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TNT’s ‘Truth’ to merge ads, content

Show to use 'commercials-within-the-show'

A new project that’s being set up at TNT could be a godsend for execs starved for new ad models — or a rallying cry for those concerned about the line between commercials and content.

Greer Shephard, the television producer behind cable hits like “Nip/Tuck” and “The Closer,” says she wants to meld narrative and commercials on “Truth in Advertising, the ad-world drama being developed by Warner Horizon at TNT (Daily Variety, August 6)

Among the innovations the show could bring, Shephard said, are “commercials-within-the-show”–spots that connect to the series’ narrative but hawk real products and are paid for by advertisers. “I think we can create a groundbreaking show that brings advertisers and writers closer together,” Shephard said.

Show could also take ad reels which creators Hunt Baldwin and John Coveny, who worked for years at Leo Burnett, created on Madison Avenue and use them within the show, with the net potentially collecting revenue from the featured brands.

Shephard emphasized that any spots during the series will be tightly integrated with the narrative. “We’re not going out and putting a beauty shot of a product in a cop show,” she said.

Move is in some ways the evolution of a process that first began on “thirtysomething,” a series Shephard helped oversee when she was an ABC exec in the 1980’s. Skein broke new ground when it made the then-controversial move of including real products in scenes at the ad agency where characters worked.

Marketers and network execs have been eager to find new ways to blend ads and narrative, particularly as commercial ratings threaten to diminish their ad-revenue take.

But observers pointed out the legal and logistical questions for “Truth” could be complicated.

Under SAG contracts, for instance, performers are usually compensated when they pitch a product; will the commercials-within-a-show provide that compensation?

The Writers Guild–which has sought greater consultation as well as compensation on product-placement–responded to questions about the idea by saying that “product integration is an important issue” for members and that it is “necessary to protect consumers and secure the participation of writers and actors in the product integration process.”

The concept had been discussed in regard to several other Madison Avenue dramas, but the projects never got on the air.

Shephard acknowledges that a slew of issues need to be worked out. But she said that in an era when television series face a potential crisis, the experiment could improve a production both creatively and financially. “We’re not running away from product integration. We’re going to embrace it.”