Cartoon Show Marketers Send Their Regrets

By Lisa de Moraes
Saturday, February 3, 2007

The Massachusetts attorney general said late yesterday her office was close to a deal in which Time Warner would cover costs incurred this week by the city of Boston when panic erupted over a bunch of boards lit up with characters from one of the media conglom's cartoon shows.

"At this time, we believe we are close to reaching finality in a resolution of this matter," Attorney General Martha Coakley said yesterday in a statement.

Her office also has begun talks -- with an eye toward "resolution to the criminal charges" -- with the attorneys of the two "performance artists" who put up what the state likes to call the "hoax devices."

Twenty-somethings Sean Stevens and Peter Berdovsky were charged with putting up around town about 38 "hoax devices" -- a.k.a. small boards with lighted cartoon characters from Cartoon Network's Adult Swim series "Aqua Teen Hunger Force." If you watched the cable news channels on Thursday, they were the guys who, after pleading not guilty, held that riveting news conference in which they said they would only take questions about '60s hairstyles.

Performance art isn't what it used to be.

Stevens was the one sporting the Tom Cruise: The "Risky Business" Years hairdo; Berdovsky had the dreadlocks.

Meanwhile, the Turner Broadcasting division of Time Warner ran full-page ads in Boston papers yesterday in which its CEO Phil Kent thrashed himself over the little circuit board-ish thingummies that had paralyzed the city:

"To the Citizens of Boston:

"Let me start with what is most important -- an apology, for the confusion and inconvenience caused in your community on Wednesday by an unconventional marketing tactic. We never intended this outcome and certainly did not set out to perpetrate a hoax. What we did is inadvertently cause a great American city to deal with the unintended impact of this marketing campaign. For this, we are deeply sorry ." The New York-based guerrilla marketing firm that hired the two hairstyle experts to plant the cartoon characters around Boston -- and nine other cities where panic did not erupt -- was also in full My Bad mode, posting this statement on its Web site:

"We at Interference, Inc. regret that our efforts on behalf of our client contributed to the disruption in Boston . . . and certainly apologize to anyone who endured any hardship as a result. Nothing undertaken by our firm was in any way intended to cause anxiety, fear or discomfort to anyone."

But various news outlets yesterday said they received a copy of an e-mail Berdovsky allegedly sent to pals Wednesday when the panic was well underway, claiming his employers at Interference had asked him to "pretty pretty please keep everything on the dl [down low]" rather than let the cops know what was up with the boards -- and we cannot mention this often enough -- sporting a little cartoon "mooninite" that flipped off authorities as they tried to detonate or collect them on Wednesday after shutting down roads, subways and the Charles River.

Officials around Boston continued to fume over how long the panic went on before they heard from Turner Broadcasting. Turner spokeswoman Shirley Powell says that's because the company had no idea until it heard from Interference that its marketing campaign had anything to do with the situation in Boston.

"We would have never made the connection between what was being reported on television as a suspicious package and the light boards with animated characters," Powell told The TV Column.

"There was no reason for us to connect that with this campaign."

Powell said that once Turner verified the panic was indeed over its little boards with the cartoon characters making an obscene gesture, it immediately contacted the FBI in Atlanta at around 3:45 p.m. The FBI in Atlanta advised Turner execs the feds could reach authorities in all 10 cities where the boards had been distributed faster than Turner Broadcasting could.

Turner also contacted Boston's police chief, Powell said, talking to the chief around 4 p.m.

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