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A blog about television and radio with Paul Casserly

Paul Casserly: The perils of product placement

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New kids on The Block. Photo / Supplied
New kids on The Block. Photo / Supplied

The first thing you'll notice about The Block is that it's often impossible to tell the programme apart from the advertising. If you think you've wandered into an endless Bunnings commercial, it's because, in a way, you have.

Bunnings staff pop up in the show and Block-heads turn up in the ad breaks. Integration is probably what they call it. It's no doubt the way of the future. Given falling ad revenues and our predilection for fast-forwarding our PVRs, it's probably just the Tip-Top of the iceberg.

But it's not just happening on The Block. John Campbell seems to be doing his show from the inside of a Mazda these days, while Mark Sainsbury appears to be in the middle of a never-ending subliminal Coca Cola commercial.

If you had been lost on an island for 20 years you'd be wondering what in the blooming heck had happened to the telly.

But then again, you'd probably be delighted that it was more entertaining than it used to be. Especially if the last thing you saw before you fell off the yacht was Lowie's BBQ or Guess Who's Coming to Dinner.

Product placement, seamless integration, corporate whoring, reality stars in the ad breaks, John Campbell in a Mazda - get used to it.

But product placement can be a double-edged spade. I'll be thinking twice about buying a cheap shovel from Bunnings after one went 'snap' in the first episode of The Block.

The show has been billed as "the most expensive New Zealand show that ever was or ever will be" - or something like that.

First impressions were good but it also looked, well, kind of cheap. Especially after the high production values of Eyeworks' The GC - which was admittedly a static affair, like its partial blueprint, The Only Way is Essex.

There is no doubt having to fork out for four houses is a financial setback in itself, and then there are the four camera crews and builders to boot.

Guessing correctly that most viewers don't give a hoot about how a show looks - especially a reality show - the first episode did what it had to and delivered in spades that didn't snap.

The characters are strong. In short: The young Hamilton ones who say things like "tin-arsed" and "shitballs". The overbearing sporty sister and her brother. The ones from the 'Naki' and the big-boned radio bird and her skinny bricklayer hubby who says things like "re-dick". They're the ones who took an hour to find a ute that was hidden 500 metres away, a sure sign that they'll make it to the final episode, as will a great many New Zealanders.

Surprisingly, Mark Richardson is somewhat of a natural, although his Crowd Gone Wild colleague James McOnie would have been way better. Mark's best line so far is: "That rope has Richard at the end of his tether - boom!" I bet McOnie farts out better gags than that in his sleep, probably waking himself up.

No doubt the format itself is in need of a little renovation as has been noted elsewhere. It's been done with observational hospital and cop shows.

24 Hours in A&E is the best example of rebooting the medium in recent times and Coppers (TV1, 9.30pm Tuesday) is also showing that a new direction is possible even for a tired old format. Even Neighbours at War has had a crack, adding absurd comedy to the mix.

The Block may not be innovative but it is solid and it is entertaining.

But will it be popular enough to give a ratings bash to the show where product placement takes on a completely different connotation?

Despite a recent a bash of it's own - from creator turned tormentor, Brian Edwards - Fair Go still rules the roost.

I'm not sure why but I find it comforting the establishment consumer affairs show can still rack up 100k more viewers than 'the most expensive show ever made in the southern hemisphere including the Chatham Islands etc'.

Harcourt and Mau have a good thing going on. On last week's counter to the debut of The Block they pulled out a live online shopping special called "Web Safe". The word 'live' is usually a cause for concern on this show, especially one that looked like it was designed to scare the elderly about the TERRIFYING INTERNET.

It wasn't half bad, even managing to make some 'interactive' nonsense work, if just momentarily - in the form of a text question fired to one of the expert panel. The rest of the time this interactivity was as pointless as ever. It brought back memories of Holmes when it moved to Prime.

Many viewers watched the often crazy on-screen texts rather than the show itself.

Interactive TV? Meh. Sure get some questions in, but edit them. There's no point posting: "I paid for a Daily Deal but it took four weeks to arrive." Who cares? You waited for something? You poor gobshite, hang on, what was that guy saying, I was too busy reading etc.

This show does best when the knitting is stuck to. Fair Go had a beauty via a guy who pedalled fancy gates and fences via the net, hence his inclusion on this 'special'.

It was a classic story, a bunch of unhappy punters and a surly vendor who yelled at the reporter from behind a hastily erected curtain. "Go away - you're creating harassment."

The man had already been banned from TradeMe and seemed in denial about his shoddy work. Telling the show that in future he'll "be more selective about my clients".

His surname was Bird, and the reporter used actual birds to great comic effect.

Meanwhile the All Blacks are considering signing up for some product placement of their own, in the form an AIG logo on their sacred black vestments.

Has the world gone mad? Next you'll be telling me that Cops (Four, 10pm Thursday) is now brought to you by Jack Daniels. Which, of course, it is.

The Block (TV3, Wednesday, Thursday 7.30pm)
Fair Go (TV1, Wednesday 7.30pm)

Follow Paul Casserly on Twitter.

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