The Best/Worst of ’07 Television: Cheesy Gambits, Clunky Product Placement, Christmas Blood Bling Plus The Best Network Promo

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Tornadoes, ferry explosions, weddings, fire, death - these are moth eaten plot devices time-honored television “events."  Companion pieces to the "events" are the clamorous broadcast net promos that promise much but deliver little.

This year’s dramatic series nadir was February’s (sweeps, of course) Grey’s Anatomy  ferry crash arc aka creator Shonda Rhimes’ swan dive into the shark tank.  Meredith drowns, Izzie drills through the skull of a trapped victim, and, while patients croak, the staff mopes -  about their hair dye jobs and weddings etc.

I seem to recall that the ABC promos promised the "most devastating" event of the season, or some such thing. 

Typically, viewers are advised not to miss the most dangerous-spectacular-devastating-daring-important-bestest-dramatic hour/drama on/of television this season that (a) changes the lives of everyone; and/or (b) changes lives forever.

Gun shot!  Scream!  Sob!  Kaboom!

…all in ways you “can’t possibly imagine,” (even though you’ve seen this stuff a bazillion times before).

Compare and contrast: Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy and Cane.  (I’m not picking on ABC here.  All the broadcast nets air over-the-top promos.  ABC just happens to be my favorite of the big five, so I have better recall.)

(Grey’s Anatomy, below):

(Grey’s Anatomy season finale promo, below)

(Desperate Housewive’s tornado promo, below:)

(Cane even combined a tropical storm AND a wedding in this promo, below:)

My vote for best promo is Showtime’s cheerfully outrageous holiday version of their “Best Shi*t on Television” ad (set to Centralia’s "Holy Sh*t"). 

Robert Greenblatt took over as Showtime’s entertainment prez in 2003 but stumbled out of the starting gate with Huff, especially when Showtime renewed the now failed series in advance of the premiere.  But with the recent spate of good shows – Weeds, Californication, Dexter and Brotherhood – I’m beginning to think that maybe Greenblatt really knows his sh*t.

Here’s Showtime’s Christmas promo.  I love you, Showtime.  You made me laugh. 

While Showtime got da mojo, broadcast nets often still come off as wannabees, grasping at cheesy gimmicks instead of focusing on consistency and quality.  One of the most cringe-worthy gimmicks this fall season was a mini-influx of virtual reality stories on NBC and CBS.  CBS, admitted CSI’s Anthony Zuiker, was hot on the trail of the younger demo.

At least five series - CSI NY, Law & Order SVU,  Life, Numbers and The Office - blundered into gaming and/or virtual worlds, but the gambit mostly backfired.


CSI NY
ventured into Second Life (covered here) in a cross-platform effort to ride the social networking wave.  Hyperbolically, the NY Times gushed, and crowned Mr. Zuiker the “house savant of cool.” 

   The teddy-bear chubby Zuiker created a slimmer, hero-fantasy self for soaring across the islands of Second Life.  (See below for the Zuiker’s Second Life excursion.)

The on-air promo keyed to the CSI:NY SL episode featured yet another - splat! - dead female vic in skimpy clothing, this time the “Paris Hilton of Second Life.”  Sexualized dead women are de rigueur on CBS - but the spot was so inadvertently SNL-worthy that my husband and I burst out laughing when we first encountered it during a 60 Minute commercial break.

“Log off - now! [gun shot!]”  

When the Tiffany Network tries to go trendy with their plot devices, it’s kind of like watching the boomers trying to snowboard at Squaw.  It just makes you wince.  Besides, anarchical Second Life residents have roughed-up a few big corporations.

Flocks of flying penises invaded a CNET Second Life virtual interview.

and a Nissan building burned after a virtual helicopter crashed into the roof…

SL resident Comodo Arkin crashed his helicopter into one of the Nissan structures on Altima Island, igniting a fire.  For effect, virtual casualties lay on the digital ground. 

(photo courtesy of Greg Verdino’s blog.)

Gay Gamer and Gamers on Joystick.com skewered NBC’s Life after the writers fashioned a story around clues hidden in the "Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones" video game.  The leap of detective logic required to unearth the clues was improbable enough, but the pace of the episode came to a dead halt while most of the precinct gathered to watch a devout Muslim grrrrl blasted her way to Level 10.

Gaming Today called the episode “insulting” and deemed the “random twitching of fingers…embarrassing.” 

See Life’s random finger twitching and more in this clip:

CBS earned at least some on-line respect during a recentMMOG (massively multiplayer on-line game)- themed Num3ers episode.  This gamer praised the writers for their knowledge of the vernacular (like griefing), and said the episode was packed with insider references.  (Another trashed the episode, however.)

But flimsy plotting undermined what was otherwise a decent effort.  Amita, one of the math geniuses – ooops! – accidentally (but conveniently) kills-off an avatar in virtual battle, even though she’d been warned multiple times by the agents hovering over her shoulder to let him win.  This “mistake” requires a RL (real-life) meet-up, which precipitates an…attack!  

…so that Charlie (Amita’s boyfriend and fellow math genius) can come running in panic and comfort her,

precipitating what’s known in fanfic circles as hurt/comfort (or h/c), a term coined by fanfic writers to describe another well-worn plot device.

If you want to know more, go here to multileggedcreature.info – h/c plots in StarTrek TOS!   With screencaps and witty captions.

and MIT’s Henry Jenkins discusses h/c in Supernatural.

