Is NBC the 50 Cent of Network TV?


The buzz on Vulture last week regarding 30 Rock‘s McFlurrygate — Tina, for the record, insists that they received no money from the McDonald’s Corporation — got us thinking about over-the-top product placement in our favorite TV shows. Or maybe it was this depressing article in The Atlantic about how we’re spiraling toward a future where Procter & Gamble will lease prime time space on network TV, just like in olden times. Either way, we’ve had the future of network television on the brain, and while we’re willing to take Tina for her word, we’ve noticed that NBC seems to be dealing with economic uncertainty by blurring the lines between church and state.

We’re going to go out on a limb and assume that most of you don’t watch The Biggest Loser; regardless, it’s the show that usually brings in the highest ratings on Tuesday nights. Alongside commercials for sponsors like Subway, Extra Sugarfree gum, and Brita Water Filters, BL‘s producers script strained vignettes between the contestants and trainers intended to “organically” highlight the health benefits of products within the storyline of the show. (“Aw, you look tired and hungry Joelle. Try a stick of gum to kill those cravings for just 15 calories!”) The fact that most contestants couldn’t act their way out of a paper bag and the trainers are visibly pained by these performances makes them stick out all the more.

Then there’s Chuck, a show about a guy who’s secretly a spy with government secrets in his head, and works at a place that’s just like “Best Buy” called “Buy More.” (Best Buy is a regular advertiser.) In a recent 3-D episode, which was sponsored in part by SoBe, a brief scene focused on a character buying a SoBe water from the vending machine at Best Buy, er, Buy More, and chugging it back with glee as the music swelled in the background. Odd. A few scenes later we were watching the Geek Squad Nerd Herd engage in a breakroom eating competition; the two employees were facing off over a six-footer from Subway, natch.

There are also a handful of NBC series (Heroes, Life, My Name is Earl) that we haven’t caught doing this — or if they have been, it’s more generic, less ripping down the fourth wall stuff. Can you think of a show on CBS or ABC that’s is doing this too, because we racked our brains and couldn’t. Why not? Even more importantly, if this is the only way for network televsion to avoid becoming a wasteland of reality competitions/variety shows, is it something you’re willing to live with?