Organic TV

A thought, not fleshed out.

Entertainment Weekly had an article this week explaining that product placement is up and going to keep going up in television shows.  The newest debacle is Jingles, the reality show in which contestants come up with ad campaigns for real products.  Why don’t they just televise ad agency spitball sessions.  (Aside: why do they call it “spitballing?”)

I’m not categorically opposed, or even uncategorically opposed, to product placement.  If ABC can get some scratch from Apple to feature iMacs in the CSI labs, fine by me.  I’m less happy with the idea of news agencies following suit, but in television I can understand that such revenue streams are part of the game.  But there are some people who have prejudices against such chicanery, which leads me to my idea: certified organic television.

COT would be television devoted to audience alone.  But I’m curious what the lines would be.  Would the rule be “no product placement” or “no advertising of any kind?”  The second would eliminate a lot of revenue streams for television shows, demanding new ones.  And would this really make better art?  How much of the product created by television creators is affected by advertising concerns?  Three thoughts come into play:

  1. Public television works this way already.  The viewers provide the bulk of the funding by which the media support itself.  The “public service” angle of the programming, however, limits the production of cutting edge entertainment to the import of British mysteries.
  2. HBO works this way.  The television shows made for premium cable are often cited as the most innovative and interesting, and these shows are able to be that way by the fact that they’re beholden only to their subscribers, not to advertisers.
  3. Internet television like Dr. Horrible and The Guild, which operates even more directly, the latter raising funds through donations in order to complete further episodes.

So my question is whether this really makes a difference.  Sure, shows that dive into the blatant realm of product placement often seem hackneyed and cheap, but don’t they also usually involve content that’s equally shallow?  The Apprentice would be just as shallow if its contestants were selling fake products.  (Aside: It’s interesting that writing classrooms often embrace similar strategies, valuing the service and/or experience of working on real-world projects instead of the revenue provided by such projects.  It’s classroom product placement!  Note to any corporate readers: I am willing to wear and/or endorse most products in the classroom for minimal fees.  I’m sure Marshall McLuhan would agree that with Sure deodorant, the medium’s message smells great!)

Also, enjoy this relevant clip from State and Main by David Mamet.