Celebs as shills are going too far

April 21, 2008|By KEVIN COWHERD

Here is the first thing I see the other night when I turn on the TV: Jamie Lee Curtis rubbing her belly and shilling for Activia yogurt.

"First the bad news," the commercial begins, "87 percent of this country suffers from digestive issues like occasional irregularity."

Eighty-seven percent! No wonder the economy's in the tank and we're getting nowhere in Iraq.

People are miserable! All they can think about is finding a bathroom.

To emphasize the horror of this national calamity - only 13 percent of Americans are unburdened by digestive issues! - Curtis goes on to rub her belly theatrically.

By this point, I am beginning to have digestive issues myself.

Thankfully, Curtis has a solution for all this distress.

"I just discovered a yogurt called Activia that can help!" she continues brightly.

And Activia, says a voice-over, is clinically proven to help regulate your digestive system in just two weeks!

The commercial ends with Curtis noting how delicious the stuff tastes.

Then she pops a big gooey spoonful in her mouth and smiles rapturously, like she's digging into a mound of Haagen-Dazs cherry vanilla.

So it's come to this, I thought.

In a society fascinated with fame and fortune, a society that worships stardom even in its lowest forms - we'll have reality-show washouts running for Congress soon - we now have celebrities talking about stomach disorders and how to obtain relief.

And we're paying attention to them!

As if they have medical degrees and research backgrounds and know what they're talking about!

That's the truly scary part.

Sure, I understand that celebrities have been pitching products for years and years.

But this might well be the Golden Age of celebrity shills, judging by how many are out there.

You have Michael Jordan and Cuba Gooding Jr. pitching Hanes underwear.

You have Kelly Ripa pitching Electrolux appliances and Ashton Kutcher pitching Nikon digital cameras.

You have Will Ferrell pitching Bud Light while playing washed-up reptilian hoopster Jackie Moon of Semi-Pro, who claims the beer "refreshes the palate ... and the loins."

You have Tiger Woods shilling for Buick and Gillette Fusion shaving blades and Howie Long shilling for Chevy trucks and William Shatner shilling for priceline.com.

You have Marie Osmond shilling for NutriSystem ("I lost 40 pounds, and I never looked back!") and Valerie Bertinelli shilling for Jenny Craig, taking over for former fat-girl actress Kirstie Alley.

You have over-the-hill rocker Peter Frampton and Joan Rivers shilling for Geico insurance - at least when they can elbow the gecko aside for a little face-time in front of the cameras.

(Can I say something here about Joan Rivers? OK, here goes: I love this woman. Anyone who can make fun of herself and a face stretched tighter than piano wire after 10,000 plastic surgeries is all right in my book.

(When she grabs that guy's hand in the Geico spot and starts yelling that she can't feel her face, that's it, I'm falling on the floor.)

Still, Curtis shilling for something to ward off digestive issues seems like a new low for commercials.

Now we're supposed to buy a product with a medical use, something that wards off "occasional irregularity," just because a celebrity tells us to buy it?

What's next, Antonio Banderas pitching a hemorrhoidal cream?

Charlize Theron shilling for an over-the-counter pregnancy test?

Bob Dole pushing an erectile-dysfunction product? (Oh, wait. Never mind.)

If you missed it, Saturday Night Live did a hilarious takeoff on the new Activia commercial last week.

The great Kristen Wiig played a Curtis whose Activia-gulping habit makes her a little too regular - if you catch my drift.

You can find it on hulu.com, an entertainment Web site that shows TV and movie clips. As for the original Activia commercial - that's the kind of entertainment we don't need.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

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