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Following Wednesday’s piece in Daily Variety about the writer’s guild of America throwing down the gauntlet over product placement, the Wall Street Journal today offers a follow-up.

The news for TV writers, we’re afraid to tell you, is not good:


“‘American Idol’ isn’t just burning up the Nielsens; it’s doing blockbuster business by flagrantly incorporating product placements in ways that are supposed to kill audience interest. Indeed, at a time when top TV producers are holding press conferences to warn that weaving products directly into the DNA of shows is suicidal, “American Idol” seems only to get stronger as it increases the visibility of product placements. The series launched in summer 2002 with a few sponsors, namely Coca-Cola Co., which paid to have a big Coke cup sitting in front of the three judges in every episode. Ford Motor Co. quickly became a sponsor, along with AT&T Wireless and, later, Cingular Wireless. By 2004, “American Idol” had notched up more than 3,200 “occurrences” of product placement, according to Nielsen Media Research, outstripping its nearest competitor by nearly 30%.”

But is “Idol” an anomoly, or the shape of things to come? That is, arguably, Simon Cowell could drown a kitten every time he voted against someone, and America would probably simply see this as the cost of doing business: Unfortunate, but then again, what’s a few cats when there’s so much entertainment to be had?

If the answer to the above question is the latter, then all appears lost for the writers.

As Well told Variety, “Once the model gets put into place, and it’s successful, it’s going to be hard to get (control) back.”

Um, try impossible.

Interestingly, the Writers already seem to have given up the tactic of arguing for a share of the product placement lucre.

Again, from Variety,

“…showrunners emphasized that they simply wanted a seat at the table in discussions of product placement so they could advise on the wisdom and limits of various efforts. And despite a previous emphasis on sharing the revenues from product placements, that subject remained notably out of the discussion.”

The writers seem to be in a bind. They know that they have to maintain some control over the placement, or risk losing out on creative autonomy that could poison a show. On the other, if they ask for a piece of the action, the legitimacy and purity of their arguments seem to be weakened.

Man, all this analysis makes me thirsty; I think I need a diet Pepsi. Uh. diet Coke. And hungry, too. Maybe I’ll have a content wrap with it.