun.
We were moving to our third office in a decade (by this point “we” was Fred/Alan the ad agency and Chauncey Street the TV production company), down in the East Village, so we used it as an excuse to have a hoot. Art director Tom Godici contacted some artists we’d worked with (like Joey Ahlbum) and some we were looking forward to meeting (like Leslie Cabarga). Alan and creative director Bill Burnett wrote some amusing copy about some classic New York landmarks off the tourist paths, we printed a postcard folder, and our moving announcement was complete. On the first day in the new office we had an art show of the original illustrations (we had space for a small, private art gallery, where we were to have shows every month), and a good time was had by all.
We started having Christmas parties in 1985 because it was so damn hard to figure out which clients and hope-to-be-clients to give presents to, and exactly what to give them. We figured it would probably cost us the same to party and everyone would be happier anyhow. The first year we rented out the Museum of Radio & Television; everyone thought we were classy. Then a roller disco; they thought we were fun.
By ‘87 Fred/Alan had morphed into a bona fide advertising agency and we were so horrified at the thought a great party was in order. Luckily, Ed Levine and Noel Frankel had joined our ranks. Ed had recently produced one of the best Dr. John records ever and thought he could talk the good Doctor into our budget on an off night for the band. Noel, a brilliant art director, knew about our soul music obsession and one day in a planning meeting did the invitation illustration completely with a Wite Outbrush tip!
We rented out a belly dancing joint on 8th Avenue, put out some checkered tableclothes, catered soul food from Sylvia’s, and Fred/Alan raised the roof on the greatest R&B club north of the Mason-Dixon. From then on our parties were legendary.
Fred/Alan Rhythm & Blues Christmas Party Live music by Dr. John Soul food from Sylvia’s
Featuring: “WE’LL HAVE A BLUE, BLUE CHIRSTMAS WITH (OR WITHOUT) YOU” Come with the one you turn to when you’re blue…
Fred/Alan didn’t do too much advertising for itself (it was expensive), so we tried to make every one count.
The New York Times was, by far, the most influential publication in advertising. In the 1980s Phil Dougherty had a repuation as the most honest, authoritative columnist in the business, and any ad in the Times would guarantee sales for your client. Well, why shouldn’t we be our own client, and use the Times to generate new business leads? We could buy remnant space at will for less than half price, our current clients would feel like they were with a pretty together agency, and businesses outside New York would take notice and call. Did it work? You bet.
By the late 1980s, Fred/Alan had morphed into a full service advertising agency, with writers, art directors, and account, production and media departments. Over 40 people.
We started trying to get some new accounts, the lifeblood of any agency. And not a skill we were particularly attuned to at the time. First step, a agency brochure!
It’s great fun doing good advertising, and we’d had a better run than many. Sure, we’d been critical to the building of MTV, VH-1, and Nickelodeon. And we did some awesome work for Swatch, MosaicRecords, Myers’s Rum, and Barq’s which had driven lots of business for them. It ought to be easy to wrap it all up and brag a little, yes?
Putting together a company hype is a drag, pure and simple. In person, we could speak passionately for hours telling you about what went into our work. But somehow, writing it down was somehow crass.
It began to dawn on us that maybe being an advertising agency wasn’t for us.
We originally started Fred/Alan to make TV shows and movies. Finally around 1985, somewhat stable as a business, we tried ‘getting into the movies’ with something other than a ticket. We’d always liked quickie teen movies and there was a popular spate of them happening right then so we took a flyer and somehow succeeded (we really had no idea what we were doing) in optioning the rights to one of the most popular (and strangely controversial) songs of the rock era, “Louie, Louie.” A script was written by Alan, Albie Hecht (pre-Nickelodeon fame), and our director, Tommy Schlamme (pre-fame as the executive producer of The West Wing).
This ad was put together for the back cover of the 1985 MTV Video Music Awards program, figuring that something might happen. We got of a lot of attention in Hollywood and subsequently optioned two other garage band classics, “Wooly Bully" and "Wipeout,” wrote a couple more scripts, and…nothing. We were busy with the agency, and ultimately, we probably just didn’t want it enough yet.