06/05/2007 09:45 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

NBC's New Head Honcho Says "More Product Placement, Please"

Hot shot Hollywood producer Ben Silverman (he who brought the reality TV show Big Brother to CBS) has just been hired as co-chairman of NBC's entertainment division and studio, where he'll head programming with fellow cochair Marc Graboff on the business side.

As an interview between Silverman and TV Guide's Stephen Battaglio promises, Silverman's new post is dismal news for those of us who care about the corruptive influence of product placement, marketing messages and advertiser ideology over the quality, creativity and independence of TV content: Madison Avenue is happy about your arrival because you've been aggressive in integrating products into your shows in an entertaining way. Will you be able to convince other show creators that this is a good thing?

Silverman: The business is changing. If our creative partners want to execute programming at the level we've been funding it, we're going to have to bring advertisers into the fold. I understand that, and I'm looking at NBC and NBC Universal to provide solutions to the advertisers. I'm looking for the creative answers to their needs. And I'm going to look to the creative community to help me execute that. If you're making broadcast television, you better get the joke: We get financed by advertising.

Now, I know that some of you might say that since quality, creativity and independence are already such rare commodities in contemporary TV, it's not worth getting all riled about increased product placement. But the fact that the TV landscape is poised to get even worse is not something we should simply accept with a yawn. As I discussed in a two-part series on product placement for Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture magazine:

"...among the most disturbing aspects of brand integration is the ho-hum response it too often fetches. Why should we care about product placement degrading content, we wonder, when TV has become so bland, risk-free, and hackneyed that a show like According to Jim is an ABC mainstay? It's an understandable reaction to media that have so consistently frustrated, alienated, and disappointed us. But if we care at all about independent thought and cultural diversity, we must demand that programming improve, not accept its commercial erosion with a sigh.

Advertisers are banking on our apathy in their slow quest to condition us to become the very shopping-obsessed drones...This is deeply disturbing, and not only in terms of its negative effects on entertainment. Advertising is profoundly manipulative at its core. Its imagery strives to deprive us of realistic ideas about love, beauty, health, money, work, childhood, and more in an attempt to convince us that only products can bring us true joy; numerous studies show that the more ads we view, the worse we feel about ourselves. How much worse will this psychological exploitation become when woven directly into our narratives?

The stronger a foothold advertisers gain over entertainment -- whether they peddle their influence through old-school ad buys or new-school product placement -- the more power they have to define our collective values, and the more poisonous media images of women are becoming..."


"Brilliant from a business standpoint, this model has serious implications for programming. One-look-fits-all casting will worsen, as will the homogeneity and vapidity of storylines. Considering how steadfastly fashion advertisers cling to young anorexics as the female ideal, average-size and older actresses will find it even harder to score roles once shows are designed to sell clothes off characters' backs.

Let's say Pottery Barn creates a family drama that revolves around a set full of their furniture: What are the chances that abortion or racial profiling would be discussed by characters whose main function is to showcase a trendy couch? Dozens of years and mergers ago, before commercialism so thoroughly permeated every aspect of media content, television occasionally gave difficult social issues the dramatic treatment they deserved. But a groundbreaking miniseries like Roots wouldn't happen in a TV future [driven by integrated marketing] since advertisers aren't interested in the horror of slave owners branding human beings--they're only interested in positive branding opportunities."

Speaking of media's ever-present search for branding opportunities, there's no more lucrative or natural platform for passing off integrated advertising as content than the reality TV genre, as marketers-dream programs like NBC's The Apprentice, Fox's American Idol and CBS's Survivor illustrate. So, given Silverman's matter-of-fact admission that he'll be chasing product placers from here on out, it comes as no surprise that his NBC entertainment cochair, Marc Graboff, told TV Guide that among the network's top programming objectives is:

"a big-tent reality show. We don't have an American Idol. We don't have a Dancing with the Stars. We need that big-tent reality show. That's the turbocharger of a schedule. ABC has it. Fox has it. And we don't have it. That's a top priority for us, and Ben is the perfect guy to find that."

Come on, admit it, boys: what you really want to slap us with is "Slut Wars." (For those of you who haven't seen the satirical film The TV Set, get thee to a DVD rental place, stat!)

For those of you who prefer to do more than accept the commercial erosion of entertainment media, here are a few places to start:

* get behind efforts like Commercial Alert's "campaign to require disclosure of product placement in all media, including TV, movies, videos, video games, books and 'adversongs'" and

* support the fake-news expose work of the Center for Media & Democracy's Diane Farsetta (also a WIMN"s Voices blogger).

* and, of course, we at Women In Media & News, the media analysis, education and advocacy group I direct, rely on your support in our effort to challenge advertising's damaging impact on the TV landscape in general, and on on-screen representations and behind-the-scenes participation women in media. (By support, I don't only mean donations, though those help -- I also mean that we can always use extra sets of eyes to catch product placement moments worthy of exposing, whether in reality TV, scripted entertainment, or fake news... especially if the product, the message or the medium are specifically or tangentially related to women and girls or race issues.) We may be able to use your tips in action alerts or blog posts, so keep your eyes open and your emails coming to info[at]wimnonline[dot]org) .

This post originally appeared on May 29 at WIMN"s Voices: A Group Blog on Women and the Media, a project of Women In Media & News, the national women's media analysis, education and advocacy group.