By Barry Janoff
September 16, 2014: Bryan Cranston, the critically acclaimed actor who played high school chemistry teacher turned crystal-meth dealer Walter White in AMC's Breaking Bad, plays the part of several baseball players in a multi-platform campaign to support the upcoming MLB post-season games on TBS.
In the humorous TV and online spot, "One-Man MLB Show" that anchors the campaign, Cranston appears in a fictitious one-man play, where he reenacts several classic baseball playoff moments, channeling at various times the heroics of Carlton Fisk, Kirk Gibson and Derek Jeter, among others.
Several 30-second commercials break this week during NFL programming, all pulled from an extended five-minute spot that hit YouTube today (Sept. 16). Support includes Internet and social media such as Facebook and Twitter.
"We wanted to do something different for this year's MLB post-season campaign, and Bryan was a perfect fit for that," said Craig Barry, svp and executive creative director for Turner Sports, at a media event in the MLB FanCave in New York. "He is a huge baseball fan. So when we approached him with the concept of a one-man play dedicated to baseball, he was all for it."
Although Cranston has played comedic roles — most notably as Hal Wilkerson, the oblivious father of the dysfunctional family in Malcolm in the Middle — and has appeared in several theatrical productions, his five-year stint on Breaking Bad, which ran from 2008-2013 and is still on-air in reruns, has left a specific image of the actor in the minds of many people.
"That was part of what interested Bryan," said Barry. "He wanted to break the mold of the [Walter White] character and show people another side of himself."
The campaign supports TBS' eighth consecutive year of MLB post-season coverage, which this season includes the American League Wild Card game (Sept. 30) presented by Budweiser, the AL Division Series (beginning Oct. 2) presented by T-Mobile and the AL Championship Series (starting date TBD).
The extended commercial also includes guest appearances from world renowned ballet dancer Misty Copeland, former MLB pitcher and current TBS analyst Pedro Martinez and animated superstar Bugs Bunny.
In the spot, Cranston explains, "I had been doing a lot of TV and movie work and I felt it was time to get back to the basics by diving right into my great passion — baseball. And I also knew I wanted to do this one-man show. Then it hit me: Why not dramatize the entire MLB post-season. It would be my greatest acting challenge."
We see Cranston on-stage amidst a baseball setting. Among the moments he recreates are Fisk's dramatic home run for the Boston Red Sox in Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, Gibson's legendary home run for the Los Angeles Dodgers in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series and Jeter's famous back-hand flip play for the New York Yankees in Game 3 of the 2001 AL Division Series.
At one point, however, Cranston laments, "There were problems. I sunk a lot of money into this show."
Facing challenges, Cranston gets inspiration from an unlikely source. He walks into a store and sees on a TV a clip of Bugs Bunny in Baseball Bugs, a Looney Toons animated cartoon originally released by Warner Bros. in 1946.
"The Bugster. Mr. B," Cranston says with a straight face. "Any actor who tells you that he is not inspired by Bugs Bunny is a liar. Or a hack."
Misty Copeland is brought in to help him with his movements, much to the chagrin of Martinez, who exclaims, "I don't believe this."
We also are introduced to Arthur Knebbles, who, according to Cranston, "was, of course, the organ player at the old Polo Grounds." However, according to the New York Historical Society, the Polo Grounds never had an organist.
Undaunted, after an appreciative theater audience applauds his Shakespearean rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," Cranston offers, "With this show, in a very personal way, I get to make my dream come true.
"What can I say. This is the post-season." (See the full spot here.)