'The Feel-Good Movie Blurb Credit of the Year'

(Washington Post Illustration)
By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 14, 2007

No self-respecting movie advertisement would go out in public these days without a few blurbs from critics praising the movie as (pick one) "Delightful!" "Magnificent!" Or "The feel-good movie of the summer/fall/year."

But take a closer look. Some of the reviewers doing the blurbing aren't always what they seem. Often, there's less than meets the eye.

Ads for "No Reservations," a romantic comedy starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, for example, carried blurbs from critics identified as reviewers for ABC and Fox. Critic Jim Ferguson ("ABC TV") called it, "The feel-good romance of the summer." Shawn Edwards ("Fox TV") rhapsodized that it was "the most delightful movie of the year."

Pretty sweet. Except neither ABC nor Fox has an official movie reviewer. And neither Edwards nor Ferguson ever spoke a word of praise for "No Reservations" on a network.

Ferguson's reviews are broadcast by KGUN-TV in Tucson; Edwards works for WDAF-TV in Kansas City. KGUN and WDAF are actually affiliates of ABC and Fox, respectively. No matter. The ads carried the more-familiar-sounding, and more prestigious, network credentials next to Ferguson's and Edwards's names.

Similar title inflation can be found in almost any batch of movie ads. People who saw the print and TV ads for "The Nanny Diaries" might conclude that "CBS TV's" Milan Paurich, who liked the movie, was a reviewer at the network. But don't go searching the halls of CBS's headquarters in New York to find Paurich. He reviews movies for the Free Times, a weekly newspaper that circulates around Cleveland, and for WKBN-TV in Youngstown, Ohio. WKBN is, yes, a CBS affiliate -- hence Paurich's identification.

Paurich says he really did enjoy "The Nanny Diaries," but he can't account for the title that appeared next to his name in the ads. "I guess it must sound better to the studios to put a quote in the ad next to 'CBS' instead of 'WKBN in Youngstown, Ohio,' " he says. Youngstown, he adds, "isn't exactly the media center of the world. 'CBS' sounds better. I get it."

If Paurich doesn't like a film, admakers can still count on plenty of other "CBS TV" reviewers for a favorable quote. There are, in fact, nearly 200 stations across the country affiliated with CBS, and many have their own on-air movie reviewers. Among them is Mark S. Allen, who co-hosts the local morning show on KOVR-TV in Sacramento, which is owned by CBS. But you wouldn't know that from movie ads that carry Allen's frequent raves. He, too, is usually described as a "CBS TV" reviewer.

Allen's blurbs pop up several ways in movie ads. Since he also works for Sacramento's KMAX-TV, which carries programming from the CW network, Allen might be credited as a "CW" reviewer. Sometimes he's a two-fer. Newspaper ads for the recent Disney bomb "Underdog" carried Allen's comment -- "See this movie. Do not fail" -- and listed him as a critic for "CW/CBS Stations." Which is true, but only sort of.

Film critic Erik Childress, who has examined how movie studios use blurbs for the Web site Ecritic.com, says movie companies regularly turn to lesser-known and out-of-the-way critics when more prominent reviewers have panned a film. He calls the practice lazy as well as foolish. "When you see some name you've never heard of [in a movie ad], it's fun to do some research," he says. "You find out that the guy praising 'Rush Hour 3' is really some local station's former weatherman or daytime talk-show host."

That's pretty close. Lisa Stanley, often grandly identified as a critic for "CBS Radio" in newspaper and TV ads, works on the morning shift for a Los Angeles radio station, KRTH-FM. Another "CBS Radio" reviewer, Jim Svejda, is a part-time critic for KNX-AM, another L.A. station.

The studios typically scour critics' published work for favorable comments, and often seek permission to use a snippet or two in an ad. Some movie representatives ask critics for blurb-ready comments in the lobby of a theater immediately after a screening, long before the critics have published or aired their reviews.

In many cases, according to studio executives, it's the reviewers themselves who ask to be identified with a network, rather than with their local station.

But that's not what happened to Milan Paurich and his "Nanny Diaries" blurb. Paurich -- one of the few TV critics contacted who agreed to be interviewed for this story -- says he gave the Weinstein Co., which released "The Nanny Diaries," the option of using either his TV affiliation (WKBN-CBS, Youngstown, Ohio) or his print affiliation (the Free Times) with his blurb for the movie. The company went with just "CBS-TV," dropping "WKBN" and "Youngstown, Ohio," he says. Executives of the Weinstein Co. declined comment.

Marc Doyle, co-founder of the Web site Metacritic.com, which tracks critics' opinions, says the studios prefer the more impressive network title, even if it isn't quite accurate, because would-be film patrons might not be very impressed by a blurb from a reviewer from "some outlet they've never heard of."

But Paurich says titles aren't really important. "This might reflect badly on me and everybody else in this business, but unless you're Roger Ebert, people don't necessarily check the name beneath the quote [in the ad]. The quote is going to matter more to [a moviegoer] than the source of the quote."

As for critics, he says they like to be blurbed: "It's nice to see your name in the New York Times or in a TV commercial. It's flattering. It's still a kick."

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