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`Cavemen' is As Crude As Cave Drawings

Aug 26, 2007

In the largely unnecessary tradition of "Baby Bob," "The California Raisins," "Max Headroom" and "Hey Vern! It's Ernest!" ABC is poised to introduce an ad-inspired sitcom, "Cavemen," based on the Cro-Magnons who shill for Geico insurance.

The Geico gecko, one presumes, was deemed too highbrow and the good hands of Allstate must have held out for too much money.

"When we were making the (Geico cavemen) commercials, we just felt like there were more stories to tell," said Josh Gordon, referring to himself, fellow director Will Speck and Martin Agency writer Joe Lawson, who sold ABC on the concept.

Having seen an early version of "Cavemen," one admittedly not designated ready to review, is to be reminded of an old Woody Allen line. "There are worse things in life than death," Allen said in one of his movies. "If you've ever spent an evening with an insurance salesman, you know what I'm talking about."

Allen used to make funny movies. "Cavemen?" About as funny as his split from Mia Farrow.

As it turns out, using commercials as one's muse is not nearly as off-putting as using the characters from those commercials to play off ethnic and racial stereotypes in a feckless satire of how society treats minorities. This thing makes cave drawings seem nuanced.

Lawson and company's reality TV spoof "Tiny House" ads for Geico is a model of subtlety by comparison to "Cavemen" _ the series, if not the ads _ and, come to think of it, probably would have made a better series.

"What's sort of fun about `Cavemen,'" Speck said, "is that it allows us to kind of create our own rules for this race that doesn't have a very defined sense of who they are in society."

Among the more remarkable things about ABC embracing "Cavemen" _ at least for a few weeks _ is that it's hardly the most fertile commercial material of recent vintage in terms of series potential.

Who, for example, wouldn't rather watch the odd coupling of Apple's Mac and sad sack PC, starring Justin Long ("Ed") and John Hodgman ("The Daily Show") from the computer ads?

The Energizer bunny, Keebler elves, Terry Tate office linebacker, the Maytag repairman, the "time to make the doughnuts" guy and even the kindly fellow who hawks Empire carpets _ all would seem to hold more promise than the "maggers" of "Cavemen," who we're told are cousins of the ones in the Geico commercials.

"There are a lot of people, obviously, who still associate the Geico cavemen with our cavemen," Speck said. "Our job is to just make sure we're doing something distinctive and different, but I think (the people at Geico) feel positive about this being sort of the next step to something that ultimately started with them."

"Obviously," executive producer Lawson said, "they want it to do well."

And if not, or if it somehow damages their brand, well, they probably saved a whole lot of money on their car insurance.

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CAMP BACK IN SESSION: Ben Silverman, co-chairman of NBC Entertainment and Universal Media Studios, has bought an update of the campy syndicated 1989-96 competition series "American Gladiators," a revival initially pitched to NBC when Silverman was still running Reveille, which is co-producing the project with MGM.

The original show, which turned Laser, Nitro and Turbo _ albeit briefly _ into household names, also provided some national exposure for a host named Mike Adamle.

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Phil Rosenthal: philrosenthal@tribune.com

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(c) 2007, Chicago Tribune.

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