Fox Sports may get laughs, but spots still get it wrong

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We trashed your campaign and you think we know absolutely nothing?


We know plenty. For instance, at any moment over the past 10 years, the Ad Review staff could have told you -- within 5 points -- Mickey Morandini's batting average (.261 right now. Look it up.).

And before that Mariano Duncan's. And Juan Samuel's. And Joe Morgan's, Manny Trillo's, Dave Cash's, Ted Sizemore's, Denny Doyle's, all the way back to Tony Taylor's.

Why? Because, though we hate your advertising, we love the Phillies. We're not baseball fans, exactly. We're Phillies fans.

It's a sickness, OK?

It's a sad, frustrating, beautiful sickness to care so deeply about what a bunch of barely post-adolescent ignoramuses do 162 times a summer that in no way addresses ontological riddles, the crises of civilization or the human condition.

On the other hand, the other night Robert Person pitched seven strong innings, and the Phils are now a mere nine-game winning streak from striking distance of next-to-last place.

Naturally we looked for the highlights on ESPN's "SportsCenter." Unfortunately, we tuned in moments too late, and instead endured 25 minutes of Ken Griffey home runs and Pedro Martinez strikeouts -- which not only don't we care about, but which actually make us sick.

So along comes Fox Sports Net cable network with an intriguing concept: regional coverage, focusing on home teams in 22 market areas around the country, to go head-to-head with "SportsCenter" at 11 p.m.

And we're thinking: "Whoa! All-Morandini, all the time!"

The rollout campaign is from Cliff Freeman & Partners, New York, whose recent Fox work has been surprising and hilarious. So is the new stuff. In fact, it may be the funniest advertising on TV. What it isn't, unfortunately, is precisely right.

Five introductory spots, in classically Freeman fashion, take the idea of other regions' sports to the point of absurdity. If Junior's home run stroke is boring to Phillies fans, how about Chinese tree-catching?

Yes, it's phony footage of an imaginary sport -- men trying to catch falling timber -- reported with the same breathless excitement of televised American games, only with small crowds and cheesy production. In this case, the participant is crushed by the downed tree.

Other spots show bicyclist-roping in South Africa; Russian face-slapping (after each slap, the contestants pound a time clock, like in chess); and blindfolded giant-club swinging from India.

The funniest is (ostensibly, of course) from Turkey. It's cliff diving, like in Acapulco, except when we follow the diver downward, we see him land, splat, in a dusty pit. There's no water. The announcer then lists the judges' scores: 7.1, 6.8, etc.

Then, in an onscreen super, the pitch: "Sports news from the only region you care about. Yours."

The fake telecasts are perfectly crafted and very, very funny. Furthermore, if you think carefully about it, you can see the point: Why watch stuff from places that don't interest you?

The problem is, TV commercial viewers don't, typically, think hard about anything. Complicating matters, the absurdly exotic sports are so interesting the entertainment value actually obscures the selling proposition. This is one time when preposterous exaggeration is inferior to a more straightforward and literal approach.

In one fashion or another, we needed to see a fan watching TV, sitting unhappily through someone else's highlights. That's the experience to which Fox Sports Net is offering an alternative, and nobody has to think very hard to get the point.

We don't hate this advertising, but we do know this: As this column goes to press, the Phillies are facing Pedro Martinez. Catch the highlights. It'll be like Chinese tree-catching. We're gonna get crushed.

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