NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Collectively, comedians Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter have written for and starred in enough canceled sketch shows for Comedy Central ("Stella," "Viva Variety") and sibling MTV ("The State") to know what keeps a show on the air these days. That's why advertisers will be playing a key role in the Michaels' latest Comedy Central venture, "Michael & Michael Have Issues," premiering July 15 at 10:30 p.m. ET.
In what is believed to be a first for a scripted series, "Michael & Michael" will feature live commercials during six of its seven episodes, as Messrs. Black and Showalter humorously wax poetic about the virtues of products including Unilever's Klondike, Dunkin' Donuts, Mike's Hard Lemonade and Palm Pre. Klondike will be featured in the premiere episode, and the brand will also sponsor a web micro-series featuring the Michaels riffing on the ice-cream bar's classic tagline, "What would you do for a Klondike bar?"
Mr. Showalter said the sketch show's reality-based format provided the actors their first opportunity to put their brand of self-referential meta-humor to work for sponsors. "I think we felt like with this show in particular, since we were playing ourselves making a TV show, we could do something where we're basically doing promotions for advertisers as ourselves and it wouldn't necessarily pull you out of the show we're making," he said. "We see it as the old-timey ad, the kind you hear on the radio all the time, where we just stand there and talk right to the camera, 'This is the product, and this is why it's great.'"
Jeff Lucas, Comedy Central's exec VP-ad sales, said Messrs. Showalter and Black have been more proactive than most talent when it comes to openness to product integration.
"Michael and Michael are very forward-thinking. They've been doing this a long time, and they also know the economic realities of television, so they know want to play ball," Mr. Lucas said. "This helps them, it helps us and, most importantly, it helps our advertisers get their message across in a new and innovative way."
And because Mr. Black has a separate endorsement deal with Klondike, Mr. Showalter expects that deal will lend itself to even more art-imitating-life humor for the live spots. "The premise of our show is that it's reality, so I think that's something that lends itself to us being a little more transparent," he said. "We couldn't do something like this on 'Stella,' because the environment was so fictionalized that to have product placement on that show would have been really distracting."
Brands won't be featured on the show
None of the brands will be featured within the show itself, as Mr. Showalter is keenly aware of the flak that can come from inviting sponsors into a scripted comedy. He cited NBC's "30 Rock" as an example of a show that cleverly integrates brands while still breaking down the fourth wall of shameless product placement to its viewers.
"In this new world we live in, it's not enough just to be funny or talented, but you also have to understand the business side of it," he said. "I'm all for Comedy Central making tons of money off of advertisers doing our show. I want to make it as easy for them as I can. But if it ever seems weird on our show, that we're holding product X in our right arm and it takes you out of the show, that makes it not good."