Fiction Issue 2012, Editor's pick: "The Fall and Rise of 'The Worst Commercial Ever Made'" | Fiction | Chicago Reader

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Fiction Issue 2012, Editor's pick: "The Fall and Rise of 'The Worst Commercial Ever Made'"

The epic tale of “Lincoln Carpeting Factory Outlet Superstore: Where We Roll Out the Red Carpet of Nonstop Savings!”


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Upon its release, it was immediately damned by critics as "The Worst Commercial Ever Made." It was broadcast only once—all three minutes and 35 seconds of it—on October 7, 1979, during an episode of Vega$. It bankrupted the carpet outlet store that paid to have it made. People, property, and kittens were injured during its production. Careers were ruined; lunches were uneaten .

In its aftermath, it was seen as the final nail in the coffin of the era known as "The Golden Age of the Local Commercial Auteur"—a time when directors were given complete freedom by small businesses to pursue their visions, no matter the funds allocated in the advertising budget. Its disaster was so complete—so thorough and unmitigated—that the ripples from its failure are still being felt to this day—from its Chicagoland origins to the entire North American continent.

The name of this notoriously notorious and epically epic commercial was "Lincoln Carpeting Factory Outlet Superstore: Where We Roll Out the Red Carpet of Nonstop Savings!" While the scope of the financial disaster and the excoriating reviews from the critics have been well documented, in recent years growing legions of critics and commercialphiles are now championing the work; once ridiculed as "the most pretentious, portentious, ostentatious dogturd to ever hit the streets," "Lincoln Carpeting" is now considered by many 21st-century critics to be "The 20th Century's Most Underrated Masterpiece."

The story of "Lincoln Carpeting Factory Outlet Superstore: Where We Roll Out the Red Carpet of Nonstop Savings!"—the insane perfectionism during its production, its dead-on-arrival status upon its release, its resurrection in recent years as younger eyes and ears have experienced the commercial untainted by its notoriety—has never been fully chronicled.

Until now.

In 1978, commercial director Adlai Prescott "A.P." Parsonson was on top of the Chicagoland commercial world.

He was coming off an enormously successful 1978, during which his commercial for the Algonquin Roundtable Superstore (in Algonquin, Illinois) won numerous awards—including the highly coveted "Commercial of the Year" Lech (the Oscar equivalent in the Chicagoland Commercial business, named after Lech Lianardowicz, the prolific 1950s commercial filmmaker perhaps best known for directing the groundbreaking 1958 opus "Villa Park Appliances")—and was as ubiquitous as ads for Harlem Furniture and Danley's Garages during breaks in Cubs games on WGN. The commercial quintupled the profits for the company who paid to have him write and direct their commercial, and as the summer of 1978 turned into the fall and holiday season, it seemed no home was complete without an Algonquin Round Table—from middle-class families in Oak Lawn to disco queens in Lincoln Park.

Its financial success was matched only by its artistic achievement.

"I've always loved Parsonson's work with 'Algonquin,'" says contemporary Chicagoland commercial filmmaker/enfant terrible Teddy San Giacomo. "The colors, the costumes, the jingle. It's one of those commercials where you can look at it to this day, and say, 'My God. That is how you make a [bleepin] commercial for tables. And it only won one Lech. Astounding!"

Indeed, "Algonquin Roundtable Superstore" is unquestionably a masterpiece—a dizzyingly mesmerizing tour de force in which a commercial beginning with the spinning shimmers of a disco ball concludes with astronauts on the moon playing backgammon on a round table, with the vast scope of Western civilization seamlessly woven in between—from the Last Supper to the Continental Congress, from King Arthur to Douglas MacArthur, the Parthenon to Machu Picchu. Round tables feature prominently throughout these historical mini-tours of the epochs. Lavish costuming and vibrant color leave the consumer on the brink of ecstatic reverie, and when these stunning visuals are paired with the disco-throbbing jingle sung by Mandy Ripperton (the cousin of Minnie Ripperton, best known for performing the 70s classic "Loving You"), the 30-second experience leaves one seized with longing to be a part of our world's past, present, and future by simply finding the nearest round table and sitting near it.

The critics were unanimous in their praise. "If a better commercial exists, I haven't seen it," commercial critic Alexander Fairchild proclaimed in the pages of the LaGrange Heights Picayune.

"In a year of 'Pop pop fizz fizz, oh what a relief it is,' and so many other mainstream abortions," ranted beloved curmudgeon J. Stevenson Pepperdine of the Downer's Grove Standard Bearer, "'Algonquin' stands as a testament to the vast possibilities heretofore uncharted in the televised commercial realm."

"An exuberant tapestry," announced Henderson Bailey of the Lincoln Square Cracker Barrel, "woven from threads made from the very fabric of life—birth to death, epoch to epoch. If Genius and Mr. Parsonson were in the same cocktail party, there would be no need for introductions, for they are—without a doubt—on quite familiar terms."

The accolades, as well as the heavy rotation of the "Algonquin Roundtable" commercial on UHF stations throughout the Chicagoland market, caught the eyes and ears of Franklin L. Chuckberry, president and CEO of Lincoln Carpeting Factory Outlet Superstore, a 10,000-square-foot showroom located on the outskirts of Rolling Meadows, Illinois.

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