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Critic's Notebook

New wrinkles in product placement

Among the promotional moves at NBC is a deal with Jon Bon Jovi (above) and a deal to have an episode of “SNL’’ exclusively sponsored by Bud Light Golden Wheat Beer. Among the promotional moves at NBC is a deal with Jon Bon Jovi (above) and a deal to have an episode of “SNL’’ exclusively sponsored by Bud Light Golden Wheat Beer. (John Bohn/Globe Staff File
)
By Joanna Weiss
Globe Staff / October 17, 2009

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Give NBC credit for trying new things. First, the network scuttled a third of its primetime schedule and replaced it with Jay Leno. Now comes news that the network has signed Jon Bon Jovi to a two-month “artist in residence’’ deal, which treats him to appearances on “Today,’’ “The Jay Leno Show,’’ “The Tonight Show,’’ and “Saturday Night Live.’’ He’ll also be interviewed by Brian Williams and James Lipton (whose “Inside the Actors Studio’’ airs on Bravo, owned by NBC Universal).

I question the wisdom of the Bon Jovi deal; who does it benefit, besides the guy with the album to promote? Is the nation really clamoring to see an aging hair-band rocker? It’s not like he’s Lady Gaga. And would he be getting air time on “NBC Nightly News’’ - regardless of the charitable venture he’ll be talking about - if he weren’t locked into a contract with NBC?

I’m more intrigued by this: NBC also announced that tonight’s “Saturday Night Live’’ will be exclusively sponsored by Bud Light Golden Wheat Beer.

No, that’s not a joke from a “30 Rock’’ script. And it means more than just a long commercial or two; the show will also feature clips from viewing parties, across the country, sponsored by the beer, plus some segments labeled “Backstage With Bud Light Golden Wheat.’’ I’m not sure what Lorne Michaels thinks of this - though I’d be willing to wager a guess - but I actually feel fine, because it’s so ridiculously transparent.

I recall being upset, a few years ago, when Major League Baseball considered putting movie advertisements on the bases, but I’m not sure there’s anything sacred about “SNL’’ that needs to be protected and preserved. A few jokes about a Staples paper shredder didn’t ruin “The Office’’ a couple of seasons ago. Viewers today are savvy and smart; they know that networks have to pay the bills, and they’re willing to endure some bald-faced product placement in order to get their content. What is “Project Runway,’’ after all, if not a giant ad for Garnier Fructis?

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