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Who knew PBS' Jim Lehrer could be so, well, un-funny?

Every so often the advertising world manages the perfect marriage of icon and product, and the result seems to leap off the screen.

PBS and the Baltimore-based MGH advertising firm look like they might have one of those with Jim Lehrer, the dean of American anchorpersons, sitting on the set of the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer looking serious enough to be announcing a Wall Street meltdown. But when he opens his mouth, instead of the nightly news, out comes a string of deadly-dull, knucklehead, third-rate jokes. They are the kind that make you cringe; the only thing worse than the jokes is Lehrer's delivery.

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And it's a scream. The spot promotes MAKE 'EM LAUGH: The Funny Business of America, a big multi-part PBS series on the art of American comedy that premieres Jan. 14. It is hosted by Billy Crystal and narrated by Amy Sedaris.

But the genius of the spot is in using Lehrer, who has become the very embodiment of serious, sober journalism, and matching him with the bad jokes. And, let me tell you, his delivery is brilliant. It would not have worked as well as it does if Lehrer wasn't a master of his televisual image.

John Patterson, the creative director of MGH, says the agency pitched several ideas to PBS, and both the creative team and the broadcaster loved the Lehrer concept immediately.

"When we thought how do you represent PBS, Jim was the first guy who came to mind as a symbol of public television, "Patterson said. "But with any creative assignment, you have these great ideas and you think, 'well good luck getting him.' But we proposed it to PBS and they really glommed onto it. And then, they approached him and he instantly got the joke, which is half the battle."

The other half is Lehrer's performance: "We did everything in about a half hour -- everything," Patterson said. "I mean, we did tons of takes from every different angle, but he just kept nailing it time after time."

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