Garfield's Bobbies: Bobbys smile on Reebok, PaperMate, Arnold

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Celine Dion arrives in her Pacifica-the only one ever sold-and slinks down the red carpet like a skeleton in sequins, bristling with excitement. Will she be the one? And who is that? Why it's Fran Drescher, from the Old Navy campaign, which is one teensy step from "The Hollywood Squares!" And, look, here comes basketball star Yao Ming! Hey, Slim, how's the weather up there? Kidding, Yao! Good to have you here for the 6th Annual Bobby Awards!

Who will win the celebrity Bobby? The drama is right here ... stay tuned!

Best Actor

As has been true most years, advertising didn't offer too many meaty roles in 2003. The commercial "drama" is all but extinct, and the art of acting has become the art of seizing brief comic moments to squeeze the most out of a line, or a pause.

Which is fine, because often there is more acting skill demonstrated in two seconds of TV commercial than, say, an entire Tom Cruise movie, where the leads acts so damn hard for two hours you can practically smell it, like an overheated transformer. But to what effect? The Bobbys are all about effect.

Ted Michaels. He's the squirrelly little guy ordering DirecTV ( Deutsch, Los Angeles) and trying to get the installer to park the truck out back ... because he works for the cable company. His shifty body language is paranoiac and wonderful.

Doug Jeffers. We've never seen this man. But as the gruff, All-American Male voice of the Miller High Life campaign (Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore.), he has styled an entire brand image. He's like the crank at the VFW hall who is disgusted with everything but the values and comforts he holds dear: doughnuts, changing your own oil, giving moral support to the little lady without surrendering your dignity. We love this guy.

Robert McKay. He's the junior high school principal in the Tylenol spot ( Saatchi & Saatchi, New York) with hundreds of kids and a pounding headache. Commanding, charming and miserable: a tough combination to pull off.

But the coveted Bobby goes to ... Lester Speight. Yes, he is Reebok's fictional Terry Tate (Arnell Group, New York), the ex-linebacker office enforcer who will level you with a flying tackle if your report is overdue. The walloping-office-mates part isn't where the acting genius resides; it's where he's screaming pitilessly at one colleague and pauses, with a toothy grin, to greet another: "Hey, Janice!" Hilarious.

Best Actress

Another odd category this year. Just as Doug Jeffers got a nomination though we can't see him, Natalie Compagno is a finalist though we can't hear her. She's the chatty, self-involved "anchor" chick in the controversial Coors Light "Wingman" spot (Deutsch, Los Angeles), prattling on and on about (presumably) work and "relationships" while her totally hot friend shakes it fetchingly on the dance floor. She's beautiful, too, but aggressively boring-all brilliantly expressed merely by lip flap, because the bar music is too loud.

Then there's the woman in "Bus Stop," for Special K ( Leo Burnett Co., Chicago). She is Candi Milo, the perfectly normal non-Barbie Doll we see waiting for her bus while obsessing about unattainable men and dress sizes. And she is also Joan Scheckel, the voice of the woman's stream of consciousness interior monologue. Together these actresses create an indelible character of tragic ordinariness

The Bobby, however, goes to two other women: Miriam Glass. She is the saccharine flight attendant who cheerfully lends her PaperMate (McCann-Erickson, New York) to a passenger, and she is also the desperate obsessive who shows up at his door, in the pouring rain, to reclaim it-both at exactly 109% of verisimilitude.

Best Celebrity Performance

Well, who? Celine? No freakin' way. Sharon Stone for AOL? Nope. The writhing self-parody was more pitiful than ironic. Kobe? Um, no. Penelope Cruz? For what ... burping? In 2003, there were but two names worth considering.

The first is Donovan McNabb, Pro Bowl-bound quarterback of the Super Bowl-bound Philadelphia Eagles. He's a candidate for two reasons: First, he appeared in 93,443 commercials for 11,986 different advertisers. We haven't seen one guy on TV in so many places since Monica's lawyer William Ginsberg saw his 15 minutes expire.

The other reason is his performance in the Visa spot ( BBDO Worldwide, New York) in which a ticket-seeking fan tries to kiss up to him by turning a huge front-yard shrub into a topiary of McNabb throwing a pass. McNabb, picking up his newspaper in his robe and slippers, watches impassively from his driveway before announcing, in perfect deadpan: "It's not my yard." Well done, Donovan! Now if you could just kindly hit Staley in stride on the screens ...

The winner of the celebrity Bobby, though, can be only one man. For not only was Arnold Schwarzenegger a celebrity fronting for a product, he was also the product, fronting for his own successful candidacy for governor of California. "I am running for governor to lead a movement for change, and give California back its future," he told viewers. And it was a powerful performance, worthy of the most cherished statuette in the entire universe of trade-magazine coverage of TV commercial performance.

Of course, Californians should remember one thing:

He was acting.

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