In the wake of all the press that Pepsuber got during Super Bowl weekend,* we knew it was only a matter of time before NBC decided to see how much further they could push the envelope without suffering a backlash from fans. However, we didn’t anticipate that said envelope-pushing would bear down on us so quickly. In last night’s 30 Rock — a show that, as our own Emily Nussbaum has already pointed out, has shown itself to be more than willing to work advertisers’ messages into its plotlines — Jack Donaghy and his spicy Latina lover, Elisa, not only found themselves effusively praising McFlurrys (“the world’s greatest dessert”), but the plot was also tailored in such a way that the two wound up spending their Valentine’s Day in an actual McDonald’s restaurant. So, the question is this: Did this seemingly blatant instance of product integration breach any sort of lines of television ethics?
Well, you see, that really depends. Tina Fey seems to be able to get away with it because, heck, she’s Tina Fey, a figure that is pretty much universally adored. And 30 Rock is self-aware enough to get away with it because, like Fey, it is among the most revered shows on television, both by viewers and the creative community. But what if this were a highly rated show that critics turn their noses up at, a show like Two and a Half Men, for example? What would people say if they spent 113 seconds of their show (9 percent of the show’s total run time, taking out the time spent advertising “real” commercials) talking about how satisfying a Frosty from Wendy’s is on a hot summer day?
I ask Whedon about 30 Rock. Like Fontana, he’s a fan. He thought the Verizon joke was fantastic. But he adds a caveat: You can only do that joke once. “You can’t do it again and be cute, because then it’s a different type of shilling. Eventually you realize the reason they’re making a joke is because there’s something abhorrent going on.”
Well, it seems that they’ve done that joke WAY more than once now (Verizon, SoyJoy, Snapple, Mickey D’s). What do you think, have they crossed a line? Is it abhorrent, is it just part of the whole meta-ness of the show, or is it just the way TV is going these days? We’ve put together the evidence for you below.
Here’s the clip that opened the show, in which Alec Baldwin and Salma Hayek canoodle while tossing back McFlurrys with reckless abandon: