MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is Day to Day. I'm Madeleine Brand.
ALEX COHEN, host:
And I'm Alex Cohen. The new dramatic TV series, "Trust Me" begins tonight on cable channel TNT. And trust us, it might remind you of another popular cable show, "Mad Men." Critic Andrew Wallenstein looks at why TV is so madly in love with the ad industry.
(Soundbite of TV show "Trust Me")
Mr. TOM CAVANAGH (Actor): That's why we got into advertising in the first place, remember? Some kids want to be firemen, some kids want to be astronauts, some kinds want to be doctors. We always wanted to be hung over from expensive booze that someone else paid for while everyone back in Chicago thinks we're working. That was our dream.
ANDREW WALLENSTEIN: Thus begins "Trust Me," just the latest show to dramatize a trade that at first blush doesn't seem any more dramatic that being an accountant. "Mad Men" has changed that perception, given all the acclaim it's gotten.
But long before the network AMC even existed, it was one of TV's sillier comedies that first planted the advertising flag, "Bewitched," where ad man Darrin Stephens dealt with a unique problem of being hitched to a witch. Then there were shows that actually made the business of advertising a recurring storyline like the 1990's soap opera "Melrose Place."
But it was a more substantive series that same decade that made advertising sexy. While "Thirtysomething" was better known for its touchy-feely yuppies, some of its characters toiled at an ad agency whose inner workings drove much of the show's plot. In this scene, the art director played by series star Timothy Busfield gets reprimanded by his boss.
(Soundbite of TV show "Thirtysomething")
Mr. DAVID CLENNON: (As Miles Drentell) The Island Breezes people shy away from cutting-edge. They require something familiar, friendly.
Mr. TIMOTHY BUSFIELD: (As Elliot Weston) Can't we be familiar and friendly and cutting-edge?
Mr. CLENNON: (As Miles Drentell) No.
Mr. BUSFIELD: (As Elliot Weston) Miles, Peter and I, you know, we really told Andy to put himself out there. You know, really push the envelope.
Mr. CLENNON: (As Miles Drentell) Where is Peter today?
Unidentified Actor #2: He's out. Dentist. He'll be back this afternoon.
Mr. BUSFIELD: (As Elliot Weston) You know, Miles, I think if you take a look at this again, you'll see it's not as cutting-edge as you think.
Mr. CLENNON: (As Miles Drentell) No, I don't think we'll take one more look at it.
Mr. BUSFIELD: (As Elliot Weston) Miles, look...
Mr. CLENNON: (As Miles Drentell) Find another composer, Weston, if you think you're capable of making an executive decision.
WALLENSTEIN: It always struck me as strange that an industry that churns out schlocky jingles and mottos could be depicted as the quintessence of cool, and yet "Thirtysomething" pulled it off. And it also keyed in on exactly what in the ad business made for high drama - that head-on collision between creativity and commerce.
Given TV writers and producers have to wrestle with those same conflicting forces, it's little wonder they've seized on ad agencies as a device for probing their own soul-crushing experiences in the TV business. "Mad Men" explores that same territory with great panache, too. Though unlike the high-minded protagonists of "Thirtysomething," "Mad Men's" Don Draper is a bit more complicated. While he could be coldhearted, he's almost poetic at times about the products he's shilling. It's a trait satirized by the actor who plays Draper, Jon Hamm, in a recent "Saturday Night Live" skit in which he pitches, of all things, a hula-hoop with suspenders.
(Soundbite of TV show "Saturday Night Live")
Mr. JON HAMM: We spend our lives jumping through hoops. Isn't it time we relaxed inside one?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. HAMM: None of us are angels, but don't we all occasionally deserve a halo? Gentlemen, these suspenders aren't holding up some plastic ring. They're suspending reality. They're suspending our childhood. And this isn't just a hula-hoop. It's a circle of life.
(Soundbite of laughter)
WALLENSTEIN: There's so many professions out there for TV to tackle, but you'll rarely see the medium stray from doctors, lawyers, and cops. But there's something about ad agencies. Note that both "Mad Men" and "Thirstysomething" are rare examples of shows that had an influence on popular culture completely disproportionate to their rather minuscule audiences. No wonder the makers of "Trust Me" wanted to give the subject a try.
COHEN: Andrew Wallenstein is the newly named digital media editor at the Hollywood Reporter.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.