Why a Former 'Seinfeld' Writer Loves His Palm Pre

Q&A: 'Narrow World of Sports' Host Peter Mehlman

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Former "Seinfeld" writer Peter Mehlman doesn't know much about YouTube as a distribution platform. In fact, "I don't really understand what a 'platform' is," he said.

Peter Mehlman is the writer, producer and host of 'Peter Mehlman's Narrow World of Sports.'
Peter Mehlman is the writer, producer and host of 'Peter Mehlman's Narrow World of Sports.'
But nevertheless, the veteran comedy writer is making his YouTube -- not to mention branded entertainment -- debut next week as the writer, producer and host of "Peter Mehlman's Narrow World of Sports," a series of interviews with superstar athletes such as Kobe Bryant, Shawn Johnson and Kevin Youkilis, produced by Berman Braun and created for Google and its video-sharing site YouTube.

It's one of YouTube's biggest original content deals since aligning with "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane for his "Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy" last year, and Mr. Mehlman, for one, appreciates the irony. "It's so funny I'm on YouTube, which is like the hottest thing among kids, and yet from an advertiser point of view I'm completely obsolete." The only ad aimed at him, he noted, is for a product that claims to make bathroom time easier.

At least one advertiser finds Mr. Mehlman appealing. Palm Pre is the series' exclusive sponsor, integrated throughout in ways even the brand didn't anticipate. In one episode, Mr. Mehlman talks to Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan about how quarterbacks make so much money and teachers make so little, only to remark, "I'm one of the few people who don't think teachers are underpaid." He then uses his Palm Pre to rewind the video and erase his blasphemous quote, replacing it with "Teachers really deserve more money." (Although he probably could have subbed in a catchphrase he came up with for "Seinfeld" -- "Yada yada yada.")

The webisodes could also help resuscitate the Sprint smartphone's brand image, after a series of recent TV commercials from Pre's agency Modernista gave off an unintentionally creepy vibe for many consumers. Mr. Mehlman, for one, loves his Pre. "It's awesome. I'm up to knowing about .07% of its capabilities," he said. "I'm really moving along. That's actually doubled in the last week." The Pre was quite the leap for Mr. Mehlman, who still used a landline prior to his first smartphone.

Ad Age caught up with Mr. Mehlman from his L.A. office hours after shooting an episode with skateboarder Tony Hawk. "Narrow World" producer Lloyd Braun later joined his star for the interview.

Ad Age: So you've gone from "Seinfeld" writer to hard-hitting sports journalist. How did the concept for your "Narrow World of Sports" come about?

Mr. Mehlman: I don't exactly remember what the original thinking was, but mostly it was just that when I watch ESPN or something like that, I can't believe the questions they ask and how boring they are. It seemed like it would be fun to ask the questions you always wanted to ask.

Ad Age: Yes, my particular favorite is when you ask Kobe Bryant if he thinks it would be unbelievably cool if he turned out to be a vegetarian after being named after a steak. So, Palm Pre is the integrated sponsor. Is this your first time working for a brand?

Mr. Mehlman: First time ever, yes. To tell you the truth, I went in with the idea to Lloyd Braun and I had no idea they had this connection with Google or whatever. I really just kind of focus on nothing but content. From this little idea, all of a sudden every time there's a conference call, there's five new companies on it. I have no idea what any of them do except for Berman Braun and Google and Palm. I'm not exactly sure what they do because I'm not very web-sophisticated.

It is kind of interesting, though. Having been a "Seinfeld" writer and everything, advertising has always been a mild fascination. I think it started when I was the person who wrote Snapple into a "Seinfeld" episode. Just because it sounded like a funny word -- and it was just great to, in the middle of the episode, have somebody say, "Snapple?" I guess that really helped the product at the time.

Ad Age: What are your thoughts on YouTube? Do you mind seeing "Seinfeld" clips on it?

Mr. Mehlman: I'd prefer they be viewed in some kind of context for which I would get some kind of residuals. My YouTube viewing is mostly to watch things like Rodney Dangerfield when he would be on "The Tonight Show." I'm stunned by how fast things get on YouTube, though. I did a tiny piece on the Lakers for TNT once, and it was on YouTube and four different places within hours. It's a little dizzying, I don't really focus on it too much. I'm blessed with being able to concentrate on the content of what I'm doing and Berman Braun and Google and YouTube and Palm and all the other 10 companies we're working with.

Ad Age: You speak to an impressive array of athletes in this series, including Kobe Bryant, Tony Hawk and Danica Patrick. If there's a second installment, who would be on your shortlist?

Mr. Mehlman: If I could get Barry Bonds, that would be wonderful. He's the only person I've really gone after hook, line and sinker. Michael Vick, of course. But if I talk to Michael Vick I'm not going to be talking about dogs. I don't want to ask any question that any sportswriter or sports broadcaster would ever ask. I don't think I've heard any sports broadcaster ask Kobe Bryant what he tips the referee. I personally think Michael Vick got way too much prison time, but you know what? My dog disagrees.

Lloyd Braun: You know what, we've actually already started work on a sequel, "Peter Mehlman's Narrow World of Politics," with Peter sitting with politicians asking all the tough questions.

Mr. Mehlman: I only want Republicans with sex scandals, and we'll talk about shoes and stuff like that. We'll take about girls, boys and Argentinian soulmates.

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