Peter York On Ads: It's wise to make a fool of yourself: just ask Hoff

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The Independent Online

Jonathan Ross is worth every penny. He's doing it for us, you know, even if he does seem up himself. He's asking at least some of the questions you want asked. And the visible Green Room idea is really clever. TV made transparent. You see a mixed batch of celebrities jostle for camera angles. You see whether they can hack it.

The best part is seeing Ross with Americans. It's culture shock, it's culture clash and Ross almost always comes off best. They'll have done a thousand talk shows in America and they're on autopilot or into their anecdotage. They think they can cope. And as they sit there in that Green Room they're just starting to wonder. Their local publicist - paid by exposure, and this is a big show - will have said, "Jonathan likes to talk a bit dirty / be a bit personal but he's really nice and loves you / your work / your show / your film." Twenty years of being indulged by mainstream TV and radio to watch and listen - all those film programmes, all those wacky American series, every possible sort of kitsch - means Ross knows their work and their world better than they do.

It won't have happened before. He'll be very physical, with the women and the men. And he'll talk much dirtier than they're used to. American mainstream network TV interviews are still pretty deferential, still basically Johnny Carson plus therapy-speak. And they're plotted and choreographed in detail, with very particular reference to what mustn't ever be mentioned. (A friend of mine once had a glorious contract with a major American magazine to do celebrity interviews. Her first Hollywood piece, written the British way, so infuriated the star, whose agent represented half the actors in the world and had a sort of deal with her publisher, that she was back to Islington in six weeks.)

It doesn't exactly make up for the Blair-Bush relationship, but seeing Ross get those Americans into something near meltdown as they struggle to place him and end up signalling please-make-it-stop is one of life's little compensations for Third World citizens like us.

David Hasselhoff, who appeared on Friday Night with Jonathan Ross in May 2005, is a sublimely cheesy American with a face and build somewhere between a Chippendale and a disco bunny. He's hard-wired into the collective memory of several cohorts of TV childhoods and teenagers through Knight Rider and Baywatch. He's one of the World's Most Watched.

We know about Hasselhoff. We know he had money in Baywatch, so he'll be rich. We know, in a pub quiz way, that he's very big in Germany (presumably that's where he's originally from - you can see him as a German TV star can't you?)

But more than that, apparently he's an absolute king of the internet, the male star most likely to feature in the emails of 16- to 24-year-olds and the top cult star most searched for online by them. But what kind of 16- to 24-year-olds? And what do they want to know?

So he makes sense as a spokesperson for Pipex, the ISP business. The new Pipex commercial is built around the idea of the Hoff cult, and Hasselhoff - like Burt Reynolds and William Shatner before him - is being launched into full-on self-parody in British advertising. There's the Hoff Californian temple with a golden dome, with a great gallery of Hoff publicity stills, from his late 1970s gelled curls look through to the Baywatch big-boy.

"The internet's been good for me," he says as he walks to camera in tight black trousers, black leather blouson and Pipex T-shirt, looking marvellously Eighties (he's 52, nearly as old as Patrick Swayze, who evokes a similar kind of response). "If it weren't for all those Hoff sites I'd just be this guy with the really great pecs." Hoff pushes his jacket back listlessly. "But with Pipex I can keep this online empire buzzing at a very sexy price."

Hasselhoff seems amiable if a little smudged. But we also know that there was an acrimonious divorce and an incident only the other week where they wouldn't let him on a plane because he was too drunk, so it can't be all that good. But it was fine with Jonathan; Hoff came on doing the slow-motion Baywatch run.