Somebody Ought To Do Something

I recoil from sentences that begin, “Somebody ought to . . .” I cringe in much the same way I did in school when someone made the chalk squeak on the blackboard. People I don’t know, or people I do know and don’t especially care for, put forth such sentences at large family gatherings, such as holiday dinners, when nerves, at least mine, are already on edge. The phrase is usually a preamble to someone’s opinion about what’s wrong with the world and what needs fixing. Seldom, if ever, have I heard a speaker offer to participate in the solution to the problem they have presented.

I can think of one exception.  LeMond/Zetter, the talent management company I once worked for, represented an actress named Holland Taylor. You may know her as the narcissistic mother on the sit-com, Two and a Half Men.

In the early 1990’s, Ms. Taylor was convinced by old friends to accept a series regular role on their new television comedy. Once the show was in production, Ms. Taylor discovered that, week after week, the writers were giving her nothing to do. She asked for a meeting with the writers and her old friends, the show’s producers.

“I’m not happy,” she told those gathered at the meeting. “I’ve asked for this meeting so we can figure out what we can all do to make me happy.” What the producers loved about Holland’s strategy (they reported back to my boss after the meeting), was that Holland wasn’t expecting them to make her happy by themselves. She was ready, willing, and able to partner with them to solve the problem of her unhappiness.

In years past, when someone began a sentence with “Somebody ought to . . .” I have asked “Who might this somebody be?” It never got me anywhere. I remember on one occasion when I asked this question, my mother pleaded, “Jim, please don’t ruin everybody’s Christmas dinner.”

Now I find myself wrestling with my own “somebody ought to” dilemma.

Somebody ought to compile a glossary of all of the alphabetical euphemisms that pharmaceutical companies use in pitching their prescription drugs on the 24 hour news channels. You know the ones I mean:

ED + BPH, Erectile Dysfunction plus Benign Prostate Hyperplasia (swollen prostate gland) Cialis

OAB, Overactive Bladder Mybretriq

RLS, Restless Leg Syndrome Myrapex

And my new favorite

OIC, Opioid Induced Constipation Movantik.

Commercials for Movantik (rhymes with romantic) appeared, with creepy synchronicity, during breaks in the news coverage of the March 29, 2017 White House Listening Session on the Opioid Abuse Crisis.

The President flanked by his crack team of advisors: son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, on the left and Attorney General, Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions, and Secretary of Education, Betsy De Vos, on the right. The ubiquitous Kellyanne Conway can be spotted taking refreshment in the upper left-hand corner of the photo.

Movantik is a prescription drug designed to address the effects of O. I. D.—opioid induced constipation. At the end of the commercial, an actor turns and speaks directly into the camera, “Why hold it in? Have your Movantik Moment.” You read that right. “Why hold it in?”

I’ve watched the commercial several times. A “Movantik Moment” is ad-speak for the modest pleasures of an uncomplicated and satisfying bowel movement. As a septuagenarian, I can tell you that’s nothing to sneeze at.

The phrase, “Movantik Moment” immediately brought to mind the Ben E. King and the Drifters’ classic 1960s dance song, “This Magic Moment”. “This magic moment, so fresh and new . . .” The song played ceaselessly in the Ipod in my head until—running errands later in the day, I found myself humming, “Isn’t It Romantic,” the beautiful Rodgers and Hart ballad, one of the loveliest and most recorded in the Great American Songbook.

“Isn’t it romantic?
Merely to be young on such a night as this
Isn’t it romantic?
Every note that’s sung is like a lover’s kiss.”

My favorite rendition is the wonderfully comic self-sabotaging serenade sung by Rudy Vallee in the Preston Sturges comedy, The Palm Beach Story (Sunday, April 30, TCM).

Rudy Vallee and Claudette Colbert in The Palm Beach Story

In the privacy of my car, I began to imitate Mr. Vallee’s distinctive nasal intonations. Before I knew it, I was singing. “Isn’t it Movantik?”  This is not good.

As I’ve warned, readers before, my mind is like the old cliché about New York City, “It’s a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live here.”

Both the creative and legal teams responsible for creating the one minute and one second Movantik commercial have put a lot of care into its solidly professional design and production. The ad agency that conceived of and sold this concept to AstraZenica, (the pharmaceutical company that developed and manufactures Movantik), and shepherded it through to its debut on television merits our admiration and applause. Advertising is a cut-throat business and any mistakes can cause the ad agency the account.

