The Third Kind of Heat: 30 Rock & Overcooked Synergy

Curator's Note

In the pilot of 30 Rock, Jack Donaghy (as smarmed by Alec Baldwin) takes over NBC's oversight of a sketch comedy show based on his acumen in market research honed in GE's appliance division. This clip offers a winking parody of the corrupted logic of conglomeration, where cultural products are treated as mass-produced commodities--programming both televisions and microwaves, this is the illogical extension of Mark Fowler's infamous "toaster with pictures." However the logic twists back around, as the Trivection Oven is an actual product, offering the very features that Donaghy gleefully rattles off and thus providing GE some free product meta-integration. Furthermore, GE ran two ads for the Trivection Oven during 30 Rock's NBC debut, blurring the lines between parody, synergy, and advertising. This product promotes itself with three kinds of heat: conventional advertising for standard appeals, product integration for stealthy awareness, and self-deprecating meta-commentary for us jaded critics willing to cut GE and NBC some slack for mocking their own synergy. Is this the future of television or toasters?


This reminds me quite a lot of something that was being said in one of the panels on feminism and contemporary television at Flow: that watching ironically gives "elite" viewers a kind of permission to enjoy texts of which they'd ordinarily be quite critical. Here, our knowingness about the corporate machinations behind product placement allows us to find humor in what turns out not to be an ironic commentary on product placement at all, but instead product placement itself. So can our ironic distance from the scene of advertising really protect us, or does it in fact open us to the corporate ideologies that the network is so blatantly (but humorously!) promoting?

Great clip and comment, Jason! Building on both your comment and Kathleen's response, it also seems to me that not only does 30 Rock open up multiple vectors for product pitching, ranging from the blatant to the cynical/ironic, but it also closes down critical conversation about these strategies by constructing the nay-saying voice in the series -- Tina Fey's -- as both an industry insider (let the industry take care of these problems without external supervision), and a fumbling "over-educated feminist" (to quote Baldwin) whose critical edge is either used in service of industry logics or is undermined by her own bumblings.

By Anonymous

Avi--I haven't seen the show, so could you explain what you mean by Fey's character serving to forestall critical conversation? It seems like Fey's character, as an insider, would be very well placed to represent a critical voice on the industry logics as represented by Baldwin's character; who would know better how corporate ownership shapes our media than someone working within that system? So, while the character doesn't represent external/public influence on media, it doesn't preclude the articulation of these kinds of critiques, and may make them more persuasive because of the character's ethos (but it doesn't mean that this will actually happen, just that it could). It does seem likely that being represented as an 'over-educated feminist' may undermine her character's ethos, at least for certain segments of the audience.

NBC's The Office did a very similar thing with a Staples personal shredder in last week's episode--Kevin was very excited about using the shredder and showed how it would shred paper, CDs, even his own credit card (oops), and later used it to make salad. CBS's How I Met Your Mother practically gave an entire ad for Red Lobster when Marshall and Lily went there in one episode. For some reason, these product placements didn't bother me until the ad breaks, which began with ads for Staples and Red Lobster respectively...then I feel betrayed somehow, even though I recognized the spots as product placements in the show--perhaps it feels condescending for the advertiser to assume that I didn't get the placement in the show unless they give me an explicit ad right after it?

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