Best TV-Commercial Performances

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From the star-spangled Ad Review Viewing Lab in glamorous suburban Washington, D.C., once again, ladies and gentlemen, it's time for the Fourth Annual … Bobby Awards! All the superstars of TV-commercial acting are on hand, bejeweled and bedazzled at the glitter of this unique event, honoring the best performances in TV spots for 2001.

Ah, the suspense! The pageantry! The sights and sounds of Joan and Melissa Rivers loitering in the shrubbery, molesting the arriving celebrities! (Who is that with them? Is that DeNiro? Is that Ridley Scott? No, it's Joan's plastic surgeon,

in the event of a sudden emergency, such as a portion of her face suddenly returning to the neck whence it came!)

All right, the time has come. Let's visit our nominees.

~ ~ ~
Alice Barrett Mitchell
Jane Lynch
Ingrid Doucet

In the category of best actress in a television commercial, the first nominee is the only Bobby candidate this year not in a so-called "humor" spot. As you know, by federal law prior to Sept. 11, all TV commercials had to be humorous, or receive special dispensation from the U.S. Department of Commerce. So it was a rare delight to see Alice Barrett Mitchell's portrayal of a generous wife giving her hubby the Christmas gift of his life-which happened to be a Jaguar automobile.

(The Ad Review staff, by contrast, got a bathrobe.)

Mitchell is seen toying with the guy, literally, by giving him a scale model Jag to unwrap. He feigns appreciation, but is clearly un-bowled over. She, snapping his Polaroid image, says, "Well, anyway, it's supposed to be the thought that counts." The genius of her performance is in her body language, as she reacts to his muted reaction and uses her foot to call his attention to the Polaroid, which reveals, outside the picture window behind him, an actual car, tied in a bow. ( Y&R Cos., Irvine, Calif.)

Her grin is the very picture of affection and glee. Indeed, generosity seems to be her acting hallmark. We're thinking, for instance, of her performance of Sept. 19, 1996, when, in the role of Frankie Frame Winthrop on "Another World," Mitchell was strangled onscreen by a serial killer, ending her employment there, but opening up salary space for an expensive new cast member.

The second nominee is Jane Lynch, who played a bewildered mother in a spot for Sprint ( Publicis & Hal Riney, San Francisco). "I just called to ask 'How are the kids?'" her character explains, recounting her conversation with the babysitter over a terrible cellular connection. "And she flours the kids!" Despite the situation's essential absurdity -- yes, we see the children covered in flour -- Lynch conveys a combination of confusion, exasperation and sympathy.

The winner of the Bobby, though, is Ingrid Doucet.

In a spot for Ikea ( Carmichael Lynch, Minneapolis), she played a mousy, young wife staring admiringly at a handsome, well-organized apartment across the way. Her slacker husband dismisses the d├ęcor, and the occupants, as "uptight." Then we see those neighbors chasing one another, dressed in leather underwear, in some sort of sex game. Doucet, nervously fingering her necklace, regards the scene. In a nearly expressionless voice that nonetheless bursts with understanding she observes, "They don't seem that uptight." It's understated, hilarious and wonderful.

~ ~ ~
Pat Finn
Chip Fogelman
Bryce Beckham
Dan Warner

The first nominee for Best Actor, Pat Finn, has been playing the same role for two years, and doing it brilliantly. While I'd like to say that role is Richard III, the fact is he plays a talking milk carton, for Dairy Management and The Milk Processors' Education Program (Bozell, New York). Dressed as the advertised product, Finn wanders to playgrounds and other sporting venues, engaging in high-calcium trash talk in attempt to get young people off Gatorade and Mountain Dew. The idea is to show that milk has not only healthful ingredients, but also attitude. Hence, Finn-in-a-milk-carton is a swaggering wiseguy, such a pushy buffoon that he's almost cool.

In one spot, he's in a gym, next to a guy bench-pressing free weights. "Can I get a spot here?" the weightlifter asks.

"Yeah," the milk carton responds. "What are you drinking?"

"Sports drink."

"Sports drink? Later, sunshine."

The second and third nominees are Chip Fogelman and Bryce Beckham, a pair of goateed technogeeks in the only watchable spot of an otherwise irredeemably terrible campaign for Taco Bell (Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco). The two guys sit on a park bench, discussing lunch in tech-like jargon.

"I assume it also came with TMAWMC?"

"Tender, marinated, all-white-meat chicken."


"Grilled flour tortilla. What are you having?"

A long, abashed pause, then: "PBJ." That's peanut butter and jelly. The joke is slight, the performances marvelous.

The 2001 Bobby Award, however, goes to the DirectTV man ( Deutsch, New York), the intrepid satellite-dish installer who for a year and a half has been stoically confronting the irrational exuberance of his customers as he wires their homes for satellite TV. He is reserved. He is confident. He is deadpan. He is amused. He is bemused. He is very subtly very, very funny. His name, ladies and gentlemen, is Dan Warner.

~ ~ ~
Pat Morita
Little Richard
Robert DeNiro
Barbara Walters

And now to the category we've all been waiting for: the 2001 Bobby Award for best performance by a celebrity in a television commercial.

This is always a difficult decision, partly because there are so many athletes and entertainers to choose from, and partly because those athletes and entertainers, when doing TV spots, usually suck. (Case in point: Tiger Woods for Buick. He's great when bouncing a golf ball on a pitching wedge. When he tries to act … SHANK!)

The first nomination goes to an acting pair: Pat Morita and Little Richard in a goofy spot for Lipton's Sizzle & Stir ( Bartle Bogle Hegarty, New York), in which they play the argumentative children of "parents" Sally Jesse Raphael and Chuck Woolery. There's no point recreating the dialogue; the point is they're fussing at each other, while trying to avoid setting the table for dinner. Just too wonderful for words.

The next nominee is an up-and-coming actor who appeared in a spot promoting New York City tourism ( BBDO Worldwide, New York.) He also is in a silly costume, dressed as a turkey. The man's no Peter Finn, but keep your eye out for him anyway. His name is Robert DeNiro, playing himself with a chilling Rupert Pupkin edge.

Bless his heart, putting on that ridiculous getup. But the Bobby Award goes to someone who showed even more guts than that, in the very same campaign. She is a dear, dear colleague of ours at ABC News, but we're not concerned about conflict of interest because, first of all, her performance was so stellar, and, secondly, we have never met and she hasn't the slightest idea who we are.

We refer, of course, to the woman gutsy enough-in a commercial airing hundreds of times all across the country -- to sing and dance history's worst rendition of "42nd Street." The goal was to show all the magic, expected and unexpected, New York City has to offer. Her total surrender of any vestige of human dignity achieved precisely that. Her name is Barbara Walters, and if we were a tree, she's the sort of tree that we would be.

Rumor is, she'll be at the after party at Spago, on the arm of the sock puppet. See you there.

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