Sunday, December 19, 2004


Sorry I haven't posted anything in a few days, folks. But I've been a bit busy between trekking to Connecticut to see my brand-new nephew and with a 12 part allegory I've been writing in order to lambaste my friends in an email Digest group.

So here are a few news items to keep my toes in the water:

Aflac, the insurance company that rose to pop-cultural heights on the wings of a waterfowl, is launching a $50 million ad campaign that partly muzzles its web-footed friend and instead seeks to better define what the company does.

The move is a risky one, given the iconic status the feathered creature has reached since being introduced in January 2000. Known for its loud "Aflac" quack, the duck has become one of the country's most recognizable ad icons.

Before its first appearance, most people had never heard of the Columbus, Ga., purveyor of supplemental workplace insurance. Since that time, however, Aflac's brand awareness has skyrocketed to 90 percent from 12 percent, the company says. But in today's competitive business environment, name recognition alone isn't enough.

"Consumers were saying, 'I know you are insurance and you have this duck that quacks, but what can you do for me?"' says Al Johnson, Aflac's vice president of advertising and branding.

Madison Avenue is forever wrestling with the challenge of creating ads that entertain while also imparting enough information about a product or service. For Aflac, the idea of better defining what the company does is fraught with risk, say branding experts, since weighing down copy with big explanations might be an instant turn-off for consumers who are used to quick and fun ads that predominantly featured the quacking duck.

Aflac says it was prompted to redo its messaging after increases in sales began to slow and consumer research found that people were confused about Aflac. A survey of 1,000 consumers done in October 2003 by Bantam Group, a research firm in Atlanta, found that 60 percent of respondents said they weren't exactly sure what Aflac insurance was.

Moreover, a telephone poll of 600 consumers, done in April 2004, found that about half of the respondents said the current advertising doesn't explain what Aflac is.

One new commercial, created by Publicis Groupe's Kaplan Thaler Group and set to begin airing Jan. 1 during college-football bowl games, features a man with a broken leg talking to a friend. "Hey, you look relaxed for someone in your condition," says the friend. "It's because I have Aflac," responds the man with the cast. "When I'm hurt and miss work, Aflac gives me cash to help pay bills my health insurance doesn't." The friend chimes in: "What do you mean, like car payments, electric bills -- the rent?"

As the two banter on, the duck fiddles around in the background writing checks and mailing bills -- and even gets cash ready for the Chinese-food deliveryman.

In another spot, dubbed "Pet Store," comedian Gilbert Gottfried, the voice of the Aflac duck, tries to return the Aflac duck to a pet shop. "He just says the same thing over and over," complains Mr. Gottfried, who becomes frustrated when the duck fails to quack. A parrot weighs in with the Aflac name and what the company does. In a surprising twist, this is one of the few times the duck doesn't reveal the company name.

While Aflac hopes to tone down the duck's call, the company says the familiar squawk might return. "You don't want to annoy consumers," adds Mr. Johnson. "The duck is evolving."

Rumors of a lesser role for the popular duck have percolated for months in ad circles, but the company says the duck's return was never in question. In fact, the duck is even being promoted: He now will be perched on the company's logo.
Top 10 alternative comedy sketches
(as chosen by British TV viewers)

1. Dead Parrot (Python)
2. Four Yorkshiremen (Python)
3. Lou and Andy by the Pool (Little Britain)
4. Going for English (Goodness Gracious Me)
5. Brown baby (Harry Enfield)
6. Ministry of Silly Walks (Python)
7. One Leg Too Few (Dudley Moore)
8. Papa Lazarou (League of Gentlemen)
9. Two Soups (Julie Walters in Victoria Wood)
10. The Spam Song (Python)

‘Law & Order' stays orderly
Creator explains cast changes
By Gary Levin
Forget those homicidal maniacs: There's even more drama behind the scenes at Law & Order.

The shows easily have weathered their share of cast changes, proving that compelling scripts — not stars — draw viewers. But this season brings more than the usual revolving-door changes.

