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Commentary: TV Product Placements

By Judi Griggs

Buffalo, NY – I don't watch TV.

No, I'm not an intellectual purist who refuses the insult to my sensibilities. If I'm home on Sunday night, "Desperate Housewives" is on the TV. But I can't sit and watch it. I listen as a soundtrack to whatever else I'm doing. This way I'm occasionally amused and rarely frustrated by what passes for programming.

Until last week.

When I worked at my first newspaper 25 years ago, editorial and advertising had separate floors. Our editor warned us we may run into "them" in the lobby or cafeteria, but to treat them as you would any panhandler. Smile. Keep moving. Do not make eye contact and NEVER engage them in any way.

It was the immediate post-Watergatge era and you were a journalist, dammit, with all the smug, self-righteousness that came with being poorly paid to save the world. I have no idea what last week's CSI plot was about. But I'm pretty sure David Caruso figured it all out. I do know that at one point he boldly called to track the On Star (product placement alert). I had recently done a great deal of research on that product for a freelance project so I looked up at the screen to see an actual On Star tracking map was being displayed as part of the show.

Cringe.

Until the next commercial break - where the first commerical was for... On Star. GMC had gone and bought the whole package. Rather then being motivated to run to my nearest dealer and beg them to open the showroom at 11 p.m. so that I too could be rescued from crime. I felt manipulated. The day of advertisement footing the bill of entertainment or information was gone. The lines weren't blurry, they had been erased.

I went back to the task in front of me and didn't get up to change the channel. I was still preoccupied when the local news started on the same channel. This is the top-rated local newscast. I know this is true because I read it on the back of every bus I sit behind in traffic. With the county finances in shambles and the city already under a control board, essential services disappearing and a massive exodus the the young, educated populace of the area... it made perfect sense, high in the newscast to tell us in detail all about the newest ride at the Six Flags amusmement park. I looked up despite myself and saw film of local high school students trying out the new water slide ride. It was in the 50s on that day. Why would students ride a water ride in bathing suits? Would the next story be the subsequent pneunomia outbreak?

No, it was a commercial. For the new ride. Incorporating much the same script as the preceeding "news" report.

That did it.

Now, I've turned off the TV entirely.

Listener-Commentator Judi Griggs is a media relations professional in Buffalo.