‘Gossip Girl’ ads offer wink, and a lot more

[31 July 2008]

By Steve Johnson

Chicago Tribune (MCT)

Give them credit for trying and, when it comes to ticking people off and earning notice, for succeeding.

In a slyly terrific series of new ads for its underwatched but overdiscussed teen series “Gossip Girl,” the CW television “network,” with an artful cynicism, turns outraged critiques of the show into selling points.

“A Nasty Piece of Work,” says the New York Post, in very big letters, atop an image of two of the show’s lithe young things smooching topless in a pool.

“Every Parent’s Nightmare,” opines the Boston Herald, again atop the sort of young-person necking session frequently found on the show, which looks at privileged Manhattan teens behaving as if trying to channel old “Dynasty” episodes.

The logic of these ads, running in print and online before the show’s second season, which starts Sept. 1, is impeccable. The fusty old watchdog media, in shocked review text, tries to guard our youth from discovering that some fictional teens behave with less than full decorum.

And CW, the struggling network formed from the wreckage of UPN and the WB, figures that there’s no better way to reach its teen and young-adult target audience than by telling them their parents would hate this.

It’s all in the hope of boosting viewership from the scant 2.6 million viewers per episode the show drew in the first season, despite a lot of attention from the tabloid press and the gossip blogs.

Grasping for attention by any means possible is hardly new to television. When “NYPD Blue” debuted with racy language and some dorsal nudity in 1993, it handled the ensuing controversy almost as if it had been planned.

Controversial ads aren’t even new to “Gossip Girl.” Earlier this year, the ad campaign featured the text-messaging legend, “OMFG.” CW insisted, with a wink, that the letters stood for, “Oh My Freaking Goodness.”

What feels fresh about this new sally is that it turns critical opinion on its ear. Instead of taking a few phrases out of context to make a lukewarm (or negative) review sound like a rave, CW is embracing the dislike, and the more purple the prose the better.

One of the ads even quotes the most easily outraged people in America, the naifs at the conservative Parents Television Council, who called “Gossip Girl” “Mind-blowingly inappropriate.”

Frankly, it is amusing to see someone finally stand up to the PTC, which would scrub television of anything that acknowledges base human behavior and which tries to bully advertisers into spurning great shows (recently “Dexter”) that don’t happen to have a “Father Knows Best” sensibility.

Critics, on the other hand, don’t need any more comeuppance. As a breed, they’re already endangered by the democratization of opinion online.

But let’s not give CW satisfaction by getting outraged at this series of ads, too. Instead, let’s applaud the creativity. And let’s trust that any real-world kid with half an upbringing understands that what goes on in this show, and in its advertisements, is a cartoon extreme, meant to entertain rather than instruct.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/article/gossip-girl-ads-offer-wink-and-a-lot-more/