CBS sitcom The Crazy Ones, with Robin Williams starring as the head of an independent creative ad agency with major clients such as McDonald’s, has drawn lots of audience attention in its first two weeks, averaging about 13 million viewers so far—with at least one agency exec questioning the veracity of Williams’ portrayal.
In the premiere episode, the agency is on the verge of losing the McDonald’s account and Williams’ character Simon Roberts and his daughter/partner Sydney (Sarah Michelle Gellar) team up to find a way to keep it. The episode opens with Williams in his office fighting a giant Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robot and doing some typical weird voice shtick. Is he up to the task of saving the account by coming up with a rejuvenated jingle for the next McDonald’s campaign?
He does manage to succeed—in his own unorthodox way, working with his more practical daughter.
While most of that episode’s viewers seemed to enjoy it enough, with 11.7 million returning for the second episode (the premiere drew 15.5 million), what does the creative ad community think of this David E. Kelley comedy offering a glimpse of its profession?
Kinney Edwards, executive creative director at Tribal Worldwide, which actually has McDonald’s as a client, says there’s not much reality portrayed about real-life creative agencies in that first episode, which is the only one he’s watched so far.
Edwards, who has spent the past six years in creative roles at Tribal and close to another decade at Ogilvy and McCann Erickson, says, “the work ethic on the show was all fun and games and didn’t reflect the real-life efforts that it takes to come up with real solutions for clients.”
While realizing it is a comedy and meant to be lighthearted and funny, Edwards says he hopes the series doesn’t give the audience the impression that actually creating ad campaigns by real agencies is done so irreverently.
“I just hope viewers realize that this is just a comedy and not based on reality, because it makes light of the process and shortchanges the hard work creative agencies put in for each client,” he says.
“At real-life agencies it never comes down to one person making a decision about a creative campaign,” Edwards adds. “It’s always a team effort. The series does portray the heart that agency individuals have and the length they will go to solve problems for their clients. But it just didn’t portray the real thought processes and reflect the time that goes into creative decision-making. Also, the premise that we go into meetings with our clients unprepared is totally not true.”
Edwards also says unlike in The Crazy Ones episode, “although it happens, most agency executives are not getting on the phone and calling celebrities directly to book them for work. That’s sort of out of touch with reality.”
Old School vs. New School
One thread Edwards saw woven into the episode that has some basis of reality, he says, was Gellar's character trying to base her input more on data-driven ideas than based on the individual emotion of Williams’ character. “There was a contrast there between his old-school thinking and her more modern approach,” Edwards says. “You do need to take risks but you also need to use data to measure those risks.”
Edwards adds that the series does relate that the creative process at agencies can be fun, “but it’s also sometimes like jumping out a window without a net. You sometimes have to create something out of nothing. And you do need to have freedom from fear in order to succeed in the creative process.”
As for Williams’ portrayal as the head of an agency, Edwards says, “Any comedic character Robin Williams plays is a caricature. There are some people at agencies who have similar personas, but for the most part, his character in this series is a little over the top.”
So if The Crazy Ones is not a true portrayal of creative agency life, how does Edwards feel about the AMC reality series The Pitch, on which real-life agencies try to win creative accounts from clients?
“Even though it is supposed to be a reality series, there is still a lot of showmanship in front of the cameras that takes away from the reality,” Edwards says.
Does Edwards plan to watch any more episodes of The Crazy Ones?
“I’m not really totally motivated to watch it going forward,” he says. “It would be like bringing my work home into a strange universe where Robin Williams runs my agency.”