Being interviewed on Saturday morning, April 1, by NPR’s Scott Simon, Wharton School of Business marketing professor, Barbara Kahn, recounted the likely apocryphal, but nonetheless illustrative, story of  Chevy Nova ad execs discovering that Chevy Nova in Spanish means “doesn’t run.” Heads have rolled for much less.

I have sympathy for the ad exec tasked with coming up with the phrase, “opioid induced constipation.” Who knows how many hungry mouths she or he has waiting at home, counting on the exec to put food on the table and braces on their teeth. I’m sure this is not the career the executive dreamt of while the student loans were piling up.

Pharmaceuticals are a deadly serious business. Inventing problems that require prescription drugs and making up names for both the drug and the problem it addresses requires a diabolical imagination.

Picture Pete Campbell, Don Draper’s envious second on the much-praised television series, Mad Men (Movantik is not the kind of ad campaign that would capture Don’s interest) and ambitious copy-writer Peggy Olsen staying up all-night working on the commercial’s storyboard  As dawn breaks, the pair, exhausted from staying up all night and conjuring the phrase, “Opioid Induced Constipation”, pause for coffee and, in the last moments before their pitch to the pharmaceutical executives, Peggy, in a burst of caffeine inspired genius, whispers to Pete, “My Movantik Moment!” Home run!

Pete Campbell and Peggy Olsen: Mad Men

It wouldn’t surprise me if the Movantik commercial created more jobs and income than will come from the president’s empty promises to restore the coal industry. (It’s not lost on me that Movantik may become a best-seller in coal country.) Nor would it surprise me if the budget for this commercial was greater than the $1.5 million dollar budget for this year’s Oscar-winning Best Picture, Moonlight.

I frequently use films as a teaching aid in my classes on archetypes and spirituality. It is my practice to pause these films to point out important dialogue as well as the direction, editing, music, lighting and cinematography. All of these elements are carefully integrated into the Movantik commercial so as not to call individual attention to them; they are, nonetheless, absorbed by the sub-conscious and deeply influence the film’s impact on an audience.

This sixty-one second Movantik ad, entitled, Frank’s Movantik Moment, has twenty-one cuts and edits in it. The cuts in one sequence average one per second. No single shot is more than four seconds long. As likely as not, the director and the editor, like many young filmmakers these days, cut their teeth on music videos.

There are just nine sentences of dialogue—ten if you count Frank’s voice over during the montage. The script is a model of economy. There is no way of knowing how many drafts it went through or how many writers and copy editors contributed to it.

Here’s the Movantik commercial. Study it.

“Hi, I’m Frank, I take Movantik for O. I. C. (pause, close-up, confidentially), “Opioid Induced Constipation.”

“I had a bad back injury. My doctor prescribed opioids which helped with the chronic pain but backed me up (pause, for emphasis) Big Time.”

Shot of Frank, in hard hat, walking toward a porta-potty.

“I tried prunes, laxatives . . . still constipated.”

Shot of Frank at doctor’s office.

“Had to talk to my doctor.”

The doctor is a woman, nice touch. Under her image is a disclaimer that says, “actor portrayal.” (Remember the old cigarette commercials? “I’m not a doctor. I just play one on TV.”)

“She said, ‘How long you been holding this in?’”

She didn’t say, “Hey, Frank, maybe you should cut back on the opioid pain pills.” Or “Would you like me to refer you to a colleague who specializes in opioid dependency and addiction.”

Instead, cut to a close-up, Frank laughing:

“That was my Movantik moment.”

Cut back to construction sight.

“My doctor told me that Movantik is specifically designed for O. I. C. “It can help you go more often.”

This is followed by a montage in which Frank, in voice-over, describes the possible dangers, symptoms and side-effects of using Movantik.

Final close-up of Frank, speaking directly into the camera:

“Why hold it in? Have your Movantik moment.”

I have respect and sympathy for the actor. He gives a fine performance as he walks the tightrope of seriousness and good-humored self-deprecation. I represented actors for three decades and commercial bookings pay the bills and keep union health care coverage current.  Several of my clients at the time would have carefully weighed the pros and cons of auditioning for the commercial.

Years ago a client of mine auditioned for a Tidy Bowl commercial. Had she gotten the part she would have worn a short-skirted Busby Berkeley inspired sailor girl outfit and sang the praises of the product while circling a gigantic toilet bowl in a toy sail boat. More humiliating than auditioning for the commercial—her union health insurance premium was due, she said, was not getting it.

