Joel McHale (Photo: NBC)
By ADAM BUCKMAN
NEW YORK, March 29, 2012 — You’ve heard of a subway hijacking (at least in the movies)? Well, in this case, the shoe’s on the other foot: Subway has hijacked “Community.”
Or maybe “hijacked” is too strong a word because this wasn’t exactly a hostile takeover. It was a business deal, with NBC agreeing to give the omnipresent sandwich chain an omnipresence in tonight’s episode of the Joel McHale sitcom.
It’s one of the most grandiose “product-placement” arrangements ever staged. This one is so long, and so sustained — establishing a presence, and a plotline, for Subway throughout the entire half-hour — that it actually goes way beyond categorization as a mere “product placement.”
If that’s all it was, maybe we’d see a student or two in the Greendale Community College cafeteria tucking into a couple of foot-longs. But in this Subway hijacking, the sandwich chain opens a shop smack dab in the middle of the cafeteria. And the “owner/manager” is a guy who legally changed his name to Subway.
That way, the sandwich shop’s name — already visible on a huge sign stretching across half the cafeteria — can be mentioned in practically every scene. And when the Subway name isn’t being uttered, various characters are fondly fist-bumping each other and wryly reciting the two-word slogan for Subway, “Eat fresh.”
While Subway dominates the episode, two other corporations get on-air script mentions as well — Bed Bath & Beyond, and Brita, the water filter company.
On the latter “opportunity”: This one was probably inevitable because it plays on a character’s name, Britta, played by Gillian Jacobs.
Subway is emerging this season as a kind of champion of in-show advertising. In January, three characters in “Hawaii Five-0” on CBS took a break from police work to have a lengthy conversation about the health benefits of Subway sandwiches. This Subway scene stopped the episode in its tracks, though it’s reasonable to assume that CBS made a lot of money on it.
And a friend mentioned the other day that Subway also had an in-show presence on Tuesday night’s “Biggest Loser” on NBC (though this kind of sponsorship has long been a staple of unscripted shows — from “Project Runway” to “The Apprentice”).
But this Subway hijacking of “Community” is the most blatant such thing I’ve seen.
When these things arise, the question always is: So what’s wrong with it?
It really comes down to this: TV is already overrun by commercials that come in ever-greater quantities and with increased frequency these days. With so many commercials to deal with already, do we really have to have them within the shows too? I mean — really?
This episode of “Community” airs at 8 p.m. eastern, Thursday (March 29) on NBC.
Contact Adam Buckman: firstname.lastname@example.org
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