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Tacky Tricks of the TV Trade: NBC's "Office" After Super Bowl, "Chuck" in 3-D
January 30, 2009  | By David Bianculli

office-jessica-alba.jpgHoping to cash in on Sunday's Super Bowl audience and momentum, NBC is employing one trick after another. One trick is presenting a special one-hour edition of The Office after the Super Bowl post-game show, and the other is promoting and presenting a special 3-D episode of Chuck on Monday.

Both tricks may end up being successful -- but that doesn't make them any less annoying.

There's nothing wrong with capitalizing on TV's biggest audience of the year by scheduling a well-chosen episode of a new or an established series after the Super Bowl. It would be foolish to do otherwise, and the practice goes back decades. It's made instant hits of The A-Team and The Wonder Years, and presented memorable, franchise-building episodes of Friends and Alias.

In theory, The Office is a commendable selection by NBC for this year's post-Super Bowl slot. Like 30 Rock, which would have been an even better choice, The Office is a clever comedy that deserves a much larger sampling and fan base. No one expected NBC is go all the way out on a limb and present, say, a special Friday Night Lights, but at least the network didn't present an episode of Knight Rider.


But with this special episode of The Office, NBC is guilty of misguided, misleading promotion. The show opens with an extended slapstick sequence, in which Dwight starts an actual office fire, and inflicts a panic, in order to mount a lesson-learning fire drill. So much time and effort goes into this opening, hoping to please and hold the action-loving football crowd, that The Office begins by presenting itself as something it's not.

Even more annoying is another Super Bowl-mandated trick, in which several scenes depict Office workers watching an illegally downloaded copy of an ersatz upcoming film: a fake drama that's supposed to depict a romantic triangle involving Jack Black, Jessica Alba and her grandmother, played by Cloris Leachman.


NBC has hyped this aspect of The Office to death, yet it's only a tiny, peripheral portion of the program, inserted only to inject some guest-star name value into the show. And if you're tuning in for Jessica Alba, be forewarned: Her entire guest appearance is over in about the time it takes to say, "Hey, doesn't Jessica Alba with bangs look a lot like Phoebe Cates?" The rest of The Office, though, is good, and a fair indication of what the show delivers on a weekly basis: the sensitivity and meditation seminars, and especially the uncomfortable comedy roast at the end.

That's where Michael Scott's colleagues take aim at their boss -- and hit one painful bullseye after another. Those scenes are so good, we didn't need Jack Black, or the Keystone Office Kops of the opening, to mar the occasion.


On Monday, NBC presents a 3-D episode of Chuck, using special glasses already disseminated for a Super Bowl ad. The gimmick is more annoying than effective, especially when utilized for an entire hour -- a network first that, it is hoped, also will be a network last.

But you want REALLY annoying? One scene in this new Chuck, a show I normally enjoy a lot, includes a really reprehensible example of blatant, irritating product placement.

It's an eating-contest scene in which two characters start at opposite ends of a giant Subway hoagie and begin grazing their way towards the center. Not only is the brand name mentioned several times, but it's done so in a context that makes the product look more disgusting than appetizing.

chuck-subs.jpgBetween the 3-D and the obvious in-show product plug, Chuck ruins itself this week. So if it gets a big audience because of the Super Bowl tie-in I'm not sure that audience will like what it sees, or return for more. NBC, before it adds a third dimension to its TV shows, should concentrate on getting the first two right.

With The Office and Chuck, NBC's promotional zeal took two good shows, and made them less by selling them more.

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