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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Dead Guy In A DirectTV Ad

I very rarely watch commercials anymore. Any regular reader knows of my love/hate relationship with my DVR. When I am watching the tube, I spend most of time fast forwarding through ads to get to the rest of the program I recorded months ago and haven’t watched or I am pretending to ignore the screen all together in an effort to not divulge my secret addiction to Sprout. I am mesmerized by the repetitive nature of the programming and wonder who the hell watches children’s programming at 4:00 in the morning? My two year old is already taking control and knows that I can call on Caillou or Dragon Tales at any time of the day just by pushing that big long button at the top of the remote.

But, back to commercials. On occasion, I will slow my forward momentum to catch a quick trailer for a new movie or video game. It was on one of these fast forward furloughs that I caught the latest DirectTV commercial featuring David Spade and a somewhat alive Chris Farley. We all know how DirectTV runs their ads. They take a popular movie and intercut new footage with one of the actors who breaks the fourth wall during the scene to schlep the service. Usually, a body double is used to continue the action of the real movie in order to seemingly splice together a pop culture moment with a crummy commercial. What alarmed me was that the scene, with David Spade selling his soul to the satellite service, was the “Fat Guy In a Little Coat” bit from Tommy Boy.

I shouldn’t be shocked. DirectTV isn’t the first company to sell their product using a dead star in its pitch. After all, aptly named Dirt Devil used Dead Astaire to sell a mop in 1996 and Dirt Devil wasn’t even the first to use a dead celebrity to sell something. Five years earlier, Natalie Cole did it with her album, Unforgettable… with Love. Granted she was paying tribute to Nat King Cole with the album, but the videos creeped me out because it looked so much like she was using her father’s celebrity to sell the album. And even earlier, Hank Williams Jr. did a duet with dear old dad Hank Sr. in 1989, which also featured a music video of Father and Son together. So why has the ad touched off a bit of a media buzz over good or poor taste? Call it timing.

First off, according to an interview with David Spade, both he and the family of the late comedian were approached about the commercial and the family gave their blessing. Second all, what exactly are people up in arms about? From a lot of the net chatter people are creeped out by the timing and intent of the advertisement. A few folks pose have been asking, “Is it TOO SOON?” and “Did Spade sell out his friend?”

Too soon for what? Chris Farley died 12 years ago. How long is the statute of limitations on using a dead goofball comedian in a television ad? It can’t be that we are somehow more endeared to Farley, now, then when he was alive. I loved Tommy Boy and Farley on SNL was the third renaissance of the 35 year old show, but it’s not like Chris Farley was John Candy or Jackie Gleason. So, why go with the adage of “It’s too soon” to explain disgust?

To that end, DirectTV’s series of ads has tread upon this ground before with a commercial featuring Craig T. Nelson reprising his role from Poltergeist. The commercial shows footage from the movie with the late Heather O’Rourke in the iconic “They’re Here” scene. O’Rourke died in 1988 and people still found it creepy. Going back to through DirectTV’s ads we can find another instance of a deceased character used to sell the service. I say it was way too soon to use the Queen Xenomorph in a commercial. I still can’t go near an airlock without breaking down into a sobbing mess. Sorry, I just can’t get away from that bitch.

I have another opinion on the ick factor with the Farley ad. It isn’t that it’s too soon, it’s that this year has been wrought with the death of pop culture icons. 2009 has seen the death of at over 20 distinct fixtures from the world of pop culture in Michael Jackson, John Hughes, Ed McMahon, Farah Fawcett, Patrick Swayze, Soupy Sales, David Carradine, Lou Albano, Mary Travers, Henry Gibson, Dom DeLuise, Les Lye, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and Ted Kennedy. Dredging up the memory of another dead celebrity just seems to be in poor taste this year. Like I said, equating Chris Farley to say Soupy Sales or Henry Gibson is a bit of a stretch but realize that Chris Farley made his mark in the entertainment world and now the generation that grew up and identifies with him as a peer is now the same generation that is owning a home and paying for satellite service. He’s as much as an influence their lives as say Michael Jackson was on my generation and Soupy Sales was on my parents’.

The other problem with the advert is the content. I’m not suggesting there is anything wrong with a fat guy in a little coat, but Chris Farley isn’t the one pitching DirectTV, David Spade is. Granted, I don’t think you can go through a lot of Tommy Boy and find a David Spade specific moment that doesn’t get overshadowed by Farley’s Tommy Boy Foolery. “Fat Guy In a Little Coat” is as much Farley’s moment as “They’re Here” was Heather O’Rourke’s. Those are the things that you remember from those films, not David Spade’s reaction to Farley ripping the back out of Richard’s coat. It was simply a poor choice in scenes.

I can think of two scenes that would have served to highlight Spade’s character, one was the hotel scene where he gets caught watching a skinny dipper at the pool. That’s not exactly a good sell for DirectTV unless you are selling their adult programming. The other, which I think would have been more appropriate, would have been the scene where Richard is discovered to be wearing a toupee after an engine fan revs up and blows his off his head. At that moment, David Spade could have broke the fourth wall and spoke directly to the audience with that bald head and flapping toupee and it would have been chuckle worthy. After his pitch, he reattaches the rug and goes directly back into the original footage. That would have been more acceptable because it was a scene directly involving his character.

The bottom line is that both Farley’s family and Spade gave consent to the commercial, although I can’t imagine what consent Spade had to give over the use of the footage. He was Farley’s dear friend but I don’t think he has anything to do with the actor’s estate. It might have been him consenting to appear in the commercial. Who knows?

So, in my book, the spot was a little creepy for the subject matter but not worthy of the national attention it has received. After all, the number one movie at the box office over Halloween weekend was a movie about a dead celebrity and it wasn’t fictional. Apparently, it wasn’t too soon for the audience to shell out over 20 million to see the final rehearsals of Michael Jackson’s This Is It tour.

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