Remember latch-key kids? I was one. Both my parents worked, so when I didn’t have an activity after school, I’d come home, heat up a can of Chunky Soup, crush half a sleeve of saltines into it and watch reruns of old TV shows, mostly comedies, until my folks got home and it was time to eat dinner.
It’s amazing how many 1970s and ’80s television characters worked in advertising. Bewitched’s Darrin Stephens was an adman working for the unctuous Larry Tate, bossman of Madison Avenue’s McMann and Tate. In one episode of The Odd Couple, the photographer and all-around neurotic Felix Unger is hired by a very young, very obnoxious ad executive played by Albert Brooks (“Unger, that’s now thinking!”) to run a photoshoot at a ski lodge. And Herb Tarlek of WKRP in Cincinnati, while not an employee of an ad agency, had the unenviable task of selling ads into the slots between the on-air musings of
Dr. Johnny Fever and Venus Flytrap.
These guys all played their roles for laughs. So imagine my surprise years later when, as a young adult, I fell under the spell of Miles Drentell, the intriguingly evil head of the ad agency Drentell Ashley & Arthur on Thirtysomething. As played by actor David Clennon, Drentell was a Zen-spouting, stone-cold killer in an Armani suit who would stop at nothing to get what he wanted. And he wanted everything.
That included the tiny The Michael and Elliot Company, the startup ad agency run by two of the show’s … protagonists? It’s hard to call any character on Thirtysomething a protagonist because they all whined ceaselessly about how their great lives weren’t somehow great enough. But Michael and Elliot looked like heroes compared to Drentell, who spent countless hours of airtime either figuring out ways to somehow screw the little guys, or making overtures to buy them out and make them obscenely rich.
I have been thinking about Drentell lately as the medical marketing sector sees more and more merger and acquisition activity. While the young adult me probably would have taken Drentell’s money and headed for the nearest beach, the older me understands the hesitation. After shedding buckets of blood, sweat and tears to bring an agency to life, I would imagine I’d feel invested enough to not want to sell to the highest bidder. And would I really want to get into bed with private equity? These are big questions that need to be both asked and answered. Go to “So, You Want to Get Bought? Get In Line” and decide for yourself.