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AD BREAK: Actors/characters do commercials, Earth continues spinning
July 14, 2009  | By Diane Werts
hillbillies corn flakes.jpg

The Flintstones smoked Winstons. The Clampetts hawked Corn Flakes. Ozzie & Harriet loved their kitchen's natural gas. And Hogan's Heroes savored their Jell-O. (The favorite food of every POW camp!)

So what's the big deal with commercials being incorporated into the new sketchcom Michael and Michael Have Issues (Wednesday at 10:30 p.m. ET, Comedy Central)?

Ad Age reports that stars Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter will do spots in six of the season's seven episodes, for advertisers like Dunkin' Donuts and Mike's Hard Lemonade -- your standard young-guy-demo sponsors. Klondike bars are pitched in this week's premiere, says Ad Age, and also on the web in a Michaels online micro-series.

hogans heroes jello commercial.jpgThe article treats this like some amazing innovation. But TV's first few decades (late '40s-early '70s) were full of it. Series stars routinely shilled both in and out of character, and not only in the commercial breaks. The early '50s George Burns and Gracie Allen Show wrote their sponsor Carnation's instant milk right into the scripts, finding ways for George and Gracie to discuss the productwith household visitors.

Somewhere along the way, a church/state wall seems to have gone up between program content and outright product pitching-- but you could argue that old-time star shillery is a bit cleaner than today's "product placement," where you're never sure if a brand name is mentioned because of script intent or sponsor dollars. Everybody knew way-back-when that these commercial testimonials were ads -- even kids knew, and even if characters like Granny and Jethro were doing them.

lucy desi cigarette commercial.jpgBesides, they were fun, and often funny. (We're lucky that some TV DVD sets have included these in-character commercials among their bonus features, among them The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Beverly Hillbillies season sets, and I Love Lucy, where Lucy and Desi smoke Philip Morris, before tobacco ads were banned from TV in 1971.)

Of course, sponsors actually put their names in the titles of shows in TV's earliest days of Colgate Comedy Hour, Texaco Star Theater and Westinghouse Studio One.

And somehow, both the republic and the medium survived.




Mac said:

Maybe it's too early, but I would have expected some opinions here. Though I was born after the scripted radio show era passed, I've heard enough old transcriptions to know that radio is really where all of this started (unless Macy's paid Charles Dickens to write "A Christmas Carol"). Jack Benny, more than Burns & Allen, was a master of this kind of thing (Jello,the coconspiritor once again).

But the ways that entertainer and sponsor are in cahoots today is much more disturbing. Mike's Hard Lemonade has about the same alcohol content as beer, but both drinks can cause trouble, no matter how many disclaimers surround the message. Doesn't the beer/sports hero matchups of the past show us that this is not a good combination. Michael Ian Black looks like he could pass for 18 (I suspect part of the reason for his limited success -- in reality he's approaching 38). Many a 12 year old will be watching this. Comedy Central, even if they poopoo this officially, know that the 12 year old of today is their core audience of tomorrow. It's just a live action Joe Camel. The goofus guy doesn't drink Sunny D, he's into (literally) harder stuff. You, too, kids.

Now,"Mad Men" receives monies from Jack Daniels. That show could never get a bottled water company to sponsor it -- everyone drinks booze (even one of the kids). But that show isn't expecting 12 year olds in the audience. And, in fairness to the sponsor, much of the stories show some of the negative sides to excessive alcohol consumption (the kid has her first hangover).

One wonders if the Comedy Central guys are ever caught in a DUI, that the sponsors or the channel will reconsider this matchup. That would make an interesting episode of "South Park".

Farmer said:

Good pairing: Apple and The Office (or, better yet, Ed).
So-So pairing: Prudential and 30 Rock.
Bad Pairing: Gortons and NCIS.
Just awful: ShamWow and Are You Smarter than a FIfth Grader.

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