LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- Will Americans be able to laugh about the scariest recession in recent memory? Will brands be willing to take part in such potentially perilous merriment?
ABC hopes the answer to both is yes, as the Walt Disney TV network readies two comedy pilots about the recent Wall Street carnage and the sad toll it's taken on that once-mighty warrior, the investment banker.
One is an untitled project starring Kelsey Grammer, who plays a Wall Street millionaire unhorsed by the collapsing economy and forced into a "Mr. Mom"-like role at home with the family he hardly ever saw. The other is "Canned," a pilot about several younger Gen X friends fired from their lofty perch at an investment bank.
"While we're defining them as 'bankers' in the pilot, you experience them as that only in the very first scene, at the bank, where they get fired," said Peter Traugott, an executive producer of "Canned." "After that, it's really about young people who've been forced to take stock of their lives, and who ask, 'Did I even like what I was doing? Is this what I want to do?'"
Reminder of economic worries
If reminding Americans of the very economic worries they usually hope to escape from during an hour of prime-time sofa surfing seems counterintuitive, that's because it is. ABC first passed on "Canned" when it was pitched, Mr. Traugott said. But by last month, as the economy worsened, and after co-producer Kevin Etten fleshed out his vision for the show as a post-boom "Friends," network execs changed their minds and ordered the pilot.
A marketing exec at ABC was unavailable to comment by press time.
"You can't pick up the paper and not read about people going through this," Mr. Etten said. The pilot's appeal will outlast the economic downturn, he said, because it's not about recession; it's about the effect of getting fired.
"Anyone who's been fired knows it's a horrible thing that stays with you," Mr. Etten said. "I was fired from 'The Late Show With David Letterman,' and it informs how I approach jobs to this day: how I pick them, in terms of what I know I'd be good at."
Neither pilot will be shot until April, but already the "Canned" producers are looking to integrate brands seeking to connect with newly value-driven consumers.
Mr. Traugott, who works at Brillstein Entertainment Partners, which also produces the ABC comedy "Samantha Who?" said the Christina Applegate comedy partnered early on with Brinker International restaurants, integrating Chili's eateries so fully that when Samantha and her pals stop into their local franchise, they specifically order the Texas Cheese Fries appetizer.
Will "Canned" seek to integrate job-search brands such as Monster or discount retailers such as Walmart?
"There's a lot of opportunities for that here," Mr. Traugott said.
Lampooning luxury brands
But for every opportunity to highlight a frugal, middle-market brand, there is reason for a luxury brand to fear any mention on "Canned": It likely won't be affectionate.
"It's as much about lampooning the character who puts so much value in the thing as the thing itself," Mr. Traugott said.
Two brands singled out for particular scorn in the pilot episode are Starbucks and its Clover, the ultra-high-end stainless-steel coffee machine Seattle start-up Coffee Equipment Co. was selling for more than $8,000 per unit to well-heeled coffee aficionados before Starbucks acquired the brand for its stores last March.
Two former bankers, jobless and facing poverty, are about to sell their Clover on Craigslist but delay, first wanting to know for themselves just what an $8,000 cup of coffee tastes like.
They fire up the Clover and announce that they've just brewed "46 grams of an Ethiopian bean called 'Koratie,' which is harvested in the Sidamo region of southern Ethiopia, north of the renowned Yirgacheffe area. It was brewed for 50 seconds at exactly 89 degrees Celsius."
They sip some, then offer a deadpan appraisal: "Not that good."