Barbara Lippert’s Critique

They are not a couple, but they play one on TV. That’s actress and former Bond girl Teri Hatcher and defensive end-turned-TV commentator Howie Long. The unlikely pair started appearing in a campaign for Radio Shack last year. Their new-millennium take on the old Mariette Hartley/Jim Garner Polaroid pairing proved so effective, they will appear in four new ads starting next week.

Most of the ads in the series begin in the same way: Open on an inspired, futuristic, architectural set as puckish music plays in the background. Teri scampers out wearing some head-to-toe flamboyant color, like flaming tomato, and jumps around former footballer Long, a teeming block of chiseled jock, who wears black.

She shows him some new gizmo and dances around him as they trade barbs and solid seasonal gift ideas.

As a pair, they embody the new mythology about gender: She’s sexy, wacky, hyperactive with ever-changing hair and outfits and a potent need to unleash her inner Dharma (read ditz-vixen); he’s a big lug of cyborgian proportions who is restraining himself, but still up to the job of firing back. And therein lies the tension.

Should we blame it on Regis? There are moments of Kathie Lee here, especially in her final incarnation as curly-haired, skinny-armed and sexily dressed with her own agenda, telling Reege, “In your dreams!” (When she did cohost with hubby football legend Frank Gifford, the union was chemistry-free.)

Unlike the stolid, two-chair setup of the morning shows, the Radio Shack sets and cinematography are great, and the acting is fine. But there’s something maddening about the cutesy, product-infused dialogue, especially when it’s supposed to ooze with underlying sexual tension.

The banter is less Hepburn/Tracy, Bogart/Bacall than Joanie Loves Chachi in the digital age. It gets downright weird, for example, in the upcoming holiday commercial in which Howie sits and asks, “Teri, what are you doing?” She responds, “Spreading holiday cheer to every room!” (Through the miracle of wireless speakers.)

You’d think the obvious double entendres would be left alone. Yet last year, in a spot touting the benefits of driving with a headset for a “Sprint PCS phone from Radio Shack,” Howie, ever the lamb to the slaughter, says, “So you just stick it in your ear.” Teri responds, “Yeah, Howie, just stick it in your ear.”

Now there’s repartee filled with passion, hope and beauty. The odd sexual tension thing was played out in the Garner/Hartley spots, which ran successfully for years. Each had a real spouse at home, but many viewers mistook them for married.

This was the early days of the women’s movement, and it was revolutionary for a woman to hold her own and be outside bantering glibly, as opposed to behind a door, saying, “Honey, you’re home!” A psychologist at the time said viewers thought they were married because they were so hostile to each other.

Now women on TV do most of the glib bantering but have also become anorexic stick figures on which to hang a variety of sexy get-ups. In another spot, set in a dazzlingly white room, Howie opens with, “Leave it to you, Teri, a computer that goes with your outfit.” He then changes the computer, and her clothing, to purple.

I give the campaign credit for getting attention, jolting us out of our couch-based stupors. There’s nothing like the special sexual chemistry that comes from seasonal merchandise. Radio Shack

Agency

In-house-Circle R Group

Creative Director

Barry King

Producers

Steve Tennyson

Maureen Tunney

Directors

Nick Cassavetes

Matthew Penn

Leslie Linka Glatter

Production Co.

Creative Film

Management

New York