The Cynics Corner

Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda

Changing Rolls: The Cynic on Andromeda, Descendant

by David E. Sluss

26 November 2001

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Headline: Robert Hewitt Wolfe, Andromeda's Head Writer and creative driving force, has left the series. If you don't already know the grisly details, check them out at Slipstream Web before reading on.

Once upon a time, in a Canadian province somewhere north of here…

It was a cool but sunny day. As on most days, the miracle of television production was taking place all over the area. A commercial for Hero, a new brand of bathroom tissue, was being shot in a studio just outside of town.

Bathroom tissue commercials, of course, are a TV standard, and for the most part they are indistinguishable from one another. Some have bigger budgets than others, and occasionally one will be flashy enough to stand out from the pack, but for the most part, viewers know what they're getting when they see one.

The script for the Hero commercial was not particularly innovative, but it was reasonably entertaining, and it did put a fresh spin on some of the stock conventions of the genre. Richard Howard Foxx, an advertising executive at Tribute Advertising who had headed up the development of this campaign, was justifiably proud of his work. He, along with a couple of the Big Shots at Tribute, had come here to observe the filming of the commercial.

Richard watched the actors as they rehearsed. The actress playing the wife was a relative unknown, but the husband was being played by Kent Borseaux, an experienced commercial actor, probably best-known as "Friar Tuck" in a series of hemorrhoid medicine ads. It looked to Richard as if Borseaux was unhappy with something about this commercial, though Richard couldn't imagine what. He opened his copy of the script and used it to visualize, for maybe the hundredth time, the way it would manifest onscreen…

A shot of the outside of a house: The sun is coming up, birds are singing, pleasant music plays. As we cut to the inside of the house, the music cuts off abruptly. We see a woman sitting in her bed in her flannel pajamas, staring at the bathroom door in front of her. It is closed, but a sliver of light is visible from underneath. As she continues to stare at the door, she says under her breath, "Another morning, another grumpy husband. I wish mornings would start at noon." Suddenly the toilet flushes, and she squeezes her eyes shut, obviously dreading the impending encounter. There's a close-up of the doorknob turning, and then the man emerges cheerful as can be, saying: "Good morning, honey! Let's get a move on, big day today!" He gives her a peck on the check and races out of the room. "I'll make the coffee!" he yells back as she sits there puzzled. She stands up and walks into the bathroom. On the counter is a pack of Hero bathroom tissue with one roll missing. A new roll is on the spool next to the toilet. She nods her head knowingly.

Cut to a shot of the product while a voiceover says: "With its revolutionary Soft Cell technology, new Hero bathroom tissue helps make sure every day starts out clean, fresh, and comfortable." A circular popup opens up onscreen, showing the wife's smiling face as she says, "My Hero!"

Richard was jolted from his reverie by the sound of Borseaux's voice. What's he on about? Richard thought.

Borseaux was saying, "I just think that maybe we should simplify things a little bit, make it a little more clear to the viewers what's going on here. Like the shot of the toilet paper on the counter -- I don't think it's totally clear that my character has actually used the product. It's a little vague. And who changed the roll? Him or her? All due respect to Richard, of course. He's obviously brilliant, but I think this commercial is a bit too clever and complicated for most people to understand."

Richard spoke up. "Hold on. I hardly think –"

A voice from behind interrupted him. Oh, shit, Richard thought, One of the Big Shots. The Big Shot was saying, "You know, Kent may have a point here. I've been watching this rehearsal, and I'm not sure this thing makes sense. The consumers we're trying to get with this campaign aren't that sophisticated. And, look, there's this subtext of fear, like she's afraid of the husband. Why don't we make that more explicit, like he abuses her or something? And can we get a Victoria's Secret number on the wife? Let me make some calls."

Richard was floored. He'd heard rumors of how the Tribute Big Shots had gutted the Blossom Tampons campaign, but he never thought it would happen to his project. He said, "I really think that –"

The Big Shot replied: "Richard, get with the program, would you? It's lowest common denominator, that's how you make money in this business. Kent, do you have any other ideas?"

Borseaux replied, "Well, I think that the whole approach to this product is too subtle. 'Clean, fresh, comfortable.' It just clouds the issue. I say we get straight to the point."

"And what's that?" asked Richard, fully anticipating the response.

"The viewers need to see me wiping my ass, that's how we get the point across." Turning to the Big Shot, Kent continued, "That's what the viewers want to see."

Shaking his head, Richard turned away and headed for the door. The Tribute Big Shot was saying, "Well, we'd better run this by our focus groups, but I think you're on to something, Kent. Richard, what are you doing? Come back here and help us implement these changes!"

Looking back, Richard lifted his left hand and made the motion of flushing a toilet. Too subtle for them, probably. Despite the sense of loss he was feeling, he couldn't help but smile at the thought.

And then he left.

THE BOTTOM LINE: If the Powers That Be want to wipe their asses on Andromeda, that's their prerogative. And when the time comes, it'll be my prerogative to flush...




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This article is copyright 2000 David E. Sluss
Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda is a trademark of Tribune Entertainment