Friday, October 15, 2010

Brought to You By...

There's nothing new in stating that it seems like everything on television is a commercial. Since the days when Milton Berle starred not in The Milton Berle Show but in the "Texaco Star Theater," sponsorship placement has been the prime directive in television broadcasting. It can traced even further back to the golden age of radio when Jack Benny opened his show with "Jello, folks." During the late 1960's and through the 1970's the line between ad content and program content was drawn more deliberately, perhaps sparked by new rules on children's programs that required a definite announcement of a start of a commercial break and a return to the show. Talk show hosts made their departures to commercial declarative, but polite. The "toss" is the most important phrase a show host says all day. It's said that Merv Griffin's headstone reads, "I'll be right back."

So why does the current trend in "advertiser creep" seem more annoying than ever? Did I miss a subtlety somewhere - an ironic twist that sent up the whole affair - or was Thursday Night's installment of "Community" nothing but a 28 minute commercial for KFC? What was the point of that episode? Was there a media awareness message in there somewhere? And the live "30 Rock" got a plug gag in as well. They've done it before, and as before they handled it deftly. They made the joke, got the laugh, and moved on. The key difference here being "30 Rock" got the laugh.

But for the most part, advertiser creep is just annoying. You can make a game out of counting the plugs during major - or minor, for that matter - sports events. I would suggest drinking games based on taking a shot with every plug, but the danger of alcohol poisoning would be too great a risk. Every move on the field is sponsored event. The players now enter the Verizon Red Zone. Really? They've found another way to squeeze another dollar out of football. Most stadium names are now product placement, some of them causing no end to befuddlement to the national network announcers who have to enunciate the corporate market research-based idiosyncratic name of the home field. It's my understanding that being sent to Qualcomm Stadium is considered a punishment for past transgressions.

There's a fine review in the The New York Times that points out the issue in NBC's "School Pride." Here's a brief quote from the article:

No science classroom or computer laboratory is refurbished without getting a huge Microsoft logo over the door. The camera lingers on a Hewlett-Packard logo; students and teachers shriek with delight during shopping trips to Wal-Mart and Home Depot.

OK, so these sponsors are footing the bill for these school makeovers, and they certainly deserve credit where credit is due. But the question comes to mind: is this the right place to give credit? It's one thing for the show host to drop a sponsor name. It's quite another to have a corporate logo permanently affixed to a classroom door for students to see day after day. Aren't schools meant to be one of the few sanctuaries free of sales pitches and underage marketing? Isn't it bad enough scores of little girls walk the school hallways carrying Hannah Montana book bags, lunchboxes, and the like, while the boys trade Pokemon cards that tie-in with the computer games, that tie-in with the cartoon? I'm not sure I would like the idea of my child being subjected to corporate product placement in the classroom. I would think local school boards would take a similar view, but let's face it, many schools can't turn down the offer. I think that fact that a show like "School Pride" can even be made in this country is a sad, sad statement of our priorities in America. Someone watching this show would not be blamed if they came away from it believing that in America children are not gifts to be treasured and nurtured, but rather fledgling consumers to be exploited and manipulated.

And Another Thing...

A Fox News commentator (I won't mention his name in order to avoid making a star out of him) just had to make a joke out of the Chilean minors being trapped for 69 days. Really? Did they teach you that in journalism school? Or did you just forget you're not in the frat house anymore?

It appears most people prefer to get their news from the Animal House News Network. Fox scored just over 7 million viewers Wednesday night from 8PM - 9PM, compared to CNN's 2.67 million.

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