As fictional television goes, MAD MEN ain’t bad. Matthew Weiner, a principal writer for THE SOPRANOS created the show set in the advertising world of the 1960’s with famous veracity for the details of the period, intelligent storytelling, stirring visuals and overall high quality. Apparently AMC, the cable home of the show, which has won several Emmys for Best Television Drama, as well as being a ratings success, and in fact, a signature show for the channel, is demanding a contract that will reduce costs through the elimination of a couple of characters, shrink the content of the show by two minutes in order to replace those minutes with extra commercials, and my favorite by far, increase product placement in the show.
Product placement of course is chocking fictional film and television productions with actual consumer brands, advertising that adds a revenue stream to those producing the program or film. It’s perhaps defensible from the standpoint of any producer with a quality project having difficulty obtaining sufficient financing to get the project off the ground, using it to subsidize the effort with payment from subtly adept placements.
If you’re someone who likes to laugh, in this case at the expense of a television channel and its executives, the current product placement controversy is very promising. Though in the context of contemporary stories, product placement is not necessarily problematical if it is subtle, when it comes to a period drama set in the 1960’s, the plugging in of current consumer items, and the potential for glaring anachronisms has my mouth watering already.
If it’s a little too conspicuous to have Roger Sterling texting his mistress on his iphone in 1966, there’s no reason the fabulous phone couldn’t be resting unacknowledged on the top of his desk with the famous apple logo visible for us to see. No, there wasn’t a Prius in 1966, but how about we stick one on a street down in the Village and call it a kooky public sculpture. I suppose contemporary viewers will easily enough recognize Coke in one of those old glass Coca-Cola bottles to rush out and buy some Coke. Let’s hope they’re not expecting a two liter glass bottle. You get the drift.
I suppose we can all agree the tried and trusty dream sequence is where the money really is. Don dreams he has been banished to another planet for his womanizing and weasely ways, a nightmare really of schlepping around with a gaggle of rug rats at Disney World. Or Betty Draper dreams of what life will be like for the spouses of the future, illustrated with a smoothly inserted clip of, THE HOUSEWIVES OF NEW YORK CITY…got to be bushels of brand name swag in that.
Weiner can pay me later if he uses this one, but I’m envisioning a trip by Draper and his new missus to the 1967 World’s Fair in Montreal. The thing can be shot right inside the Beverly Center, and the Fair exhibit appropriately called, THE SHOPPING OF THE FUTURE. There’s a virtual mother lode of potential product placement in that baby.
Since AMC was little more than another rerun-fest in the cable wilderness until MAD MEN put it on the map, you’d think the channel would go a little easy on the show creator who finally stuffed its coffers, and cut his demonstrably successful artistic vision a little slack. Yeah, right.
I’m clearly not shooting for profundity here in discussing this, only simultaneously chuckling and despairing that the same old verities hold fast. If stability and continuity are important to you there’s comfort here. These days, when it comes to money, especially in corporate suites, enough of course is never enough. And in Hollywood, the word isn’t even listed in the dictionaries. None of this is life or death we know, though it would be nice, in this case as in many others if there were a little less conspicuous bastardization of art, even popular art such as television, in order that the rest of us are able to enjoy a little higher quality artistic experience more frequently than the moon is blue (or super-sized).
That’s my dream sequence I guess.