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Sunday, May 6, 2001

CHANNEL SURF

Drumming up some PR for the old neighborhood

Most of the current travel-information programs you see on TV are stylistic offshoots of TBS's long-running "Soko ga Shiritai," which has been off the air for several years now. One of the few variety shows that has done something different with the format is TV Tokyo's "Shutsubotsu! Ad-Machikku Tengoku" (Saturday, 9 p.m.), which is closer in style and purpose to information magazines, especially the best-selling city guide Hanako. Though "Shutsubotsu" has visited other cities in Japan and once even went overseas to Hong Kong, it mainly stays in Tokyo.

Each week a group of celebrity reporters seek out a neighborhood and in the space of an hour plumb it for every attraction it can offer, both commercial and noncommercial. These are presented in the form of a "countdown list" that seems to be ranked on the basis of whim. Less orderly than the usual travel-information show, "Shutsubotsu" captures the atmosphere of a community in all its diversity and chaos, which is how people experience it when they explore it themselves.

The show's regulars also come up with an original TV commercial PR campaign for the neighborhood based on the information they have uncovered during their reports. Sometimes, they even develop a special "product" associated with the area. On May 12, the 7-year-old show will celebrate its 300th installment with a visit to Sugamo, often referred to as the "grannies' Harajuku."

Sugamo is the "hometown" of the show's host, Kin'ya Aikawa, who probably holds some kind of record for Japanese emcees, having hosted the original travel quiz show "Naruhodo the World" for 15 years and the original late-night variety show, "11 P.M." for 14. For this special program, Aikawa will leave his customary seat in the studio and join the reporters as they explore every nook and cranny of Sugamo. Another program that has made a successful leap out of itself and into the world of marketing is the daily 30-minute serial "Konbini Maria" (TBS, Monday-Friday, 1:30 p.m.), which chronicles the retail adventures of the titular character, played by fresh-faced ingenue Hiromi Kitagawa, who works in a convenience store. This week, Maria comes up with an idea to boost the slumping sales of her employer. She develops her own original kashi-pan (pastry) and then tries to pitch it to the head office, which sends one of its marketing chiefs to the store where Maria works to hear her out. The executive, who is going through some personal problems, is "healed" by Maria's enthusiasm and "inspirational smile." He agrees to carry the pastry in all the stores.

You, too, can be thusly "healed" if you happen to live near a Circle K or Sankusu convenience store, which last week began selling Maria's pastry. The two sunflower-shaped tie-in items are easy to find since they feature a picture of Kitagawa's "inspirational smile" on the package. The pastries will be available until May 25 when the series ends. Programming and advertising achieve true chicken-and-egg duality on "Tensei Shingo" this afternoon at 4:25 on Nihon TV. Starring SMAP man Shingo Katori and the comedy team Kyain -- Udo Suzuki and Hiroyuki Amano -- the half-hour comedy show, whose title is a takeoff on the famous Asahi Shimbun front-page column "Tensei Jingo," is raw, to say the least.

Today's program is a continuation of last week's, on which Woody (Udo) and Amanotchi (Amano) talked Kirin Beer's marketing department into allowing them to appear with regular spokesman Katori in a TV commercial for Ichiban Shibori by proving that they can drink beer and "make it look delicious." In Part 2, we watch the making of the commercial. Woody and Amanotchi play salarymen enjoying their day off at a restaurant and Shingo plays a member of an amateur baseball team that drops in after a game. Though the director warned Woody that he shouldn't actually drink the beer he is served, the comedian does exactly that and becomes furiously drunk in the process. If that doesn't sell beer, nothing will. On May 7 at 11 p.m., NHK-G will present a British documentary about Bob Marley to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the reggae pioneer's death. The documentary goes beyond Marley's music and explores his role as a provocative influence in Jamaican postcolonial politics and social activism, especially as a voice for Kingston's exploited underclass and as a powerful critic of the corrupt government of the '60s. The documentary will be accompanied by comments from film director Yoichi Sai and singer Masaki Ueda.

For those who prefer their music straight up, NHK will also present a series of live concerts this week on its BS2 channel. May 7: James Brown in Pittsburgh, Penn, November 2000; May 8: Earth Wind & Fire in Tokyo, September 2000; May 9: Kiss, New Jersey, June 2000; and May 10: Cliff Richard, Birmingham, England, December 1999. All begin at 7:30 p.m.



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