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Sitcom or 30-minute iPad commercial?

Anyone who has read my blog last semester may already know that I am a fan of the show Modern Family, a sitcom on ABC’s Wednesday night comedy line-up.  It’s a weekly comedy with a diverse cast of characters who deal with various mundane events in a truly hilarious way. This week’s episode was no different with one major exception. The entire plot revolved around the launch of Apple’s new iPad. As a birthday present, Phil’s wife Claire offers to wait in line starting at 5am to purchase an iPad on the day of its launch. Unfortunately for Phil, Claire falls asleep on the couch and doesn’t make it to the store before they are sold out. The rest of the episode revolves Phil’s disappointment and Claire’s quest to locate an iPad before Phil’s birthday party later that evening. After numerous humorous moments involving the couple’s children and Claire’s brother, 10-year-old Luke lies about his father having a terminal illness to acquire an iPad at the last minute. The episode ends with Phil blowing out his virtual candles on his surprise iPad and whispering “I love you” to his new gadget, a sentiment which Claire mistakenly thinks was meant for her. While this episode lives up to the promise of providing a few laughs, albeit at Claire’s expense, I was disappointed to see that the entire episode was co-opted to promote the newest fleeting technology.  Up until this point, this show was one of the few programs to premiere this year that I found worth watching.  While it has become evident that advertising and product promotion has seeped into an increasing number of primetime shows in recent years, this is one of the more obvious and disturbing examples due the iPad’s centrality to the plot. It’s certainly no surprise to media savvy consumers that TV programming is all about making money, but what is somewhat eye opening is that advertisers may no longer attempt to be discrete about their role in content creation. As product placement becomes increasingly commonplace and an increasing number of viewers use DVR technologies to skip traditional commercial segments, product-driven television episodes may become a regular occurrence. But, where’s the line? How much advertising will audiences tolerate?

Andrea Bergstrom, Department of Mass Communication
Pierce Arrow Blogger

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