With hundreds of partnerships between TV shows and various brands, few of those relationships are as unique as the one between FX's quirky Zach Galifianakis clown comedy Baskets and the brands featured on the show.
As Baskets returns for Season 2 tonight, the show once again features both brands, though Jonathan Krisel, the show's co-creator and executive producer, told Adweek that he tried—unsuccessfully—to land other companies for paid integrations.
Last season, as Krisel built Baskets' singular world, "I wanted Costco, I wanted Arby's. I just like having the real thing; I hate seeing a fake thing. The world is full of Costco, and people are always talking about their trips to Costco. I want to see that. I don't want to fake it," he said.
Krisel, who grew up going to Costco with his family, said the idea to include Costco and its Kirkland products last year came from Baskets' production designer as a way to feature real brands on the show without having to clear them individually with multiple companies.
Costco and Arby's were "very enthusiastic" about how the first season turned out and were game to return for Season 2, continuing the same arrangement in which the companies provided materials and shooting locations for free, but did not actually pay producers to be featured on the show. However, Krisel had to deal with an unexpected wrinkle with Costco.
"There was some new management at Costco that was like, 'What is this thing that we're involved with?' Because the people that we dealt with [last season] were really cool and just got it instantly, but once some new management came in, they took a second look at it," said Krisel.
Costco ultimately relented, and Galifianakis goes on a Costco shopping spree in the season's third episode. "There's way more Costco to come" later in the season, said Krisel. While Arby's is not referenced in the first part of the season, the brand will resurface in Season 2's second half.
Krisel tried, but failed, to convince new brands to sign on for an integration in Baskets' second season. "It's a more ambitious season in certain ways and I wanted to find some partnerships that I could get some financial assistance from," he said. "I think because we had done these ones in the past, where we were getting access, but we weren't getting any financial help, going forward, that precedent was bad for me to then try to get money out of it."
The producer was disappointed, but not surprised, that he came up short. "If we were Modern Family, going out to them, yes, they'd probably be more interested. We're a weird show, so they're like, what is the cost-benefit to this weird audience?" said Krisel, who has had more success with integrations on his IFC comedy Portlandia, which he also co-created and executive produces.
"For Portlandia, because it has a very targeted market that you can tell right from [that] what the show is, IFC was getting Apple and certain [brands], just the same way that you're going to advertise in the New Yorker, to target this more educated, possibly wealthier group," said Krisel, who also has a Subaru integration deal on Portlandia. "On Baskets, I'm not sure what the demographic is. It's probably the same, but on the service, it doesn't look like it might be the same."
While Krisel wasn't able to secure integrations, he did convince more brands to appear on the show this season, under the same terms as Arby's and Costco's inclusions (i.e. no money changed hands). One scene in the third episode takes place in an Applebee's, where two family members have an emotional argument while ordering off the restaurant's menu.
"The mantra of the show is, a family fight at a Best Buy. So it's great to have that scene, which is such an emotional scene, take place at an Applebee's, and use those specific menu items that are so fun, crazy and silly-sounding," said Krisel. "To have that juxtaposition of this real-world, chain restaurant, and those real names of desserts, that's my dream."
He still can't believe that Applebee's approved its inclusion in a scene that suggests that its food isn't ideal for people who are dieting. "We kept asking them, did they read the script? And they were like, 'yeah, can you get all these things from the menu into the script?' We were like, 'yeah, we'll do that.' But it's kind of anti-sugar," said Krisel.
The co-creator hopes his integration luck improves if FX picks up Baskets for additional seasons. "I'm just trying to figure out, who do I go to, to help me do this? Can there be some convention or something, where I can figure this out? It's a confusing world," he said.