The Third Annual Bobby Awards

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When you accept your statue, please say a few brief words of thanks, pay the customary tribute to Bobby himself, then get the hell off the stage-or we'll never have time for the dance numbers.

Yes, now in its third year, the Bobby Awards constitute the pre-eminent arbiter of performance excellence by actors in TV commercials. Its elite panel of judges scours the universe of broadcast and cable to recognize acting achievements otherwise ignored by the likes of Oscar, Emmy, Tony, Effie, Clio, Hillary, Chelsea and so on.

And this year, for the first time in its venerable 731-day history, the cherished Bobby will be awarded in not one, not two, but three categories: best actor, best actress and best celebrity performance. There also will be a special Lifetime Achievement award in the category of Talking Garments. So take your seats, ladies and gentlemen. The glitz, the glamour and the excitement are about to begin.

Best Actress. Just like the rest of the dramatic world, the world of TV commercials offers pitifully few good parts for women. There aren't many Noras out there and far too many Coras (or have you somehow forgotten Margaret Hamilton's general-store owner for Maxwell House? Next to Cora, the Wicked Witch of the West looked like Britney Spears).

Nonetheless, the beauty of commercial acting is that a tiny part can be transformed by a word, a pause, a gesture, an expression. For instance, one of the finalists this year was Kristen J. Stewart, a 12-year-old girl in a spot for Porsche from Carmichael Lynch, Minneapolis. In the commercial, she keeps missing the schoolbus and must keep getting rides in Dad's sports car. In the last shot, when it finally dawns on us what she's up to, the bus pulls away and her eyebrows rise devilishly at another found opportunity. Delightful.

Another wonderfully understated performance came from Kirsten Nelson in a virtuosic turn in a spot for Century 21 from Lowe Lintas & Partners, New York. She has just bought a house in "Perfect Hookups," and it's one dumbfounded surprise take after another as her agent throws in unexpected extras. Dubious premise. Bravura performance.

The Bobby Award, however, goes to finalist Candace Weber in a spot from Goodby Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, for Hewlett-Packard. She plays a shopper who walks to the help desk in the CD department asking for information. "Yeah, hi. Do you have that band I like?" We come to realize she's just used to Amazon.com, which keeps track of her purchases and her tastes. The gag is that she doesn't understand why the help-desk guy is in the dark. Her every expression is perfect as she waits, patient and guileless, for him to tell her what she wants to know.

Best Celebrity. William Shatner chewing the scenery in self-mockery for Priceline.com (Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Boston)? Picabo Street, or Charles Barkley, or Mike Ditka for Charles Schwab? ( BBDO Worldwide, New York) Joe Montana or Ronnie Lott for TiVo (Goodby)?

Nah. They were all wonderful in comic roles. But the winner this year is Christopher Reeve.

No, no, no-not for the misguided and maudlin Super Bowl spot that had him cured of paralysis in some brave new world, but for his later appearance in a campaign for HealthExtras supplemental insurance. Those spots, from Focused Image, Alexandria, Va., show a Reeve who-in an oddly arresting cadence determined by his ventilator-speaks candidly about being prepared, financially if not emotionally, for catastrophe.

His delivery is measured, unaffected and extremely powerful, without relying a bit on the shock and overwrought sentimentality that informed the Super Bowl embarrassment. Half scripted, half extemporaneous, it is the work of an actor at least as in control of timing and nuance as a quadriplegic as he was as an able-bodied movie star. His appeal is, in a word, extraordinary.

Lifetime Achievement Award, Talking Garment category. The sock puppet-Chiat/Day/ TBWA, San Francisco-for (the defunct) Pets.com.

Best Actor. As always, lot of possibilities. The jury very much liked Timothy BeKay, who played the stressed-out taxpayer in the Y&R Advertising, Chicago, serial for H&R Block. When he shouts, amid the silence of the household, "Dad needs to have some quiet, OK!!" he is the hilarious picture of fear and nervous exhaustion. Bravo.

Another favorite is David Bolt, who plays a frequent crosser of the U.S. border in a Canadian spot from Gee, Jeffrey & Partners, Toronto, for Can Am AT&T. He's been through the immigration drill so many times, he answers all the officer's questions unprompted and even stamps his own landing card. "Yes. Yes. No. Yes. Pittsburgh. Three days. Yes. No. Yes." Etc. One of the great speeches in commercial history. Brilliant.

But really, this year, who else? The winner of the Bobby Award for best actor is Charles Stone III, writer, director and star of "Whassup?!" from DDB, Chicago, for Budweiser. Never mind the comedy of his stylized, retching "Whasssupppppp." His demeanor on the phone, his steady unemotional gaze at the football game on TV, his emotional tightrope walk on that thin Sunday-afternoon line between stimulation and boredom are all flawlessly realized. He doesn't play a guy "watchin' the game, havin' a Bud." He is a guy watchin' the game, havin' a Bud.

True. True.

Copyright January 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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