Peddling Press Could Give QVC a Run for Its Money

The problem with America today is that there isn't enough product placement.

Yes, there is product placement on television.  It's called commercials, and they are placed every couple of minutes on every program on virtually every network.

Yes, there is product placement in movies.  Soft drink companies and car companies and watch companies pay motion picture companies large sums of money to have the stars of their new films drink Coke and drive Porsches and check their Rolexes before springing into action.

And, as was reported a few days ago, there is now product placement in ... books.  The noted British author Fay Weldon begins her new novel in "the peaches and cream décor" of a Bulgari jewelry store, where her heroine is waited on by "charming girls, and men too."  Weldon even calls the book The Bulgari Connection.  She was given a substantial sum of money by Bulgari to do so.  It is believed to be a literary first.

But, as of yet, there is no product placement in newscasts — and the time, it seems to me, is right.

Actually, there used to be product placement in TV journalism. In the 1950s, NBC's first regularly scheduled news program, anchored by John Cameron Swayze, was called The Camel News Caravan, and Swayze would puff away on the title cigarette during commercial breaks, the smoke from which was sometimes visible over his shoulders as he came back on the air to cough — er, read.

Today, newscasts offer a kind of product placement, with anchors telling their viewers that they can get more details on a certain story by logging onto the news organization's Web site.  But this is small potatoes, the iceberg's tip. There is so much more that could be done.

For instance, imagine Connie Chung grilling Gary Condit about whether or not he had sex with Chandra Levy, then, after several evasive answers, looking him right in the eye and saying,  "You know, congressman, I don't think I would've had the energy to keep asking you about your relationship with Miss Levy if I hadn't taken a One-A-Day Multiple Vitamin this morning. I find that just one pill gives me an entire day's worth of vim and vigor and nutrition."

Imagine Barbara Walters interviewing Anne Heche about having broken up with Ellen DeGeneres and now deciding to cast her lot with a male of the species, and leaning forward in her chair and asking Heche about her perfume.  "Let me tell you, Annie, when I want to get a man, I just put a little dab of Chanel No. 5 on each earlobe, and the guy gets so turned on that he doesn't care who I've had sex with in the past."

Imagine Andy Rooney doing one of his 60 Minutes commentaries, complaining about this, whining about that, ranting and raving at all manner of modern societal inconveniences — and then, as the camera pushes in on him, confessing that he does not take Ex-Lax.  "How could I?" he says.  "If I were regular, I couldn't be crabby.  I'd lose my whole persona."

There are so many untapped possibilities out there.  Al Roker could plug raincoats and Dan Rather grits; Sam Donaldson could plug toupees and Bryant Gumbel sensitivity training seminars.  Even those of us on Fox News Watch could sell out for the greater glory of American commerce.  "When we watch the news," we could say, "we watch it on a Sony Trinitron.  It gives us the clearest picture, the best sound."

Preposterous?  Maybe.  Possible?  Maybe that, too.  Of course, the credibility of television news would go up in smoke if it ever opened its doors to the product placers.  But it happened in John Cameron Swayze's time; there is no reason to think it could not happen again.

Eric Burns is the host of Fox News Watch which airs Saturdays at 10:30 p.m. ET/7:30 p.m. PT and Sundays at 11 a.m. ET/9 a.m. PT.