Recovered from the Wayback Machine.
Eureka is a popular science fiction show currently showing on the Sci-Fi channel, on Hulu, as well as downloadable from Unbox, and iTunes in beautiful, and expensive, HD. Now in its third year, the show was faced with an interesting challenge at the beginning of the season development: this season’s shows will have a corporate sponsor. Not only will the show have a corporate sponsor, but the rule from high was that the creators were required to feature the product as part of the story line for one of the shows.
Last week’s show, Here Come the Suns was the show, and needless to say, the fans aren’t too happy.
Sensing a potentially explosive situation, the Eureka creators have embraced social media to an extent I’ve never seen with a television show. One of the writers has a personal weblog and talks candidly about the show (in addition to other topics). There’s also a Eureka Facebook account, as well as Eureka Unscripted a Tumblr account focused on the show, the decisions that go into the show, and other items of interest to Eureka fans.
One of the recent entries at Eureka Unscripted discussed the product placement in Eureka, including the very unusual corporate direction that one show has to focus on the product—a move not seen since the says when variety shows were sponsored by health tonics.
It all began way back in October 2007 when the Sci Fi Channel announced to the Eureka staff that 1) we would have an official commercial sponsor this season, one that was kicking in a lot of dough and would therefore 2) require tons of product placement throughout Season Three. We were also told that 3) ONE EPISODE in Season Three would have to incorporate a storyline in which the actual product HAD to save Eureka somehow, or at the very least, be INDISPENSABLE to Carter’s Act 5 solve.
If you’ve not seen Here Come the Suns I won’t give away either the plot or the product. The show should be appearing on Hulu in a couple of days.
Why such obviousness with product placement? Especially since an action like this is going to generate negative attention? One reason could be the new online publication models. When a product is integrated into a show, the product is going to show whether the show is televised on commercial TV, Hulu, or purchased as an episode through iTunes or Unbox.
Then again, production studios are having an increasingly difficult time making profits, what with viewers attention between grabbed by a plethora of entertainment possibilities. The days when you only had broadcast TV or a book are long gone, and so are the old advertising models.
Is this instance of product placement a sign of the future for shows? I hope not. Product placement can be quite discrete, and most people don’t have too many problems with it. However, incorporating a product into a show’s storyline crosses what used to be a pretty solid boundary and impacts on both the creativity and the integrity of the show. Fans feel betrayed, including those fans who spend $2.99 to purchase a supposedly ad-free episode of the show on iTunes, only to be served what could be seen as a theme-based infomercial.
However, the push-back would be more intense if it weren’t for the Eureka team’s use of social media, including the aforementioned Eureka Unscripted posting on the product placement. Now, instead of nameless, faceless executives screwing with a beloved show, we hear Erik who writes candidly on the issue, before announcing he and his wife have a new baby girl. It’s more difficult to get angry with someone who you feel connected to, even if the connection is tenuous, and via the artificial intimacy that social media can foster.
There’s also a sense that the Eureka creators are not terribly overjoyed about the sponsorship. A new character introduced this year is The Fixer, whose purpose in coming to Eureka is to seemingly squeeze profits out of research that previously existed to Serve the Common Good. Of course, it wouldn’t be Eureka if the character didn’t have ulterior motives, and ended being interesting regardless of her reasons for existence. The subtle message about crass commercialism versus purity of purpose, however, shouldn’t escape even the most betrayed-feeling fan.
Eureka’s third season is an interesting experiment. On the one hand, you have increased intimacy through social media; on the other, corporate encroachment on the creative process. We’ll find out if the experiment was a success if the show receives the OK for a fourth season. If Eureka does get a new season, one wonders what will be sold this time.
Dog food? Coffee beans? MIT? One can only hope the show isn’t sponsored by Ex-Lax.