Advertising Age April 30, 1990 NEWS; Pg. 6
TV's ruthless adman; Is 'thirtysometing's' Miles Drentell 'too credible'?
By Marcy Magiera
STUDIO CITY, Calif.: Miles Drentell plays a relatively minor role in ABC-TV's "thirtysomething," but the character intrigues viewers as no other on the show.
Since actor David Clennon made his "thirtysomething" debut 15 months ago, his portrayal of the president of Drentell Ashley & Arthur, a fictitious
Philadelphia agency, has served as a distant, manipulative counterpoint to the well-meaning, nurturing, family man role of Michael Steadman, played by Ken Olin.
The conflict between the two will be the focus of a two-part episode that will end the "thirtysomething" season in mid-May.
Advertising Age went on the set to find out what makes Miles so intriguing to viewers, especially agency viewers, and get a glimpse at what's ahead for the series and its true-to-life characters.
It's a hot Tuesday in the San Fernando Valley, and the first half of the two-part episode is being shot on Stage 7 at the CBS/MTM Studios.
"Michael's been creative director for a couple of months, and now Miles is laying out what the costs are," Joe Dougherty, "thirtysomething" executive story editor, explained earlier. "[Miles is saying] 'Do you want to be out there with them or in here with me?'" Mr. Dougherty said.
"Give me a little more intensity; put him into a corner," director Scott Winant suggests to Mr. Clennon.
Miles already has Elliot Weston, played by Timothy Busfield, squirming in his black leather chair. He's set the art director up and is humiliating him in front of Michael, a longtime friend and creative partner.
In the scene, Elliot has been negotiating to sign high-profile athlete Tommy Lyndecker as spokesman for DAA client Flex athletic shoes and thinks a deal is moments away.
"Can we lock him down?" Miles asks. "How long do you think it will take?"
Lydecker's people will call any minute, Elliot replies.
"No, they won't," Miles hisses after a long stare. He tosses a "draft press release, intercepted 2 hours ago," toward Elliot and recites the release from memory. It says Tommy Lydecker has signed to be the official and exclusive spokesman for Flex rival Ergotrim.
"Either Lydecker's people were stringing you along and you didn't realize it, or you actively did something to crash the negotiations," Miles tells Elliot. "You dropped the ball."
His words are accusatory, his tone coldly observational.
"Next up," Miles segues, "Minnesota Brands major appliances. The latest gift from the Midwest. I'll entertain suggestions for a creative team to work on refrigerators and stoves."
Miles first appeared on "thirtysomething" Jan. 31, 1989, while the cast was attending a party for singer Carly Simon. In the episode, the Michael & Elliot Co., a tiny agency, was struggling to stay in business, and the principals approached Miles before the party about subcontracting some DAA work.
"The first time we shot the scene, I played Miles as a guy who is not that far from a kind of street level, hustling, mode that I see [Michael and Elliot] in," Mr. Clennon says.
"And [executive producer] Marshall Herskovitz said, 'We can't play him that way. He needs to be much more above these guys, much more removed and remote and powerful and sort of looking down on them. So we reshot the scene."
Miles is "fundamentally inscrutable; nothing he's ever done is simple," Mr. Herskovitz says. "Underneath, he has very, very strong insecurities. But he's structured his world to hide those, to bury them." ructured his world to hide those, to bury them."
Mr. Herskovitz remembers an early version on an episode in which Miles originally went alone to speak with Michael and Elliot at their agency. In the final cut, Miles arrived at the Michael & Elliot Co. with an entourage.
The earlier version "didn't seem right. [Miles] wouldn't leave himself that exposed," Mr. Herskovitz says. "It felt more like Miles when he was trailed by people who wanted his attention."
Similarly, Mr. Clennon becomes agitated when he realizes that the just-completed scene was shot with Miles in his shirt-sleeves.
"He wouldn't go in there without his armor," Mr. Clennon says. Then he mentions the oversight to the director and dons a jacket before posing, as Miles, for some photographs.