Elisabeth Rohm exits the original Law & Order (Wednesdays, 10 p.m. ET/PT) in early January in what creator Dick Wolf calls a surprise, “water-cooler” moment. She will be replaced a week later by Annie Parisse (As the World Turns). As the show's sixth assistant D.A., she “has the most sophisticated, almost European sexuality; she's smart and hot,” he says.

Jesse L. Martin is departing early to film an adaptation of Rent but returns next fall. And The Sopranos' Michael Imperioli guest-stars in the final four episodes as nephew and temporary partner of Detective Fontana (Dennis Farina).
And on SVU (Tuesdays, 10 p.m. ET/PT), the only Law to gain viewers, Mary Stuart Masterson filmed a multi-episode arc to pinch-hit for B.D. Wong, who's performing in Broadway's Pacific Overtures.

Lately, the rumor mill has been in overdrive about other changes both real and imagined. Wolf sets things straight:

•Vincent D'Onofrio, star of Criminal Intent (Sundays, 9 p.m. ET/PT), is not being replaced by Chris Noth. Rumors started swirling that the combustible D'Onofrio posted anti-Bush screeds on the set, irritating other cast and crew members. Rumors were compounded when the star had two fainting spells, forcing a brief hospital stay.

The Bush-bashing rumors amounted to “tabloid journalism,” Wolf says, and the offending “signage” actually took place on L&O's upcoming fourth edition, Trial by Jury, which D'Onofrio has nothing to do with.

Wolf acknowledges that Noth, previously on L&O, was on a short list of possible replacements drafted during the hospitalization. But D'Onofrio is back, so “that step was not necessary. Vincent's done an incredible job the past 3½ years, and I would like him to be there for the rest of the show's run.”

•Jerry Orbach's prostate cancer did not force his exit or stall production on Trial by Jury. The decision to shift Orbach, 69, from an L&O lead to a Trial supporting player, Wolf says, “was made prior to my knowledge of his medical problem,” revealed last week. But it had the side effect of shielding L&O from delays, because his new role is part-time. Scenes are being shot around his treatment, and “it has not impacted production.”

Alanis Morissette doesn't just love music -- she's into comedy, too.

The Canadian songbird just inked a deal with Comedy Central (with none other than Hollywood heavyweight Tom Hanks on board as a producer). Morissette will star in a ''mockumentary''-style TV show.In a premise that sounds a lot like ''The Chris Isaak Show,'' Morissette's half-hour series will follow her on tour next year.

The singer will play herself, but the rest of the cast will be comprised of improv actors playing her managers, technical aides, security guards and wardrobe assistants.

Morissette whetted her appetite to create her own comedy show with roles on HBO's ''Curb Your Enthusiasm'' and Fox's ''Mad TV,'' playing her own fictional little sister -- a Britney Spears-type pop tart.
The American Film Institute's top 10 television programs of the year were HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Deadwood," "The Sopranos" and "Something the Lord Made," ABC's "Desperate Housewives" and "Lost," FX's "Nip/Tuck" and "The Shield," Fox's "Arrested Development" and Comedy Central's "South Park." ___________________
The pig aroused by Rebecca Loos on TV show 'The Farm' did not feel degraded by the experience, watchdogs have ruled.

David Beckham's former PA was asked to give the boar - and nature - a helping hand.

Ofcom received 37 complaints about the act which lasted for ten minutes.

Most of the complaints criticised her antics as "akin to bestiality".

The RSPCA also condemned the scenes, shown on Five.

But the channel was cleared of breaching taste and decency standards.

Ofcom's ruling said: "Rebecca Loos was selected by a qualified veterinary surgeon to assist him extracting semen from a boar on a neighbouring farm.

"The task performed by Rebecca Loos is one that occurs regularly on UK farms. We do not believe the scene was degrading or harmful to the boar."
And finally, here's a quote from Rowan Atkinson:

"To criticise a person for their race is manifestly irrational and ridiculous but to criticise their religion, that is a right. That is a freedom.

"The freedom to criticise ideas, any ideas - even if they are sincerely held beliefs - is one of the fundamental freedoms of society.

"A law which attempts to say you can criticise and ridicule ideas as long as they are not religious ideas is a very peculiar law indeed."