A Kinder, Gentler Sportsman

Launching a remake of The American Sportsman, the former ABC fishing and hunting show hosted by Curt Gowdy, is a challenge at a time when a significant percentage of the viewing audience would recoil in horror at the notion that shooting a bull elephant represents sportsman-like behavior.

BaylessCronin’s television campaign for ESPN2’s The New American Sportsman overcomes that charge with double-barreled humor in two spots featuring veteran curmudgeon Jerry Stiller as a blood-and-guts outdoorsman shocked at the current program’s politically correct approach. For example, celebrity hunters now bag game with dart guns, and animals are tagged and released for research purposes.

“Jane” and “Greg,” two 30-second TV commercials promoting the program, are running on ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPN Classic.

“We were told to remind viewers that this is a remake of an old show,” said Carolee Coker, art director at the Omnicom shop in Atlanta. “At the same time, ESPN wants to bring in younger, hipper viewers who wouldn’t know Curt Gowdy.”

On the new ESPN2 show, former child actor Rick Schroeder assumes Gowdy’s host role. “American Sportsman is no longer guns and camou,” said Coker. “It’s celebrities and stars.”

In both spots, Stiller, in plaid shirt and waders, plays a former American Sportsman fan club president, 1973-74, outraged at the new developments. When Schroeder tells him actress Jane Seymour is a guest, he roars, “A woman! In the old days we had dirty, sweaty men in pup tents. You could smell the moose musk.”

When advised that actor Greg Kinnear will drop a rhino with a dart gun, Stiller shouts, “Where did you shoot this rhino? In an English pub?”

Jerry Cronin was the creative director on the spots; Coker art directed. Copywriters included Cronin, Devon Suter and John Spear. Sam Crawford directed.