Among the story's highlights is an examination of integrations on the NBC comedy "30 Rock." The author points to an acclaimed execution--a tongue-in-cheek rendition, a pulling of the audience rather than pushing, and a gambit that dovetails with the tenor of the show.
Last fall, before Tina Fey was doing perhaps the best impersonation of a politician ever--her Sarah Palin carbon copy with astringency--she was in her day job on "30 Rock" playing Liz Lemon, the head writer on a variety show. (By the way, it's somewhat curious whom Fey is supporting in the election. Does she want McCain-Palin to win to ensure at least four more years of lucre?)
In that 2007 episode, Lemon engaged in an exchange with Jack Donaghy, a network executive played by Alec Baldwin--where the pair touted Verizon Wireless phones.
Here's how New York described it:
"Are you all right?" Liz asks Jack.
"Never mind," Jack replies, glancing at his phone and heading for the door. "These Verizon Wireless phones are just so popular, I accidentally grabbed one belonging to an acquaintance."
"Well, sure," Liz replies, her voice strangely chipper. "'Cause that Verizon Wireless service is just unbeatable! If I saw a phone like that on TV, I'd be like, 'Where is my nearest retailer so I can get one--'?" Fey stares at the camera with a tight grin. "Can we have our money now?"
It was sort of a one-two punch: poke fun at the sheer mercenary aspect of product placement, simultaneously ingratiating the show with the audience--while collecting the check at the same time.
It wasn't the first time, however, that a comedy has tried the satirical, hey-viewers-it's-about-the-money approach. The late, great Fox comedy "The Loop" did it twice, the first time a year and a half before the would-be rockin' NBC iteration.
In the spring of 2006, the cash register rang--literally. Briefly: a twenty-something female models an Old Navy skirt, admiring herself, in front of a mirror. "God, I look great in this Old Navy skirt!" She then pivots toward the camera, with a "Thanks Old Navy." And the register rings audibly.
More than a year later, Cadbury Adams' Stride gum became a near-constant presence on a "Loop" episode. At one point, the protagonist, "Sam," kisses his crush "Leeza." Somehow, he manages to keep gnawing on a Stride stick without swallowing it.
"Oh, my gum is still fresh," he says--then parrots the gum's tagline, "Stride is 'The Ridiculously Long Lasting Gum.'"
"Leeza" just happens to be a Stride marketing executive. She tells "Sam" she doesn't pay him every time he says that.
"Sam" turns to the camera with a: "Stride does." And the figure $85,000 is mockingly overlaid on screen.
"The Loop" hardly found an audience. And "30 Rock" has struggled as well, although its fate is more auspicious. But now that New York has touted the "30 Rock"/Verizon maneuver, could the "audience-in-on-the-joke" integration quickly become a trend in comedies? TV, after all, is a copycat business, and who better to copy these days than Tina Fey?
Also something to watch: Is there an emergence of what could be called "Branded Integration Stars"? A class of people who producers or networks or marketers or their employers feel do brands justice--so much so that they make multiple appearances doing so on reality series.
Two with recent star turns: celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito and Seventeen magazine Editor in Chief Ann Shoket (their appearances were top product placements of the week, according to measurement firm iTVX).
On Sept. 23, DiSpirito returned to NBC's "The Biggest Loser" to help pitch Jennie-O Turkey. (He is well-known for starring several years ago in "The Restaurant," an unsuccessful reality series that was supposed to offer a template for future successful integrations.)
On top of that, he's currently alive as a competitor on ABC's "Dancing with the Stars."
Then, on the Sept. 24 episode of CW's "America's Next Top Model," Shoket was back, just 22 days after she appeared pitching Seventeen on Lifetime's "How to Look Good Naked."
On the Lifetime show, she helped boost the ego of a young woman who was overly conscious about her body image-- providing her with the opportunity for a Seventeen.com fashion shoot. On "Top Model," where she's appeared before, she serves as a judge in a challenge where the winner is to appear in a Seventeen advertorial.
DiSpirito and Shoket may not be as buzzy as Tina Fey, but they also appear to have recurring gigs.
Jimmy Kimmel's Big Night of Stars
The Biggest Loser
It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia
America's Next Top Model