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E! Entertainment Television has inked a deal for Miller Brewing Co. to sponsor a special edition of its hit show "Talk Soup" that unabashedly blurs the line between programming and advertising.

The show is the basic weekend edition of "Talk Soup" -- an irreverent recap of the week's talk show programs -- but staged as a beer garden party, complete with audience and live music. The E! show will be shot on the roof of the network's Los Angeles studios on the afternoon of Aug. 28 and first air at 6 p.m. that day; it will be repeated 10 times throughout the weekend.

The " `Talk Soup' Miller Chiller" marks the first time E! has fully integrated an advertiser into programming. It follows a controversial play by another beer company, rival Anheuser-Busch, which came under fire for its plan to cablecast a documentary, "The History of Beer," on the Learning Channel. The show was produced by the brewer's agency, DDB Needham Worldwide, Chicago.


E!, however, said it expects no uproar over its show.

"You're not going to see [host] John Henson drinking a keg of beer on camera by any means," said LeeAnne Stables, E!'s VP-promotions. "We're both going to draw on the positive equities of both brands."

Miller Lite, the exclusive sponsor of the program, will be integrated into the show in a variety of ways, including props, signage, on-screen logos, even incorporation into the script. The brewer was attracted by the show's young adult audience, which matches up well against the 21-to-28-year-old demographic Miller Lite is trying to reach, a Miller spokeswoman said. She said E!, available in some 50 million households, has been in Miller's media mix all year.

References to Miller Lite won't be controlled by the advertiser; instead, "Talk Soup" writers will craft them. A Miller spokeswoman said the advertiser is aware that's a risk but said the brewer wasn't concerned.


"We really don't have any input with content. Everything is at their whim," said the spokeswoman. "The format and the tone of the show are very much in keeping with the brand personality of Miller Lite: a little fun, a little off the wall."

Still, media insiders said there's a risk. "Creative people can do funny things that many times aren't funny in the eye of the client," said Bill Croasdale, exec VP-national broadcast at Western International Media Corp., West Hollywood, Calif. He cited the 1996 example of Pepsi-Cola Co.'s title sponsorship of the controversial "Dana Carvey Show" on ABC that backfired on the soft-drink company.

Terms of the Miller deal weren't disclosed.

E! worked with Miller's media buying agency, Starcom Media Services, Chicago, a unit of Leo Burnett USA. Miller Lite's agency for creative is Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis.

E! sees the " `Talk Soup' Miller Chiller" as one of its key programming stunts this year. As such, it will heavily promote the show over the next two weeks with promos within the show and in other dayparts. The teaser spots will mention Miller's sponsorship.

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