The Pitch premieres with a sneak preview on Sunday, April 8 at 11 p.m. Full series starts on April 30.
The AMC Network is really making the most of “Mad Men” mania. The network, which has what many considered to be an unlikely hit with a series about suit-wearing advertising execs (and the women they exploit) on Madison Avenue in mid-60s New York City, is now out to extend the brand. Well, if you’ve ever wondered what the modern-day Don Drapers are like, the new unscripted reality series “The Pitch” offers viewers a glimpse of today’s advertising hot shots. The series officially premieres in late April but gets a special preview on Sunday, April 8 at 11 p.m. -- oh is that right after “Mad Men”? weird.
“The Pitch” follows two ad agencies -- one from Durham, N.C. and the other from L.A. -- as they compete for a big contract with Connecticut-based Subway, the fast-food sandwich giant with head offices in Milford. If Don Draper steamrolls his creative challenges by messing with the minds of his underlings and gulping down scotch while chain-smoking between bursts of getting it on, the ad men and women in “The Pitch” seem to feed a little more on stress and exercise, with a nice side-serving of self-doubt and career panic. It’s more of a yoga, power bars and coffee kind of scene. Totally 2012.
Presented as something more like a documentary than a straight-up reality-show competition, “The Pitch” hovers with its cameras in the brainstorming sessions and pitch meetings. But there is a prize awaiting the winning team. First the ad execs listen to what the client -- in the first episode it’s Subway-- wants from them, who their target is, what themes they want to hammer home (“eat fresh!”) and what style and tone they’re looking for (“quirky” seems safe and popular). (Subsequent episodes involve different ad agencies and different clients.)
The task is to come up with a concept to promote Subway’s breakfast offerings, to set the chain up in contrast to other burger-centric fast-food establishments and to hit that golden egg of a demographic, the 18-to-24-year-old. These are the consumers who haven’t yet become calcified in their buying habits -- or in their earning habits, for that matter -- and so they represent a vital future market for businesses.
“The Pitch” strives to stress that ad execs are super-competitive and creative people (I’d say the competitive note comes through stronger than any real mind-blowing creativity, in this case). Tracy Wong -- the guy who heads WDCW, the firm from the West Coast -- likens the competition between agencies to a gladiatorial combat, with “naked, glistening” bodies, which might be over-selling things. (They didn’t show the nude-and-oiled pitch meeting, at least.)
Probably one of the most sadistic thrills the show offers is the chance to watch young ad copy writers die in their pitch meetings (with plenty of flop sweat, eye-rolling from competing colleagues and blank stares from bosses) as they try to sell half-hatched concepts like jive-talking sandwich puppets, hungry Mafia hit-men thinking about breakfast as they toss the last shovelful of dirt over a freshly whacked victim, and art-criticism-spouting “sandwich artists.” Anyone who’s watched TV recently will recognize the general gene pool from which such allegedly edgy and quirky ideas have been spawned. If AMC can make us watch a show about ads, with the subjects (like Subway) getting prime product-placement spots, all the while selling real (and expensive) ads to run in between the ad-centric programming, then they are the true marketing geniuses of our era.
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