NBC: Nothing But Commercials?

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.

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  • ewanspotter

    Smallville hawks Yaris cars and Supernatural gets the damn phones. (But they help them see ghosts! It works, fans! No really! It works!) It’s bad enough in movies (when a Mountain Dew machine turns into a Transformer its just too much) but now it’s invading TV.

  • Patrick Gaffney

    I thought with all the reality shows, and now airing Monk, Psych, and Nashville Stars, that NBC now stood for Nothing But Cable.

  • Kylen

    I’ve seen this complaint on every single TV blog I read. Its been mentioned here, TvGuide, and at the AVClub. I watched FNL last week streaming on NBC.com, without said Chevy commerical. As far as I was concerned, it was just another part of the story (not unlike Applebees, which has been proudly displayed since season one). Monday morning, I wake up to all sorts of complaints about NBC, FNL, and the Chevy Tahoe… Whats funny is that the advertising worked. We are all talking about the Chevy Tahoe. Even if we’re upset about it. If there hadn’t been the uproar, I would have never even remembered it was a Chevy Tahoe… but now, now I want one. Well done, NBC/FNL/Chevy. Well done.

  • Scrubs? What Scrubs? NBC appears to have forgotten about it, unless I’m mistaken. Last I checked there were 6 (5 depending on the source) episodes left, yet its nowhere to be found in the next several weeks of listings. (count this viewer alienated already, in case you hadn’t caught it)

    I don’t watch FNL but that stunt sounds awful.

  • Kylen, Excellent point. There’s no such thing as bad publicity. That said, are you not bothered that the Jason Street story-line was basically a vehicle to sell cars. Does it not hurt the integrity of the show?

    Patrick, Well said!

  • Josh Emerson

    I don’t like product integration, but if it is what’s keeping 30 Rock on the air, then I can deal with it. Speaking of 30 Rock, what I like is how they handle the integration. They turn it into a hilarious joke on the show, from the Verizon Wireless scene to the Snapple one. It all depends on how the show itself uses the product as to whether it turns out well.

    Last season, One Tree Hill shamelessly integrated Sunkist into multiple episodes. Hell, Peyton went around wearing a Sunkist shirt. It was absurd. I also disliked Ugly Betty’s promo of the 27 Dresses movie. Christina offers her passes and then 10 seconds later we get a trailer for the movie.

  • Nicole

    If the only way to get Jason Street back onscreen for more than a minute is for him to do uplifting product placement speeches than I’m cool with it.

  • Emily Neel

    The product placement didn’t bother me at all. I actually think the real brands present in the episodes like Applebee’s, Under Armour, Chevy, etc. actually add to the “authenticity” of the show. It feels more like real life, instead of fake TV-land. Plus, it helps the show to be more cost-effective so we can hopefully get more episodes.

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  • Emily,

    I don’t have a problem with real brands being in a show. My issue is when advertising deals start to dictate the story-line. Without the Tahoe tie-in, would Jason Street have become a car salesman?

  • Chris

    I think Jason selling cars actually fits well narratively, and it seems possible it would have been a direction the show went regardless of Chevy’s involvement. If I’m not mistaken, Jason is the third character hired by Buddy to work for him, so it’s already been established as an option. Plus, Buddy has been getting the “shades of gray” treatment lately, so this fits with Buddy’s blooming father figure status, while it also stresses his shameless exploitation of all things Panther football. At the same time, it’s a nice direction for Street, because of the fakery needed to sell cars; his clear shame upon returning home after selling the car was a nice moment with a lot of future potential to it. So I wasn’t so much bothered by the plug in the show itself and disagree that it sacrificed narrative integrity within the show. The ad that came after it though (another one of those “Remember when you saw this five minutes ago?” bits), that was simply awful.

  • Kylen

    I suppose if you feel that the integrity of the show was hurt (and you, TVAddict, are not the only one) then it did. It didn’t hurt it in my eyes.

    Did you catch this weeks episode? We almost made it back to the field… Anyway, this show has more integrity than anything else I watch. It might even have more integrity than my real life. A little Chevy hocking doesn’t bother me at all.

    You know what else I find interesting? There are so many complaints from networks and things that no one watches the commercials. But tons of people saw this Chevy commercial. Maybe more people are watching TV like they used to than we thought. And on a Friday night… I love it.

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  • I thought product placement was supposed to be “illegal”.

    Eh, I cand eal with “real” brand appearing casually, but not them being a plot device. It’s like the friggin truman show :p (“Why don’t you have bleep hot chocolate? Only bleep hot chocolate can turn your frown up side down” with a phoney smile).