In the days before Must-See TV, more than a few Hollywood big-wigs joked that NBC stood for “Nothing But Carson.”
Three decades later, with the former king of late night gone and megahits FRIENDS and SEINFELD having been replaced with THE BIGGEST LOSER and DEAL OR NO DEAL, what’s left of the network’s non-reality line-up leaves this TV Addict ready to declare that NBC might now stand for Nothing But Commercials.
A prime example: last week’s installment of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, which devoted a good deal of time to cash-strapped Jason’s new job at the local car dealership run by Dillon’s next mayor (trust me, it’s coming), Buddy. The uplifting saga culminated in Jason achieving what passed for the impossible dream at the dealership: selling a Chevy Tahoe to a customer whom the entire sales staff had given up on. It was a small victory for Jason and, more importantly, a nice moment for fans who’ve spent the past two seasons watching the downtrodden Jason struggle with his depressing post-football life.
Of course, this moment was immediately followed by a commercial for… wait for it… wait for it… oh, dang, yougot there before me, didn’t you? That’s right, a Chevy Tahoe exactly like the one Jason had sold!
That’s right. Jason’s uplifting plot was, with one 30-second spot, reduced to product placement at best and, to those of us a tad more cynical, a storyline conceived as part of a nasty little mating dance between show execs and potential advertisers.
Not coincidentally, if you head on over to NBC.com, you’ll find a nice big ad for… come on, you can finish this sentence, right?
When an NBC rep was asked which came first — the story or the advertiser — they declined to comment.
While I understand that in this day and age, product placement can often help offset the ever-rising cost of production (and, by extension, help keep a woefully under-appreciated show such as FNL on the air), there’s a difference between having the Dillon Panthers celebrate a victory by heading to Applebee’s and crafting an entire storyline in order to sell not only that stubborn customer but viewers a Chevy Tahoe.
Isn’t it bad enough that viewers are forced to suffer through an endless barrage of network promos filling up the screen, ripping us out of the show we’re currently trying to enjoy? Especially on NBC, where the network branding in the bottom left corner of the screen has grown larger and more intrusive each year.
NBC might want to rethink some of its advertising stragegies, especially when viewed in the context of viewer dissatisfaction and program integrity. They might also want to keep in mind that unlike the days of Must-See TV, the explosion of cable programming — which is often far superior to that offered by the networks — their audience now has a nearly endless array of options. Is this really the time to be alienating viewers, given how many have already defected from the major networks?
If NBC isn’t careful, this disenchanted viewers will decide that it’s call letters stand for Nothing But Comedy, because 30 ROCK, SCRUBS and THE OFFICE will be the only programs drawing me to the network.