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New York barely blinked at ad that panicked Boston

February 02, 2007|Michael Amon | Newsday

New York to Boston: Get over it.

The Big Apple's neighbor to the north was brought to a halt Wednesday when some harmless blinking signs advertising a cartoon were mistaken for bombs.

In New York? Fuhgeddaboudit. The city's 911 operators logged no calls -- not a single one -- when the identical devices depicting in lights a character from "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" were planted around Manhattan and Brooklyn several weeks ago.

"It takes a little more than that to shock us," said Randi Martinez, 25, a bartender from Manhattan who heard about the response in Boston.

In fact, 38 of the 40 signs hung in New York disappeared, presumably swiped by cultish fans of the show that airs on Cartoon Network, said Shirley Powell, a spokeswoman for Turner Broadcasting Co., the network's parent company. A few signs stolen in some of the 10 cities nationwide that were part of the promotion already had popped up on EBay Thursday, with one fetching a bid of $1,250.

Could it be that New Yorkers, living where ads pop up everywhere from subways to sidewalks, weren't concerned because they are inured to marketing? Or are Bostonians a bit jumpier?

"People in Boston are a little more uptight than New Yorkers," said Hunter Foster, 37, a Manhattan actor who lived in Beantown several years ago and now appears as Leo Bloom in the Broadway musical "The Producers." "It feels like a small town, and you don't see as much there. In New York, you see something weird every day."

The ads originated in New York, the brainchild of Interference Inc., a Manhattan-based company known for its edgy guerrilla marketing campaigns for everything from cigarettes to stockbrokers.

This time, Interference was pushing the bizarre cartoon that follows the lives and high jinks of three roommates who are talking versions of a pack of French fries, a milkshake and a ball of meat. At least 40 of the signs were placed in 10 cities, depicting one of the show's more popular minor characters, a box-shaped, beer-swilling alien known for extending his middle finger.

Turner issued an apology for the marketing campaign after being condemned by Boston officials, who mistook the battery- and solar-powered signs for bombs and shut down much of the city on Wednesday.

Subways, bridges and one of the city's main arteries, Interstate 93, were shut until authorities in Boston deemed the devices safe.

Two men who authorities say were paid to place the devices pleaded not guilty Thursday to placing a hoax device and disorderly conduct. Peter Berdovsky, 27, and Sean Stevens, 28, were released on $2,500 cash bond -- apparently amused by the situation, even though they face up to five years in prison.

They met reporters and TV cameras and launched into a nonsensical discussion of hairstyles of the 1970s. As they walked off, Berdovsky gave a more serious comment.

"We need some time to really sort things out and, you know, figure out our response to this situation in other ways than talking about hair," Berdovsky said.

Late Thursday, Berdovsky released a statement through a Boston law firm. It said he "never imagined" the devices would be perceived as dangerous and he never intended to do anything to frighten the community.

"I regret that this incident has created such anguish and disruption for the residents and law enforcement officers of this city," the statement said.

Boston's response to the devices drew snickers from some of New York's young adults, many of them fans of the show.

"Some older people don't get the humor," said Yves Wilson, 23, a television production assistant from Manhattan who watches "Aqua Teen" with his friends. "Just the fact that the authorities had no clue was hilarious."

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