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Stars Turn Out for Hip, Happening Ads

Television: NBC's public service campaign draws on unpaid talent, wins awards--and delivers a message.

August 31, 1996|JENNIFER BOWLES | ASSOCIATED PRESS

It's Sunday morning and quiet in Hollywood, except for a darkened sound stage at one of the smaller studios.

There, Brooke Shields, one of NBC's newest recruits, has plunked herself down on an oversized chair, lights and a camera aiming right at her.

"Make yourself comfortable," the director says.

The statuesque actress swings her legs over the chair's left arm, then to the right before settling on crossing her legs in front.

"Is this OK?" she asks.

A scene for "Seinfeld" or her new "Suddenly Susan"?

Actually, it's a far more sought-after role: hip, happening . . . and gratis.

It's a spot for NBC's "The More You Know" public service campaign, those highly stylized 10- and 30-second spots showing some of the network's hottest stars sitting on chairs or standing up against a black, sometimes white, background.

With punchy, staccato lines, they warn viewers about drugs and sexually transmitted diseases or simply encourage kids to do their homework.

Now entering its eighth season, the campaign has collected a bevy of awards, including a Peabody in 1993 and, just last week, a Public Service Announcement Emmy Award for spots that focus on violence prevention.

More important, the campaign has carved out an identity for itself unlike any other public service campaign on TV. Only MTV's "Rock the Vote" comes close, but it doesn't address the wide range of issues tackled by "The More You Know."

There are teacher appreciation, staying in school and doing homework. But there are also date rape, drugs, drunk driving and domestic violence.

"I think the campaign is done in such a thoughtful, classy way that I think people are attracted to doing them," says actor Jere Burns as he's being brushed with makeup before his turn before the camera.

"It's sort of nice when constructive, thoughtful things become hip."

*

Each year, spots for an entire season are filmed in one weekend, during marathon sessions lasting sometimes 14 hours each day. This late August weekend, stars like Jonathan Silverman, Courteney Cox, Eriq La Salle and Gloria Reuben are pitching in.

"One tends to read and hear so much about the tragedies that occur in Hollywood and how selfish the various players are, and this is an opportunity to showcase some good being done," said Silverman, who taped segments about substance abuse and teacher appreciation.

In one of her spots, Shields urges parents to read to their children.

"We all know that parents are overburdened, and the last thing we want to do is be preachy," explains Rosalyn Weinman, NBC's senior vice president of broadcast standards and practices, the mastermind behind the project.

"We want to be helpful," she says. "So the challenge in every spot is making sure the spots are caring rather than pontificating."

Last year, several spots featured stars urging victims of domestic violence to get help while flashing an 800 number for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Typically, the hotline gets 228 calls a day. But after spots featuring "ER's" Julianna Margulies and "Mad About You's" Leila Kenzle aired last spring during prime time, the calls immediately tripled and even quadrupled, said Gail Phillips, director of public relations for the nonprofit hotline group.

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