Sunday, March 1, 2009

PRODUCT UNBECOMING: THE EAST SIDE/WEST SIDE OF ALPINE

With it getting harder all the time to force a TV audience into watching commercials (mostly thanks to advancements in technology), advertisers and the networks have gone back to a tried-and-true method - product placement within the show itself. Sometimes it's handled well - after all, with 'Chuck' working in a Buy More electronics and appliance store, the latest products in those categories need to be seen on the shelves.

Other times, the attempt to integrate the product is fumbled. And badly. The way Claired gushed over her new car in 'Heroes' and Shawn and Gus bringing the pace of 'Pscyh' to a dead stop as they extolled the virtues of Dunkin Donuts coffee are two good examples. The best example would be the insertion of Degree anti-perspirant into every episode last season on 'Eureka'. It got so bad, my blogging buddy Joe at "I Am A TV Junkie" dropped the show entirely, so he never got to see the aliens of Kextra Four invade the planet. (Just kidding!)

No, but really! The ploy to integrate Degree into the show was cute at first - the government experiments in Eureka were to be subsidized by Degree. But each week they became more intrusive, until the anti-perspirant practically became the hero, coming to the rescue of the guys trying to save the town from a second sun!

Back in the "Golden Age of Television", they used a gimmick that I always found charming - commercials with the stars of the program actually enjoying the product that was keeping their show on the air. Some good examples:

Clark Kent of 'The Adventures of Superman' and 'The Beverly Hillbillies' enjoying Kellog's Corn Flakes

The cast of 'The Andy Griffith Show' having Grape-Nuts cereal and Sanka coffee
William Windom and Inger Stevens discussing Lark Cigarettes at the breakfast table

And best (worst?) of all - Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble smoking Winston cigarettes while their wives do all the work!
But the idea of getting a product placed right into the show was being used back then as well. I came across a frame grab of George C. Scott from the classic drama 'East Side, West Side' which showed his character of Neil Brock in a grocery store. And there are on the wall behind him was a poster for Alpine cigarettes.

At first I thought they were like Morley's - a fictional brand of smokes, since I never heard of them before. (And after all, the universe revolves around me!) But a quick bit o' googlin' showed me otherwise. There are several Alpine TV commercials out there, including one which features the late Roy Scheider as the pitchman!
I guess I can't fault the show for putting the poster so prominently in the shot. After all, like 'Chuck', the scene is set in a retail situation. You'd expect to see products on sale and being advertised for sale. And besides, the show - of which I've only seen three episodes at best - was a noble effort that needed to find ways to stay on the air. So if it took some product placement to keep it going, so be it.

(Scott would have to do something similar many years later when trying to get the word out about his movie "The Savage Is Loose". He and his wife Trish Van Devere appeared on a week of episodes for 'The Hollywood Squares'.)

Anyway, Toobworld would have preferred a fake brand of cigarettes which could one day be used again in some other show and thus link them together. Better still, any other product besides cigarettes, but that was the reality of the day. But at least this was handled with a bit more subtlety than seen with the Degree inserts into 'Eureka'!

BCnU!
Toby O'B

1 comment:

Mercurie said...

Actually, I think they still make Alpine cigarettes, if not in the United States, then elsewhere. At any rate, it is still hard to believe that smoking was once even advertised on television!