In an ironic turn, the network that specializes in original programming with a retro flair tonight is doing something nostalgic in the digital space. The result promises to be a mashup of the very old and the very new, making for an hour of prime-time multi-screen entertainment the likes of which we haven’t seen before.
Tonight at 10 p.m., ET TV Land will present the Season 5 premiere of its signature sitcom “Hot in Cleveland” -- arguably one of the funniest and most distinctive comedies on television today, even if it is largely ignored by the Emmys and other industry awards -- and the Season 3 premiere of “The Soul Man.” In a throwback to yesteryear, both of these shows will be presented live on the East Coast and will include live cast commercials.
That’s the retro part. The digital excitement kicks off at 9:55 p.m. ET, when LiveFromTVLand begins streaming live content that will run throughout “Hot in Cleveland” and “The Soul Man” and will be available on multiple screens. This content will include comedians warming up the audience before the shows (a standard practice at sitcom tapings) and the actors backstage preparing to go on.
These aren’t the first live telecasts of currently popular scripted series -- “Hot in Cleveland” very successfully presented a live episode just last year -- but they are always an event, regardless of the network involved, and they always remind viewers that once upon a time (as in long before many of the people who are reading this column were born), it was not unusual for scripted television to be presented in this manner.
The telecast of a live episode of a series may not be new, but I can’t recall any network ever presenting two completely different live scripted shows back to back in the same hour. In fact, I can’t recall any network presenting two different scripted shows live on the same night, or week, or month.
Adding even more interest to the night, TV Land will also include live cast commercials in both telecasts. Commercials (live or otherwise) featuring the cast of the shows in which they were running used to be common in the early days of television, but when was the last time any of us saw one? It was reported yesterday in The New York Times that tonight’s live commercials would be for Toyota Highlander (during “Hot in Cleveland”) and Bush’s Grillin’ Beans (during “The Soul Man”).
I understand that for several decades people have considered the wall between program and commercial content to be sacred. They have expressed taken great offense at the thought of the stars of a show they are watching shifting gears and pitching a product during the telecast, even in pre-recorded messages. I don’t really understand why this is a problem for anyone. If done right, cast commercials can add to the fun of the television experience. Similarly, I see no problem with cast members introducing episodes of shows and stating that they are “brought to you by” the primary advertiser of the program. It never used to be an issue. When did it become anathema for so many people.
Granted, I would not have wanted to see Julianna Margulies and Josh Charles extol the marvels of a luxury automobile or a life-changing household product in the break following Will Gardner’s shocking death on last Sunday’s “The Good Wife.” But I certainly wouldn’t object to any cast members from “The Middle,” “Modern Family,” “Enlisted” or “The Big Bang Theory” mentioning a sponsor or showcasing a product (even in character) during those shows. Perhaps comedies today more readily lend themselves to such creative options than serious dramas.
Cast commercials seem like an excellent way to encourage DVR users to slow down while scanning through ads and see performers they enjoy doing something different. How interesting that TV Land is the first network to so boldly embrace this idea. I’m certain the network will do it right.