, Salem, MA


July 23, 2012

Slate: How TV shows trick you into watching ads


This season, several TNT shows are using a different style of interstitial. At the end of a segment of "The Closer," the next shot shows a voluminous purse of the kind favored by Brenda Leigh Johnson. The camera pans around discarded candy wrappers until it lights upon a handwritten note, "Need the energy to grind out one more confession? Go nuts," and then moves on to a PayDay bar. Then it cuts to a PayDay commercial. (And you'll never guess what a guy on a stakeout is shown munching on a little later in the show. That's right, a PayDay bar.)

Whether it's the "Drop Dead Diva" ad featuring a character from the show, or the TNT interstitials that appear to contain a written clue, these fake-outs cause the fast-forwarding viewer to pause to figure out if what's flashing by is content or commerce. It's annoying, but it's good advertising. Not only did I watch those spots, I even remember the names of the sponsors.

I support these new counterattacks against the DVR — if the greater evil of product placement is the only alternative. Just look at what's happened to "Rizzoli & Isles," which, in Season 3, has turned TNT into a branch of the Home Shopping Network — inserting endorsements for Dr. Scholl's gel inserts (complete with characters giving each other tips on how to wear high heels) and Toyota Camrys into the middle of a murder mystery. Stuffing a chocolate bar into a character's mouth, as "The Closer" did this week, is relatively harmless, since it's easily ignorable, but wasting precious lines of dialogue to talk about "voice-activated Bing search capabilities" is tantamount to admitting that the show is a silly second-tier also-ran with a very short shelf life.

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