What do you know about the 2013 Ford Fusion? If you watched last night’s New Girl, the answer is “all too much” — thanks to a two-minute sequence in which clumsy Jess struggled to model at a car show. As she stumbled about in her giant heels, a brand ambassador droned on and on about the new model’s many features. If the physical comedy hadn’t been so labored, the bit might have worked. But it didn’t.
In an age of ad-skipping DVRs and pirated online streaming, viewers have learned to accept a certain degree of commercialization on their favorite shows — especially the ones that are ratings-challenged. At the end of the day, an episode of Fringe sprinkled with plugs for Sprint’s Google Wallet is better than no Fringe at all. And a few fourth wall-busting series have managed to win us over by turning product integration into a joke — think Arrested Development‘s “It’s a wonderful restaurant!” or 30 Rock‘s “Can we have our money now?”
But even if it did make sense for Jess to step in for her sick model friend Cece at a car show, it didn’t make sense to insert her into a two-minute car commercial. Of course, New Girl‘s attempted Ford/comedy fusion isn’t the first egregious example of commercial-addled TV — remember these five product placement pioneers?
Sponsor alert! Time-traveling Hiro Nakamura refused to drive any car but a Nissan Versa in season 1. Cheerleader Claire was also surprised with the keys to her very own Nissan in season 2’s premiere — and got so excited that she mentioned the car by name. Morgan Spurlock has said that the latter moment inspired his 2011 documentary POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.
The CW soap’s constant Dr. Pepper shilling reached its nadir in season 1’s “Okaeri, Donna,” which saw Annie and Dixon embarking on a road trip clearly sponsored by Dr Pepper. Actual dialogue:
Dixon, not wanting to pull over for a bathroom break: “Maybe if you stopped drinking so much Dr Pepper!”
Annie: “We’re on a road trip! Drinking Dr Pepper is practically a requirement.”
NBC’s beleaguered spy show wouldn’t have lasted as long as it did without product placement. A season 2 scene in which a character enjoys a delicious Subway footlong inspired a fan campaign called “Finale & a Footlong,” which asked viewers to show their support by buying sandwiches at Subway. The campaign worked; Chuck lived to see three more seasons. Still, the series’s reliance on sponsors can’t excuse this moment from season 4. “Did I mention the automatic doors?”
Speaking of car shilling that drove us crazy, here’s dialogue from a particularly heinous scene that appeared during the WB drama’s fourth (and final) season:
Hannah: ”I can’t believe my mom bought me a new Mercury Milan…. I love the headlights! Aren’t they the coolest shape ever?”
Amy: ”Yes, they’re very stylish.”
Hannah: ”Wanna see the cup holders? They’re really fancy.”
Days of Our Lives
Yes, soap operas aren’t exactly in the same category as primetime series — as the name implies, they were created to sell cleaning products. But I’d be remiss not to include this clip, which is incredible in the literal sense — it’s hard to believe that the show’s ridiculous, wooden plug for Cheerios actually made it to the air.