At any rate, the interesting mathematical and technical concepts, and terrific but underutilized cast,  simply can’t compensate for Num3ers formulaic storylines.  It really saddens me to say that I rarely watch Num3ers any longer, because I loved season one.  Alas, it’s another example of wasted potential and money

PART TWO

Cheesy gambits.  Ditsy promos.  Boring ads.  Clutzy product placement.  No wonder viewers are turning to their DVR’s in desperation.   If you watch any television at all, you will encounter the same ads over and over and over and over again.   

My DVR is full at the moment.  I’m screening shows - gasp! - live.  The Kay Jewelers’ "Every Kiss Begins with Kay" ad campaign is seriously mind-numbing.

This blogger named Jenn complained about the torment.

Target’s Advent calendar ad missed the mark this year, unlike last years’ popular snow fantasy set to Goldfrapp’s “Fly Me Away.”


But Target’s agency - Peterson Milla Hooks (PMH) in Minneapolis - is responsible for so many stunning commercials in a sea of monotony, I can’t bring myself to hold the Advent ad against them.

The worst ads, both creatively and/or ethically, are the Christmas diamond ads.  The selling of a mineral associated with mutilation, oppression, widespread misery and devastation, as the ultimate expression of eternal love, commitment and devotion is both the pride and shame of the ad industry. 

“A Diamond Is Forever” campaign, complete with product placement and celebrity endorsement, was developed by N.W. Ayer in 1947.   In January 1999, Ad Age named "A Diamond is Forever" the most recognized and effective slogan of the twentieth century.

We’re still being inundated with the messages to buy this bling.  This Christmas, Zales, Kay and De Beers are saturating the airwaves with happy children breaking wishbones and husbands hiding their diamond gift, all set to tinkling piano music.

Here’s some copy I’d like to see imbedded in a Christmas diamond ad, set to the same tinkling piano music:

“OUR DIAMONDS DON’T KILL!”

When buying ice, the Lord Sauron of bling, it’s difficult to find true conflict-free product.  Even Botswana diamonds, said to be conflict-free, are questionable.  After diamonds were discovered, the San Bushmen were forcibly evicted from their ancestral land in Botswana’s Central Kalahari Game Reserve’s land they have lived on for thousands of years.

Some useful resourcess:

This exposé on De Beers and lung disease in South Africa is chilling.

Check out:  realdiamondfacts.org

Or go here to download a pdf.guide from Global Witness for advice on how to buy conflict free.

Or here for a guide written by a Canadian gemologist.  (He suggests buying antique gems.)

Aside from the corporate force-feeding of Christmas, contributing to mass and unseemly consumer gluttony, which now begins before Halloween, (also known as the season of Hallowthanksmas)….

the single most annoying ad campaign this year is the Nissan Rogue/Heroes cross-promotion.  

Runner-up and close second is the Cane Chevrolet product placement and tie-in.

These promotions are so conspicious that they bounce the viewer right out of the escapist story.  The campaigns remind the viewer in no uncertain terms that the show they’re watching is nothing more than a direct line to their pocket book.  Of course, that’s what television has always been, but the last thing a broadcaster ought to be doing is drawing attention to this fact.

The Nissan Rogue is the in-your-face of cars.  You couldn’t watch the season premiere or access the Heroes NBC webpage without being run-down by this vehicle.  The car appears in the show, on the website, in the Heroes’ graphic novels, on an especially created Rogue forum, a Rogue Heroes wiki and on and on…

During the highly touted launch of Heroes, Nissan was, once again, the exclusive sponsor with “limited commercial interruption.”  At one point, the Rogue ad aired three times back-to-back.

    “Daddy. You’re giving me the Rogue!?” squeals the self-healing teen Claire in the parking lot outside her new school. 

Viewers complained about the campaign here on gizmodo.

By the second episode, the Rogue had vanished, stolen when Claire left it unlocked.  The Rogue turned up in Mexico, a supporting role in the Heroes twin brother/sister story line.

Joked an NBC rival on James Hibberd’s blog:  “Maybe Nissan stole it back considering the clunky way it was introduced.” 

NBC  “assures” us the Rogue will return.  I can’t wait.  Really.

Runner-up is the Chevy Silverado campaign.  (Chevy also sponsored the Cane series premiere, with “limited commericial breaks.”)

Last week, the Silverado tie-in to Cane aired prematurely and spoiled the story line.

The blunder was highlighted by the fact that the ad asked viewers what they thought of a stunt - a stunt that hadn’t yet aired.

Says the NY Post:

In the commercial, viewers saw a scene of Jamie’s truck smashing through the burning sugarcane and the announcer asked, "Did you think that stunt with the Silverado was hot?" while showing the stunt.

Blunders aside, this is a perfect example of clumsy and counter-productive product placement.  When you rub a viewers nose in something as tangible as a product, television’s mythic hold dissolves.  Viewers link fictional drama to reality, the very thing they hope to escape while watching television.  As the Chinese wall between fiction and reality crumbles, television’s escapist power is poisoned and diminished.

Like the Nissan Rogue on the NBC Heroes website, the Silverado is plastered on the CBS Cane site.

And just when you think it can’t get any more absurdly ridiculous - preens the CBS site, front and center on the Cane page:  "Our Hero:  the 2008 Chevy Silverado."

Up Next:  the problem of RUST (relentless unresolved sexual tension), why Ugly Betty, Dexter, Pushing Daisies, Man Men, Californication, Brotherhood make life worth living, and  more about Life, Desperate Housewives, Women’s Murder Club and Grey’s Anatomy and a bunch of other stuff.

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