CBS 'BABY BOB' DEBUT MAKES HISTORY

Sitcom Character Joins Elite Corps of Ad Crossovers

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SAN FRANCISCO (AdAge.com) -- Baby Bob, a child conceived in the dot-com advertising boom, takes to the airways in a CBS sitcom tonight and joins
See one of the orignal 'Baby Bob' spots created by Siltanen/Keehn in 2000 for Freeinternet.com.
an elite corps of advertising figures leaping into the entertainment world.

A marketing gimmick for Freeinternet.com, Baby Bob, an infant with the aggressive tongue of a 40-year-old, is the brainchild of Siltanen/Keehn, El Segundo, Calif., an agency founded by former TBWA/Chiat/Day creative Rob Siltanen.

Pitchbaby for ISP service
Orignally Bob was a pitchbaby urging viewers to sign up for Freeinternet.com's free Internet-access accounts. Eventually, his role grew to include a TV spot with basketball star Shaquille O'Neal and an Internet commercial featuring Shaq as a guest on a fictitious late-night show with Baby Bob as host.

When Freeinternet tumbled into bankruptcy in October 2000, it owed Siltanen/Keehn $1.9 million. The agency retained rights to the baby, and later pitched the character to Viacom and CBS, which has turned the ad icon into a sitcom star.

Baby Bob is not the first ad icon to make it to a TV series. He was proceeded in the late 1980s by Max Headroom, a digital Coke commerical character who had a short-lived TV show. Before that, shoe character Buster Brown appeared on TV in the medium's early days.

'Only Just Begun'
Similarly, a number of songs developed for TV ads have crossed the divide to become pop chart hits, including "We've Only Just Begun." The song was originally written for a 1969 Crocker Bank campaign aimed at newlyweds and produced by Hal Riney. In 1970 the Carpenters released a full-length version of the tune that become a wildly popular hit and their signature song.

In 1971, another jingle for a Coca-Cola ad campaign created by Bill Backer at McCann-Erickson -- "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" -- was released as a chart-topping pop single by The New Seekers.

The show, airing Monday at 8:30 p.m., stars Adam Arkin as Walter, a public relations executive, and Joely Fisher as mother Lizzy. Ken Campbell continues to provide the voice of Baby Bob. In the first episode, the family tries to keep Bob's talking a secret to avoid a media circus. In all, about a half-dozen episodes have been produced for what will be the baby's shot at entertainment fame.

Turning over the baby
Mr. Siltanen said the process of turning his baby over to Hollywood sitcom writers was at first painful, particularly since they made Baby Bob more of "innocent" than he was as a spokesbaby. "It hurt," he said, but eventually he was pleased with the finished product.

Baby Bob does not have to carry the full burden he did in advertising because other characters in the sitcom help fill out the program.

Mr. Siltanen's other works range from the touching Emmy Award-winning Apple Computer campaign "Think Different," which toasted the "crazy ones," to Nissan's "Toy Story" spot that featured a GI Joe-type doll that takes Barbie for a ride in a remote controlled Z convertible.

Wayne Friedman contributed to this report.

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