On the street in front of their building you won't find models racing back and forth with portfolios under their arms or scruffy Web designers with goatees and pierced eyebrows. Instead there are densely packed booths selling gray-market everything and restaurants displaying whole roast ducks in their windows.
The marketing possibilities of the neighborhood have not been lost on the company.
"We're thinking of setting up a stall to sell our reel," said funnyman Hank Perlman, a line that caused partners Steve Orent, Allan Broce and Bryan Buckley to crack up laughing.
Welcome to "SchtickCenter," headquarters of the hottest production house in the ad business, a company that's busy turning away work while plotting its comedy-driven assault on Hollywood.
From their heralded beginnings on ESPN's now-legendary "Sports-Center" campaign to their later work on M&M/Mars' Snickers, E*Trade and Outpost.com, the people at Hungry Man have been involved in some of the most awarded and talked-about advertising of the past few years.
A CADRE OF HYPHENATES
Built around the nucleus of Messrs. Buckley and Perlman, the former a director with solid agency creative experience behind him and the latter a former copywriter at Portland, Ore.-based Wieden & Kennedy, the company has attracted a cadre of like-minded individuals. All are hyphenated talents in their own right (writer-producer-director) with ambitions to sashay back and forth regularly between TV, film and ad assignments.
The most recent addition to the group is Mr. Broce, who exited his post as senior VP-marketing and on-air promotion at MTV late last month to join Hungry Man in the new position of president of its fledgling TV division.
The move is a homecoming of sorts for Mr. Broce, who developed the "SportsCenter" campaign with Messrs. Perlman and Buckley and Frank Todaro -- Mr. Buckley's former directing partner -- back when they were all working for different companies. Mr. Broce was director-marketing and advertising at ESPN at the time; Mr. Perlman was at Wieden and Messrs. Buckley and Todaro, who had been partners in the now-defunct agency Buckley DeCerchio, were with production house Radical Media.
The "SportsCenter" campaign swept the awards shows in its first year on the air and helped propel the cable channel into the media limelight, a boost that has since taken on significant overtones. ESPN, which recently celebrated its 20th anniversary, has become the jewel of Walt Disney Co.'s TV properties. Mr. Buckley went on to co-direct with Mr. Todaro the first round of Snickers spots from BBDO Worldwide, New York, for Radical Media before departing with Mr. Orent, a producer, to form Hungry Man in 1997 with Mr. Perlman.
Both the ESPN campaign and the Snickers' "Chef" spot that Mr. Buckley worked on were named successive Advertising Age Best TV ads for 1995 and 1996, respectively.
In his new post, Mr. Broce will oversee Hungry Man's efforts to develop TV programming ideas. Assisting him will be BGTV, the TV arm of Brillstein-Grey Entertainment, producer of the NBC sitcom "Just Shoot Me," HBO's "The Sopranos" and ABC's topical talkfest, "Politically Incorrect."
Hungry Man's exclusive two-year agreement with BGTV was put together by Creative Artists Agency, the high-powered Hollywood talent agency that also represents Hungry Man's film efforts. Those are overseen by partner Mary Jane Skalski, who joined Hungry Man in June from Good Machine, the production company behind the feature films "Happiness" and "The Ice Storm."
AFFINITY FOR COMEDY, CONCEPTS
All the Hungry Man partners, a sextet that also includes Chief Financial Officer Gregg Doody, are in their mid-30s and have an affinity not just for comedy but for concept-driven work. The company's roster of commercial directors has ballooned to 12, many of whom have worked outside advertising on projects where they've often written their own material.
While Messrs. Buckley and Perlman are the marquee names, the company also produces for director John O'Hagan, whose outrageous campaigns for Out-post.com and Dial-a-Mattress have won numerous awards this year. Mr. O'Hagan was brought to the company by Ms. Skalski, who produced a feature film he directed.
Mr. Broce said he left MTV because he saw a great opportunity for Hungry Man to leverage the commercial work it has been doing into broader entertainment properties.
Media interest in the entertainment industry in general has come to include regular coverage of ads and admakers. In today's media environment, he pointed out, "the commerce of entertainment has become fascinating. Advertising fits naturally into that."
"Most of the people here want to do more than one thing," said Mr Buckley. "We provide a place where they can operate on this premise from the get-go. If you work with talented people, then the cross-over advantages are huge."
The advertising background of the Hungry Man partners isn't seen by BGTV as a hindrance to their role as originators of TV programming.
"If anything, the demand for quality television has outstripped the supply," said Kevin Reilly, president of BGTV. "You can only mine the traditional sources so deep."
Mr. Reilly said what might make network and cable programmers interested in the Hungry Man team is that "they've shown they have a distinctive tone, an offbeat point of view."
In the end, he said, "It'll boil down to their creativity and their relationships."
TWO TV DEALS
To date, BGTV has negotiated two TV development deals for Hungry Man with undisclosed networks. One is for "Doughboy," a reality-based comedy show centered around Hopwood Dupree, a young filmmaker who will give money away, while another features National Basketball Association star Kevin Garnett.
While Mr. Broce and Ms. Skalski stake out movie and TV projects, Messrs. Perlman and Buckley pursue their own extracurricular activities. Mr. Perlman is mostly involved in the company's TV comedy projects, while Mr. Buckley is scheduled to start shooting a film in January that he wrote.
It's their hope that by surrounding themselves with a company that can handle their outside activities, they can keep a better sense of control over the outcome. The two collaborated on an earlier movie venture, along with Mr. Todaro, that has so far been an exercise in frustration. "New Jersey Turnpikes," a movie they did last year for Universal Pictures about a fictional pro basketball team, has yet to be released and is currently being reworked.
While Mr. Broce hopes to tap into the Hungry Man partners' extensive network of agency copywriter and art director friends and colleagues for entertainment ideas -- providing an attractive outlet for frustrated creatives everywhere -- the partners said making commercials will remain the core of the company.
"We all know that making the leap from advertising to other areas is no guarantee," Mr. Broce warned, "so we're trying to do this the smartest way we can."
"It's not going to be easy," Mr. Buckley added. "It's a long process. And that's what you have to love about commercials. They're like good, fast sex -- they're