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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, July 22, 2014

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In Movies & TV Commentary

Morgan Spurlock in his documentary, "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold."

In Movies & TV Commentary

"The Beverly Hillbillies" hawking Corn Flakes.

TV for sale: Products pitched within the show


This isn't new territory.

We are often told what will make us happy is purchasing products ... those we see in commercials and those inside the programs we watch.

TV celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain went to his Tumblr account this week to tell the world that he wasn't happy with the final episodes of his show "No Reservations" on the Travel Channel.

In case you haven't heard, Bourdain ended his eight-season run and is now producing programs for CNN. His show and the Travel Channel didn't part as friends by any means.

"I don't know karate – but I know ka-razy" -James Brown"

That's how Bourdain started his Tumblr post, explaining how a product placement for Cadillac was edited into his show without his knowledge or consent.

"So it came as a shock and a disappointment to turn on the TV for the last two episodes of my show, and see that someone had taken footage that me and my creative team had shot for my show, cut it up and edited it together with scenes of a new Cadillac driving through the forest. Scenes of me, my face and with my voice, were edited in such a way as to suggest that I might be driving that Cadillac," Bourdain wrote.

Product placement in the entertainment industry isn't new by any stretch. The soap operas that were first on radio and then an institution on television got their names because soap companies were the major sponsors of the show.

I'm a fan of old-time radio and try to catch broadcasts when I can on Wisconsin Public Radio and love the quaint commercials from Jell-O on the "Jack Benny Program" or Parker Pen with "The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes." Clever product placements within the programs became a way for the advertiser to reach more people and the show creators to have enough budget to produce what they wanted.

When commercial spots became more of the norm, it wasn't unheard of to have TV show cast members, while in character, pitch products in spots.

"The Beverly Hillbillies" hawked Kellogg's Corn Flakes; there's even the cast members of "Hogan's Heroes" eating Jell-O from their WWII stalag. That's just so wrong on so many levels, I can't make that one up.

Bourdain himself acknowledged that sometimes a product placement deal can be a win-win, but there was a heavy price to pay.

"A while back, I agreed to use a credit card on a limited number of episodes of my show. The network made money off the deal. It helped assure me and my production company the budget we wanted. And I got paid. My fans were not pleased, however. Not at all. The backlash was considerable and angry. People felt betrayed. As a result, I became even more careful and even more reluctant to do them."

As a viewer, sometimes it is annoying. Other times, it is simply something we must endure to enjoy the "free" programming we've come to love.

If you have seen Morgan Spurlock's "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold," a documentary on product placements, then you have seen what it takes to put the word "business" in "show business." The filmmaker produced his film entirely on sponsorship dollars, and showed what it took to get it into theaters. The film is in rotation on Starz if you haven't seen it yet.

Sorry to hear Bourdain is crazy and mad over the Cadillac hack job on his show. But as the rest of us in TV Land have had to endure for decades, we know it comes with the territory.

By the way, if any sponsors are interested, the space here is available.

FINANCIAL CLIFF: As news outlets scramble to cover the lame-duck congressional session and the financial woes before the country, you can expect some heavy financial jargon thrown across the airwaves.

The Fox Business Network attempts to break it down as Liz Claman and David Asman interview National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform co-chairs Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles this afternoon at 3 p.m. locally.

DEMOS: WISN-TV Ch. 12 has reported a ratings win at 10 p.m. among adults 25-54. According to October numbers from Nielsen Media Research, WISN lead with a 5.0 rating. WTMJ-TV Ch. 4 had a 4.3, WITI-TV Fox 6 came in at 3.5 and WDJT-TV CBS 58 had a 2.0.

ELECTION NUMBERS: As the election week ratings crunching continues, Fox News Channel appears to be the winner for total viewers last week. The news outlet topped ratings favorites ESPN and USA, among other cable outlets in the prime time hours.

Locally, it probably helped that we here in Wisconsin were heading into a Packers bye week during the national election ratings week. Even though you wouldn't think politics and the Packers go together in national outlet TV ratings, local number crunchers know all too well the effects NFL viewing has on area rankings.

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