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The following miscellaneous commercials scored high enough to deserve mention in our collection of Best TV spots of 1998.

Saint Thomas Health Services: "Cath Lab," "Diagnosis," "Pre-surgery," "Surgery," "Pods," "Recovery," :30s

Endres & Wilson, Nashville

Nonfiction Spots, Barbara Koppel, director

Each spot in this gripping campaign begins with a title card reading, "This story is real. There are no scripts and no actors." Shot by the documentary director Barbara Koppel, it follows a guy identified only as Randy as he's diagnosed with "a serious heart defect." Even though we can guess the outcome -- if Randy hadn't made it, the spots likely wouldn't have aired -- the anxiety seen here is real when Randy learns that he has a tear in his aorta, and the surgeon isn't kidding when he tells him he's got a 30% chance of dying. Randy's family gathers around as the spots follow him through the operation, the recovery and eventually his return home. Throughout several themes develop: the professionalism of the doctors, the caring nature of the staff and the human element of uncertainty, fear and eventual relief.

Considering the often droning nature of much health care advertising, this riveting series, devoid of any production or post production camouflage, is compelling to watch. That it never feels exploitive is a testimony to the conviction of the real people who appear in it.

Mountain Dew: "Dem Bones," :30

BBDO, New York

Reactor (Now B.O.B.), Dayton & Faris,


It's the Dew dudes, back again for a little extreme soft drink advertising. Here we see stock footage of X-gamers smashing their heads, necks, backs and, um, nether regions as they tumble off their snowboards, surfboards, skateboards and whatnot (the shots of skateboarders falling split-legged on stairway railings are almost too painful to watch). With the old "knee bone connected to the thigh bone" song playing in the background, the dudes are seen in an operating room dressed in scrubs, reacting viscerally to some of the more awful wipeouts.

Suddenly a Mountain Dew vending machine appears in the back of an ambulance, the cans come flying out and the dudes are drinkin'. Mischief follows as they commandeer a gurney and take off down the hallway, only to crash into a cart full of test tubes.

The juxtaposition of the old fashioned music track and the hipster visuals steeps this spot in irony, and that's what makes it funny. Understanding the mentality of kids who revel in self-inflicted pain is one of the odd strengths of this campaign. As unsettling as some of this might be to oldsters, it's usually right on the money.

Hallmark Cards: "Dad's House," :60

Leo Burnett Co., Chicago

Gartner, James Gartner, director

No schmaltz fest, this holiday spot about a young boy who's being swapped between mommy's and daddy's houses on Christmas Eve is amazingly downbeat for Hallmark. Here, the subject of divorce is not exploited merely for effect; rather, it employs the awkward connection between the parents, mitigated by the fact that mom bought a Christmas card for her son to give his father, to create a jarring sense of reality. There's no happy ending here, just the product playing a supporting role in the characters' own drama. Marvelously directed and acted with subtly and restraint, this kind of spot could easily have come out all wrong, but for anyone who's been in this position it feels perfectly right.

Federal Express: "Apology," :30

BBDO, New York

Produced in-house

One of the most talked-about spots on the 1998 Super Bowl, this test pattern graphics crawl, complete with its annoying video hum soundtrack, was a clear instance of zigging while everyone else zagged. The crawl explains that viewers were supposed to be seeing a big-budget spot for EarthCo Insurance, but some "boob" at the agency forgot to send it FedEx. While some critics thought it too much of an ad industry inside joke, it stood out amongst all the other overhyped TV ads (the creation and production of which BBDO has turned into an art form)

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