I wonder how many dozens of actors (that’s not an exaggeration) auditioned for the commercial before they found a suitable masculine actor, acceptable to the entire team (this kind of casting is always done by committee) who could play a construction foreman, look directly into the camera, and say convincingly, “opioid induced constipation.” I wonder how many actors stumbled on their lines or flat out broke up laughing just trying to say the phrase out loud. Breaking up is a no-no; advertisers are a largely humorless group. I wondered how many takes it took to get the scene just right. ***

Throughout the commercial, there is a constant scrawl across the bottom of the screen. This is the job of the legal department. Read it.

If you get stomach pain that continues, stop taking Movantik right away. Movantik is available only by prescription. Individual results may vary. Opioids should be used responsibly and only when prescribed by a doctor. See our as in US WEEKLY magazine. Movantik treats constipation caused by prescription opioids in adults with chronic pain not caused by cancer. Before taking Movantik, tell your doctor about all of your medical conditions. Opioid withdrawal symptoms include sweating, chills, diarrhea, stomach pain, anxiety, irritability, and yawning. If you get stomach pain that continues, stop taking Movantik and get medical help right away. Common side effects include stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea, gas, vomiting, and headache. Talk to your doctor about Movantik.

Every time I read a list of the symptoms during a commercial, it occurs to me that the cure may be more life-threatening than the problem it treats.

My favorite symptom is yawning. Uncontrollable yawning is not cause for a lawsuit. You’ve been warned.

All Western nations, with the exception of New Zealand and the United States, have historically (since the 1940s for Australia, North America, and Europe) banned direct advertising of pharmaceuticals to consumers.

“It’s a disgusting, dishonorable way to generate sales–but it works. In 2008, the House Commerce Committee found that every $1,000 spent on drug ads produces 24 new patients, and a 2003 research report found that prescription rates for drugs promoted with DTC ads were nearly seven times greater than those without such promos. Ethics aside, these consumer hustles have proven to be profit bonanzas.”

And so, the White House has created a commission to combat America’s opioid abuse problem. New Jersey governor, Chris Christie has been named chairman. I, for one, am glad to see Governor Christie resurface. He’s been absent from the national media for so long, I had become mildly curious about his whereabouts. I briefly conjectured that someone had put a contract out on him.

After Governor Christie and his commission have finished its exhaustive investigation, here’s what will happen to restrict pharmaceutical commercials on TV: Nothing.

Two reasons:

One: The pharmaceutical corporations are among the biggest donors to congress.

Two: the Supreme Court of the United States of America in its 2010 Citizens United decision ruled that corporations are people.

I still find myself humming, “Isn’t It Movantik?”

Somebody really ought to do something about this!


*** The news isn’t all bad. I did some research and discovered that the hardhat in the Movantik commercial is played by an actor named Mike McGowan (not to be confused with my dashing and adventurous godson, Michael McGowan, who lives in Denver, has an incredible wife, rides a Harley, has a shamrock tattoo somewhere or another on his body, and is a passionate participant in the Gaelic sport of hurling). The actor Mike McGowan is currently appearing off-Broadway in a production of an experimental musical called Joan of Arc: Into the Fire. The musical is being produced by N. Y.’s Public Theatre which has, in the past, given the world Hair, A Chorus Line and, most recently, Hamilton. An actor can hardly keep life and limb together living in New York on an off-Broadway salary. The residuals from the Movantik commercial should subsidize, not only Mr. McGowan’s income, but, indirectly, subsidize non-commercial, experimental, off-Broadway theatre as well.

Perhaps, just perhaps, there is a celestial economy.

In the face of OMB director’s ruthless cuts to federal arts funding, opioid-addicted communities of Trump backers may be indirectly supporting the health and development of the performing arts.  (This isn’t a random dig; as I’ve mentioned in two previous posts University of Pennsylvania, Assistant Professor of Rural Sociology, Shannon Monnat has documented that Trump fared better than previous Republican presidential candidates in what she calls opioid-addicted “Communities of Despair”.)

You can always recognize God by her sense of humor. God wastes no resources. She prizes irony and takes no prisoners.


“Advertising men and politicians are dangerous if they are separated. Together they are diabolical.”  Phillip Adams


1 thought on “Somebody Ought To Do Something

  1. Well, I couldn’t hold it in (both laughs, and shudders). So much to glean in all this. Maybe if they branch off into urinary tract trouble, they can return to movie reference appeals… “Movanting the Stone” comes to mind.

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