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‘Pitch’ shows advertising world’s more fun as fiction

WDCW team members brainstorm while working their Subway pitch during pilot episode “The Pitch.”

WDCW team members brainstorm while working on their Subway pitch during the pilot episode of “The Pitch.”

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‘THE PITCH’ ★★1/2

8 to 9 p.m. Monday on AMC, followed by an encore of the pilot at 9 p.m., the regular timeslot

Updated: May 30, 2012 8:10AM

Some of the best scenes in AMC’s “Mad Men” revolve around “the pitch,” when Don, Peggy and SCDP’s other creative types sit around a shiny table and try to sell their ad campaign to a client.

That process, which can end in glorious triumph (Don and the Kodak Carousel) or humiliating defeat (Peggy and Heinz beans), is the subject of the basic cable network’s new unscripted series, aptly titled “The Pitch.”

Here’s the gist: Two ad agencies go head-to-head in the battle for new business. That business can entail convincing 18- to 24-year-olds to eat breakfast at Subway, or coming up with a clever campaign to show how Waste Management turns trash into energy.

While the clock ticks, the agencies’ masterminds get busy brainstorming their best ideas, which come along with an entertaining assortment of embarrassing duds.

Viewers get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into how the sausage gets made, or in this case, sold. And it’s a far cry from the martini-soaked glamor of “Mad Men.”

“The Pitch” is about real people who wear jeans and T-shirts, drink out of cardboard Starbucks cups and make their presentation in a generic room before an uninspiring Subway chief marketing officer who looks like he’s indulged in way too much of his own product.

Even so, you get the sense these people believe they’re doing The Most Important Job Ever. “The Pitch’s” dramatic music, grandiose language and slow-motion shots of Clio statuettes add to an air of seriousness that sometimes skirts the margins of a “Saturday Night Live” skit.

“You’ve got to slug it out in the gladiator arena with all these other naked, glistening, sword-wielding agencies,” explains WDCW chairman Tracy Wong, whose agency competes for the Subway account in the pilot.

That episode aired as a sneak peek earlier this month following “Mad Men.” The eight-part series officially premieres at 8 p.m. Monday, when SK+G and The Ad Store battle over Waste Management. That’s followed by a repeat of the pilot at 9 p.m., “The Pitch’s” regular timeslot.

Created by some of the same people behind “Undercover Boss” and “Project Runway,” “The Pitch” has a lot of the elements people have come to expect in reality competitions. There’s no shortage of ego-clashing and boardroom bickering. We can find characters to cheer and jeer. Each episode ends with the drama of crowning a winner and disappointing a loser. (At press time, most voters in AMC’s online poll disagreed with Subway’s choice for winner, preferring the losing agency’s pitch by two-to-one.)

Unlike another AMC unscripted series, “Comic Book Men,” you don’t have to be an insider to appreciate or understand “The Pitch.” Even those of us who don’t make a living manipulating people’s buying habits can relate to the concept of creating commercials; we’ve been on the receiving end of enough of them.

But television shows about advertising, like most professions, are generally more compelling as fiction, not fact. That’s certainly the case here with “Mad Men.”

AMC’s two series about the cutthroat world of advertising can be summed up this way: One is “The Pitch,” the other, a hit.

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