Copywriter Goes From Mad Ave to Tinseltown

Steve Dildarian Worked on Bud While at Goodby but Now Has Animated Series for HBO -- and Fun With Brands

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NEW YORK ( -- A few years back, when the Budweiser "Lizards" spot he wrote while working at Goodby Silverstein & Partners permeated the mainstream, doors started opening for Steve Dildarian. Clients started demanding his presence on their accounts. Cabbies and college kids started reciting his lines back to him. "I got the feeling a few times like, 'This might be the peak for me. This might be hard to top,'" he deadpanned.
Unlike other higher-concept animated shows seen on network TV and cable in recent years, the animation for 'Tim' is proudly crude.
Unlike other higher-concept animated shows seen on network TV and cable in recent years, the animation for 'Tim' is proudly crude.

So, of course, he immediately set about trying to do just that. While continuing his work on the agency's Budweiser business, Mr. Dildarian, 38, wrote a series of pilots. After becoming "an animation expert who knows nothing about animation," owing to his contributions to another Budweiser project, he and his girlfriend cobbled together a wry short, "Angry Unpaid Hooker," which screened at the 2006 Comedy Arts Festival. And voila: The ad guy is now the TV guy, with an animated series based on that short, "The Life & Times of Tim," which makes its debut on HBO on Sept. 28.

Not a backstabber
Unlike most copywriters-turned-TV-scribes, however, Mr. Dildarian professed nothing but admiration for his former employers and colleagues, comparing them favorably in many ways to their TV-world equivalents. "The TV business in general is a little more formulaic and structured. There's lots of tradition," he said. "With advertising, every project is a new start. There's this make-it-up-as-you-go mentality."

Prior to his stint at Goodby, Mr. Dildarian worked at BBDO and Cliff Freeman. Past clients include Staples and Little Caesars Pizza.

"Tim" boasts several scenes that could be seen as, uh, "critical" of the corporate world: Its everyman protagonist works in some undefined capacity at an entity called "Omnicorp," where he bumps up against a subtly inappropriate HR person and a boss who encourages him to sexually harass his peers.

Asked about likenesses to his past job, Mr. Dildarian laughed. "That's a tricky one to answer without the lawyers." He stressed, though, that there are no this-person-is-that-person parallels.

'A guy and his job'
"I was a young guy living in New York working at a big company, so there's certainly a lot in the show that comes from my life. But it's not at all like, 'Oh, Omnicorp is BBDO.' It's just a guy and his job."
Steve Dildarian
Steve Dildarian

"Tim" represents a departure for HBO, and not just by virtue of its animation. The series is a decidedly normal show, set in a modern metropolis and centered around a modern guy who neither levitates in the early-morning surf nor plies his craft in the waste-management trade. "Tim" also boasts little in common with the higher-concept animated shows seen on network TV and cable in recent years. The animation is proudly crude -- think "Beavis and Butt-Head" -- and the deadpan tone feels more "Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist" than "Family Guy." It would be right at home as part of the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim lineup.

"Most animated shows want to go to an over-the-top, extreme place," Mr. Dildarian explained. "I can watch 'The Simpsons' and say, 'That's an amazing, amazing show.' But personally, I never cared about it. I like things that are relatable."

And because you're wondering: No, at no point did HBO bring up the possibility of product integration within "Tim." The first lines heard in the first episode, in fact, veer as far as possible in the other direction: "What can brown do for me? Move your @#$%in' truck!"

Brands add realism
Mr. Dildarian, however, took pains to note that the references to Banana Republic, Gap and programming like "60 Minutes" aren't meant in any way as commentary. "Other animated shows have those bases covered -- to pass judgment, tell you what's hip or not. I don't like to go there. [The brands] are in the show because they're in this guy's world."

As for Mr. Dildarian's -- and Tim's -- future, he cheerily outlines two scenarios. "Either it tanks and I have no job and nothing to do in the immediate future, or it's a hit and we immediately turn around and do season two," he said. "So a few weeks from now, if you see me, I'll either be very happy or very, very depressed."
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