Coming up with funny ads comes naturally to a Martin Agency copywriter. 

Laugh Track

Bob Meagher, a senior copywriter at The Martin Agency, came to Richmond from Chicago. Apparently a little of that Second City comedy magic rubbed off.

Since arriving in 1987, Meagher, 42, resident funny man at the agency, has helped create numerous humorous ads, including the droll and award-winning Residence Inn spots (remember the rock band sipping tea?) that ran nationally some years ago. This summer, the second series of commercials he and senior art director Pat Wittich created for another client, the TV Land cable network, began airing.

TV Land airs old sitcoms, other shows and classic commercials. The Meagher/Wittich team has been creating ads to promote the network and to entice more cable operators to offer it and more people to watch it. So far, they've moved the network's subscriber base from 33 to 50 million, the agency says, with ads using clips from the shows with comically updated dialogue.

The spoofy spots' contemporary craziness has caught on: Joe Friday raps for "Dragnet," and in an ad for "The A-Team," Mr. T suffers a painful thong episode. The girls of "Petticoat Junction" do a Spice Girls send-up in another, and in Meagher's fave, Aunt Bee of "The Andy Griffith Show" serves sushi, sending Opie fleeing from the table.

Style: Are you as funny as your ads?

Meagher: I guess it's all subjective. I'm kind of labeled as the wacky, funny guy when it comes to doing TV spots. Which is fine with me. My parents didn't think I was funny. They referred to me as having a strange sense of humor. But people seem to love these spots. They're lovin' 'em, yeah. What's neat is we've heard from just regular people. Going to my son's baseball game, his teammate's reciting dialogue. It was from the one for "Dragnet," where Joe Friday's kind of doing this deadpan rap. That was kind of weird, hearing that. In New York, people are stealing the posters out of the subways, so that's always kind of a nice compliment.

Style: Influences?

Meagher: I've always been a fan of Steve Martin, as he's progressed from a stand-up comedian to "Saturday Night Live" to an actor. He's great. And Dana Carvey. David Letterman. Chris Rock. I saw him on HBO last month and he made me laugh out loud. I'm not an old-show nut, but I love "Leave It to Beaver," "Andy Griffith," "The Honeymooners." I could watch those anytime. Those shows hold up and still make me laugh out loud.

Style: Do you ad guys just sit around coming up with ideas or is there any actual work involved?

Meagher: I guess compared to a lot of people, yeah, it's a lot of work. It may sound like it's easy, but the 18-hour days that we put in sometimes make up for that. Everything we do, I think, is strategic, even the TV Land spots. They had this network that basically showed old shows. The challenge was, "How do you make it contemporary and compete against a new show?" So we focused on showing how times have changed. And injecting modern stuff really contemporizes the network. That's how we came up with the theme: "Times Change. Great TV Doesn't."

Style: Tell us some behind-the-scenes kind of stuff.

Meagher: This was pretty low budget, edited in-house. Martin Agency folks did many of the voices. I did Norton, Eddie Haskell, Wally Cleaver and Aunt Bee. My wife did one, other people here did some. Then there's always spots that we loved that the client didn't go for. We tried to do something with the Elian Gonzalez thing but it was too controversial. It was for "The Dick Van Dyke Show." Little Richie was asking his dad how he was born, where he came from, that kind of thing. So his dad gets all serious and says, "Well, Richie, you came from Cuba."

Style: If Richmond were a TV Land show, how would you make a funny ad for that?

Meagher: You could probably make a comedy using the televised City Council meetings. Of course, you could keep a lot of the dialogue


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