Wednesday, August 16, 2000

Stop Messing With Perfection

There comes a point when a legend should be left alone. When attempts to add to it, modify it, or update it serve more of a counterproductive purpose. Two such attempts in recent days have caught my eye. In each case, I wish they would just knock it off.

One is Paul McCartney’s announcement that he has produced a “new” Beatles song, using outtakes from original Fab Four sessions in the sixties. It even reportedly contains John Lennon’s voice and some spare-parts guitar work. The song is called “Free Now,” a collaboration with a Welsh band called Super Furry Animals. I thought Paul was against animal cruelty -- doesn’t this qualify?

The problem is the same as when Paul, Ringo, and George released “Free As A Bird,” the song that electronically reunited them with John a few years ago. Face it, the song sucked. So did the follow-up, “Real Love.” Even diehard Beatles fans (count me among them) were disappointed, seeing through the charade as a cheap attempt to draw more money out of us. All they did, and all this new recording will do, is diminish the Beatles legend.

That's not Paul's job. It's Yoko's.

The same should be said to the people at Nabisco, who refuse to stop their attempts to make The Perfect Cookie -- the Oreo -- even better. In a snack division that must now be headed by Verne Troyer, Nabisco has just released Mini-Oreos.

I’m an Oreo afficionado. Been eating them my whole life. When I was a kid, my father did the food shopping one week and, upon returning home, announced triumphantly that instead of Oreos, he had bought Hydrox, which was the same cookie but 30% cheaper! My brother and I had to sit him down to explain that the two cookies were far from the same. He might just as well have saved another 50% and bought the generic store brand, because we wouldn’t have eaten that crappy cookie, either.

It isn’t enough for Nabisco that Oreos have been the best-selling cookie in the world since they were introduced 88 years ago. In the last couple of decades, they have tried to improve upon perfection. It can’t be done, but that hasn’t stopped their efforts.

First, they created Double Stuf, for people whose doctors thought they weren’t getting enough lard in their diet.

Then, remember the Giant Oreo? It was bigger than a hockey puck and contained more shortening than a wooden palette full of Crisco cans at your local Sam’s Club. There wasn’t enough milk in the world to wash it down. It is a scientific fact that no human ever finished a Giant Oreo on their own. They either shared it with someone or, in a misguided attempt to eat the whole thing, were admitted to a medical facility with a sugar shock emergency. That’s why you don’t see the Giant Oreo around anymore -- size does matter!

Next, they pushed the cookie technology envelope with fudge-dipped Oreos. The verdict: too much fudge diluting the true Oreo taste. That problem was exacerbated with their next attempt, taking those fudge-dipped Oreos and re-dipping them in white chocolate. Even confirmed chocoholics avoided them. This was roughly the equivalent of draining eleven glucose IV’s through your veins at the same time.

Once they had played around with the outside, they went back to the inside. If Double Stuf had too much cream, they could go the other way, too. Thus the Reduced Fat Oreo. Yeah, right, it's a diet cookie -- you could see America’s extra pounds dropping right off! They were about as tasty as tofu jerky.

Next, Nabisco added food color to the filling to give us special Oreos for every season: blue for springtime, orange at Halloween, red for Christmas, etc. (the gefilte-fish-flavored Oreos for Passover never got off the drawing board). They even did one that created blue swirls when you dunked your Oreo in your milk.

Is there no downtime in the create-a-new Oreo division at Nabisco? Apparently not, for this week, they debuted Mini-Oreos -- quarter-sized cookies that come in an 8-ounce bag. Why? Here’s Archie Mack, business director for the Oreo brand: “We’re really trying to capture the hand-to-mouth, on-the-go snacking market.”

"Hand-to-mouth"? That’s to combat a marketing study that showed a vast group of customers who were trying to eat them toe-to-ear. "On-the-go”? What was more on-the-go than the original Oreo? Was it of such an unwieldy size that it couldn’t be consumed in the car? Of course not.

What’s next? My spies in the Nabisco boardroom hear that they’re developing Micro-Oreos, where a whole package fits on the head of a pin! After that, they’ll debut Oreo Shots, a liquid version of the cookie that comes with a milk sidecar! Best of all is the Oreo Inhaler, because why should your mouth have all the fun?

As Paul McCartney once wrote -- in a song that never needs updating -- Let It Be!

Wednesday, August 09, 2000

Gene Kranz, NASA Flight Director

Gene Kranz was the longtime Flight Director at NASA Mission Control from the first Americans in space through men on the moon, and more. He was on my show today to explain how the real-life controllers compared with their movie counterparts in "Apollo 13" (he was portrayed by Ed Harris), what went through his head when Apollo 11 first landed on the moon, and the story behind Alan Shepherd's lunar golf shot.

Listen.

Gene Kranz's book is "Failure Is Not An Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond."