David Merrick’s famous ad for Subways Are Sleeping.Photo: The New York Herald Tribune
London’s The Stage reports that starting in 2008, advertisements that misleadingly quote critical reviews could subject producers to criminal penalties. The European Union’s new Unfair Commercial Practices Directive goes into effect in England, and it could apply to theater advertisements, according to one local solicitor.
But will this law result in any prosecutions? Or is this much ado about nothing? (“We are … amused,” raves Queen Elizabeth I!) Reportedly, the relevant British government office will be looking for a test case come the end of the year; in order to be punishable, manipulated quotes would be violations if they influence consumer behavior and if they do not meet the “standard of care reasonably expected of a producer.”
What can you reasonably expect of a producer? There is, of course, a long and proud theatrical tradition of producers tweaking the city’s newspapers by using misleading quotes in their advertisements, as Charles Isherwood complained in the Times last June.
The most infamous example is David Merrick finding seven random New Yorkers with the same names as the city’s theater critics to rave about his 1961 show Subways Are Sleeping. Just last week, Michael Riedel at the Post reported that Scott Rudin, angry at the Times’ practice of letting readers post “reviews” of shows before they open, has been pulling quotes from those reviews, using them in ads for The Year of Magical Thinking, and attributing them to “The New York Times Online.”
The practice isn’t limited to Broadway, of course; in 2001 Sony invented a critic named David Manning to blurb their films in newspaper ads. Our personal favorite example of outright blurb fraud, though, comes from the book world. We distinctly recall publicity material for Benjamin Kunkel’s novel, Indecision, including a glowing line from Gilbert Cruz’s review in Entertainment Weekly: “Benjamin Kunkel has succeeded in crafting a voice of singular originality.” The publicist left out, though, the way Cruz ended that sentence: “— one that you want to punch in the mouth.”
Misquoting Reviews to Be Made Illegal [The Stage]Misleading Critical Blurbs Soon to Be a Crime in England