Half-baked Ideas and AMC’s “The Pitch”

One thing I’ve discovered in this business is that when you have the right idea, it’s immediately clear. When you bounce ideas around for hours, it’s because they’re half-baked. The right idea comes to you crispy and golden brown.

AMC’s new series The Pitch could use a few more minutes in the oven.

Imagine if you took Mad Men, trimmed it down to just the creative team and pitch meetings. Interesting, yes? Those can be the most entertaining parts of the show. Now set it in the modern day. It loses its 60s’ flair, but OK, still worth a look. And last week, after “Mystery Date,” the April 9th episode of Mad Men, television was given a sneak preview of its next advertising show.

“Next on AMC, the AMC original series, AMC’s ‘The Pitch’”1

Each week, the show will feature two agencies vying for a new piece of business. The premier episode featured Los Angeles’ WDCW and McKinney, from North Carolina. The client was my favorite and yours, Subway. The specific target was to market Subway breakfast sandwiches to 18-24 year olds.

The teams came in, were briefed by the overweight marketing department at Subway corporate2, and then sent home for a week to work on their concepts. A week later they come back, pitch and one is chosen.

And the problems started right in the briefing meeting. Years ago, WDCW did some work for Quizno’s. This makes sense; if you liked their other work in this field, why not give them a try. But Subway didn’t like the Quizno’s work. I instantly get a red flag. Was WDCW being set up to lose? We’ll see.

When the agencies get home and meet their creative teams is where I noticed The Pitch to be little weak. Think back to the Mad Men equation earlier. But now take away a writer’s room. A large conference table filled with people coming up with the perfect metaphor for the characters’ personal lives. That second layer is taken away, and with it, any depth. This doesn’t seem like a show, it seems like my life.

Watching teams throw ideas to their creative directors was just as uncomfortable as it is in person. When you give an idea for a tagline or ad concept, and all your CD does is squint, rub their face, and yawn, it doesn’t feel good. You can sit for hours and be so proud, and instantly get shot down. Add to that the stress of a predetermined timeline. As Jonathan Crude, Chief Creative Officer at McKinney says in the episode, “This is what’s so hard about this business. People ask me ‘Oh, creativity.’ And it is great and it is creative, but it’s pressure too, because it’s not ‘Go paint a painting.’ It’s ‘Go be creative and make sure you do this and make sure you do that and make sure you do it in the next 24 hours. See you then.’”

These agencies may be the size of my high school, but having more people doesn’t mean ideas come easier. At least not good ideas. Looking in on these meetings, even I knew some of the ideas would never fly.

The teams each work for the week, mocking up print ads, billboards, coupons, and commercials. And then it’s time to present.

This was the segment that could use more focus. These meetings can easily go on for an hour, but both team’s pitches were finished within eight TV minutes. And those minutes that were shown were rambling, with sentences started and stopped, and a lot of blank stares. Some of this is the magic of TV editing, but AMC didn’t do the presenters any favors.

In the end, Subway decides to give the work to McKinney, though they didn’t mention which of their two presented concepts was chosen. (I haven’t either in print or on TV, so maybe it took on a new bent before it hit the public.)

One note in Subway’s direction – Hey Subway! You brought WDCW in because of what they do. Which you weren’t a big fan of. They did what they do. And you rejected them for it. THEY WERE SET UP TO LOSE.

WDCW was known for their big concepts. Their zAMbies (get it? Zombies, but with an AM?) campaign was certainly a big concept. And it was good.

The Pitch is not a bad show. But who is this directed toward? Mad Men fans are going to find it too boring and perhaps won’t understand the realities of the industry. Those in the advertising industry may be more unfriendly – doctors don’t want to go home and watch Grey’s Anatomy, tattoo artists don’t care about LA Ink. And without steady characters to care about, what is there to bring me back?

The show returns Monday, April 30 at 9PM. Let’s hope AMC used these three weeks between episodes let the show finish baking.

1 Their station identification is really brutal.
 Way to live the brand, guys.

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