‘Top Model’ ads could be a big blue bust

By Lisa de Moraes WASHINGTON, The Washington Post

One month after Turner Broadcasting had to pull advertisements for its late-night TV series “Aqua Teen Hunger Force” off the streets because they were terrorizing the children and womenfolk of Boston, the city of Santa Monica, Calif., took ads for CW’s “America’s Next Top Model” off the sides of its Big Blue Buses because they were objectifying the womenfolk. The bus ads, which went up in the nation’s three biggest TV markets (New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, but mercifully not in Boston, where they probably would have been detonated by bomb squads, causing cable news channels to hyperventilate), promote the latest edition of the popular CW reality series in which chicks compete for a modeling contract. This year’s campaign has a jungle thing going on: Model, show creator and host Tyra Banks is posed—either before her well-documented chunking up or else via the miracle of modern Photoshop—in front of a tropicalish waterfall, surrounded by her latest crop of leggy wannabe models. They’re wearing various colorful takes on the Me-Jane-You-Tarzan look—and, we should add, pretty modest takes, compared with what you can see on the beach in Santa Monica. Much like the “Aqua Teen Force” ads in Boston, the “Top Model” ads were up for weeks before the hoo-ha erupted in Santa Monica, located on the western edge of the tummy tuck, rhinoplasty, Botox, boob job capital of America. Stephanie Negriff, Santa Monica’s director of transit services, says she had the ads removed from the buses this week “as the result of feedback I received from some members of the public as well as some of our employees.” “The city of Santa Monica … has policies for harassment and discrimination in the workforce,” she told The TV Column. “If a mechanic (on the city’s payroll) displayed a photograph like that on their toolbox or in their locker, it might offend someone else … but there it is on the side of our buses and we’re maintaining this photograph. It made an impact on me,” she said. She acknowledged the ads still appear as giant billboards all over the county but, she maintains, “it makes a difference as a billboard 100 feet in the air and a photograph at eye level going down the curb lane. People react differently to it.” Negriff noted that the city refunded CW the full price of the ads, including for the two weeks they’d already been displayed on the buses. (She says she thinks it was about $30,000 for what was going to be a four-week run.) Now, she notes, the news media have been all over this since a little item on the ad removal appeared in the trade paper Variety, and some reports are accusing her of blasting the show and saying it disrespects women. “I’m not making any comment about the show at all,” Negriff told The TV Column, and we could sense the exasperation in her voice. “I’ve never seen the show. I think I know what it’s about, but I have no comments about the show.” CW, meanwhile, got two weeks’ worth of free bus ads and is now enjoying millions of dollars’ worth of free publicity for the eighth-season debut of “Top Model” since the media got wind of the story and started writing about it. “It’s a jungle out there in bus marketing,” CW’s rep Paul McGuire said in a statement issued this week. “Even America’s next top models aren’t safe anymore. We are very proud of Tyra Banks and this wonderful program.” He also wanted to make sure to say for the benefit of “any citizens of Santa Monica who may not have seen our message” that a new episode would premiere Wednesday night. Negriff recalled two previous occasions in which entertainment-industry ads had been given thumbs down by Big Blue Bus. One was an ad for the FX series “Nip/Tuck,” which featured beautiful women and a nasty-looking scalpel. Negriff said that ad fell into the same category of objectification. The other ad was for the feature film “10 Things I Hate About You.” Odd, given that it was a remake—sort of—of Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew.” In that case, Negriff explained, “several people said it appears the bus is saying Big Blue Bus hates 10 things about you”—and it had to go. “We can generally advertise movies and things from the entertainment industry,” she said, “we just have to recognize we’re a public agency and have to be sensitive to … feedback from our community.” Wednesday afternoon an aspiring cub reporter out of this column’s Santa Monica bureau reported seeing a Big Blue Bus driving by festooned with an ad that had a movie quote: “Sell crazy someplace else, we’re all stocked up here.”