TV Producers to Networks: Include us in Product Placement Talks

On the CBS comedy "How I Met Your Mother" this week, Marshall and Lily were in the midst of an argument that led to breaking their engagement when they suddenly decided they were hungry, and headed to Red Lobster.

They were shown rapturously dining on seafood before the show broke for a more traditional commercial: for Red Lobster.

Such product integration has some of Hollywood's top TV producers worried. During the week that broadcast networks introduce their new fall shows to advertisers, the producers held a news conference Wednesday to demand networks talk to them about being included in discussions about product integration.

"There's growing concern that if the advertisers start to dictate a story line, just how horrible that would be," said Marc Cherry, creator of ABC's "Desperate Housewives."

Product placement — a can of soda casually placed on a table while the characters are standing around it — has been a part of TV for decades, usually creating little controversy. Producers John Wells of "ER" and Neil Baer of "Law & Order: SVU" say they're worried about being forced to use products in their stories in ways that make them look silly.

There's increased pressure toward integrated ads from several directions. Advertisers are worried that digital video recorders are encouraging more and more consumers to fast-forward through commercials. Between dwindling viewership and increased competition from the Internet, networks are anxious to keep their sponsors happy.

Product integration has been more prevalent on reality shows, want is to negotiate with networks a process that gives creators a say in what can and can't be done, and they said the networks haven't been willing to put that on paper.

They'd like to get a cut of these deals, too.

"There's no question that it's important that the discussions be appropriately held with our creative people, which we are doing," said Leslie Moonves, CBS Corp. president. "But everyone has to be aware that the world is changing."

The producers said they want formal talks on the issue to begin before negotiations for a new guild contract take place next year.

"I don't think any of us are comfortable allowing the marketplace to take us where it's going to take us," Wells said.