"Miles tends to intimidate his employees. He tends to be very hard on them if they make mistakes," Mr. Clennon says.
"There's been some concern that we're making [Miles] too credible as a human being," Mr. Dougherty says. The upcoming two-part episode will "nudge him back the other way." e other way."
Mr. Clennon, the actor, sees himself as vastly different from the character he portrays.
"I think it's fun to be playing a character with this much power and who is this ruthless . . . . I'm so far removed from that situation and from that personality," says the actor, who is, in fact, more sensitive, more accommodating, and less tan than the character he plays.
Most of Mr. Clennon's credits are in film and theater. His film work has included supporting roles in "Betrayed," "Falling in Love," "Star 80," "The Right Stuff," "Being There," and "Coming Home."
When he's not working, he reads, listens to alternative radio and spends "a lot of time trying to figure out the political and economical system we live in."
The latter includes spending much of his time protesting military activity in El Salvador, a country he's visited three times.
"Now," he says, "I'm trying to figure out the role of advertising in the [U.S. political and economic] system." .S. political and economic] system."
Mr. Clennon's role as Miles may be able to shed some light on that.
"I was thinking the other day, have you seen that commercial for Reebok shoes? With the bungee divers?" Mr. Clennon asks. "I think that that's the kind of thing that DAA might produce. They might get into a little bit of trouble with it, or maybe Miles would be smart enough to say, 'No, you're going too far, we can't do it.' I don't know. Would he be smart enough? Would he be daring enough? Would he say, 'I like the publicity'?"
The Miles character has been rumored to be based on Jay Chiat, chairman and ceo-worldwide of Chiat/Day/Mojo, Venice, Calif. The agency's San Francisco office created the Reebok spot. (Miles' does get his name from William Drenttel, president of Drenttel Doyle Partners, New York.)
"The details you see in the[DAA] agency came from Chiat/Day," which serves as an occasional consultant to the show, Mr. Herskovitz admits.
But the show's creators insist there's no one real model for Miles.
"About a year and a half ago,[Mr. Herskovitz and executive producer Ed Zwick] may have had someone in mind," says Mr. Dougherty, who's been writing the Miles character since just after his creation. "But right now, he's a complete y have had someone in mind," says Mr. Dougherty, who's been writing the Miles character since just after his creation. "But right now, he's a complete invention."
"I've never been inside an ad agency, I don't think," says Mr. Clennon, who's signed to appear in 12 of "thirtysomething's" 22 episodes next season.
"I know a guy who's an art director. He has a company that builds the sets for commercials," he says. "We talk a little bit about his business, but that's about as close as I've come to really understanding how . . . a commercial gets made."
But a few minutes later, it's apparent that Mr. Clennon may underestimate his own understanding.
"Here's something else that Miles said last season," he notes. "I was looking at a rough cut of a commercial in my office when Michael comes to see me . . . . I'm watching this commercial and I say, 'What do you think of it? He says, 'It's hot,' and I say, 'Yeah, but?' And he says,, 'But will it sell copiers?'
"I say, 'A few thousand dollars worth of print ads in trade journals will sell the copiers.' So he says, 'Well, what's the point of this?' I say, 'You tell me,' and he says something like, 'To win awards?' "I say, 'A few thousand dollars worth of print ads in trade journals will sell the copiers.' So he says, 'Well, what's the point of this?' I say, 'You tell me,' and he says something like, 'To win awards?'
"What it comes out to be is you produce hot commercials to win awards to attract more clients to make more money. And the question of whether they actually sell the product or not is irrelevant. That's where you get into another area, which I think is beyond selling products. It's selling a company."
GRAPHIC: Photos 1 through 4, Miles in a moment of mirth? David Clennon breaks from character and mugs it up on the set of "thirtysometing", Scott Streble
Article reproduced respectfully but without permission. No infringement intended in any way. Only intended for the personal enlightenment of readers.
Return to the Articles index
Return to the Bedford Falls index