Ad agencies and network executives have long decried the the digital age's assault on commercials and, thus, revenue. And now they're forced to adapt, a move that brings writers into the fold and gives product placement an even bigger spotlight.
The writer and others on ABC's payroll will help produce eight commercials for Sprint in which "Housewives" characters grapple with mystery, murder and general soap opera drama. Of course, none of the mainstay Housewives will appear in the commodity-driven mini-series. Rather, the actors in the commercials will appear as "background extras" on the actual show, which could be an ultimately embarrassing move for everyone involved.
And an easy way to plug an advertiser in an era when TV commercials are at the mercy of the DVR. Leno describes himself as "advertiser friendly," and NBC has already struck a deal with McDonald's, whose Monopoly-based promotion will find Leno announcing the chain's ad featuring NBC stars. Visitors to McDonald's will be steered by placards to Leno's program.
Today's challenging economy could well rewrite the old ad playbook, says Brian Steinberg, TV editor at Advertising Age magazine. "We'll see how much he can weave into his show. Because when the ads are part of the program, you're less likely to hit the fast-forward button," he says.
Could this be the wave of television's future? Ads are the program and the programs are the ad? Even if it works, it seems to us viewers have grown up a bit — just a bit — since television's early years and will be turned off by such obvious attempts to buy their business. Or that's our hope, at least, for the increasingly blurry lines between advertising and entertainment must be preserved at all costs.