Madison + Vine: Buyers fret over failure of 'Push, Nevada'

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The demise of ABC's "Push, Nevada," the much-hyped mystery show from Ben Affleck's LivePlanet Productions, underscores the risk of product placement in scripted TV shows.

Media buyers who purchased time in low-rated "Push" are grumbling over a delay in getting cash back or make-good commercial inventory because "Push" must continue until Oct. 24 to fulfill rules of a sweepstakes tied to the program. And advertisers who also bought expensive product placements are said to be dissatisfied with the exposure they received in return.

"[The product placement] was totally vague," said an executive close to major sponsors Toyota Motor Sales USA and Sprint Corp.'s Sprint PCS, adding that the TV time was not sufficient and was not used to show off specific features of the cars or cell phones.

"We don't think it was vague," responded a LivePlanet spokeswoman. "There was a detailed contact."

Steve Sturm, VP-marketing for Toyota Motor Sales USA's Toyota division, said the marketer was satisfied. "We got very good product placement and obviously we would have loved to continue." A Sprint spokesman had no comment.

In addition to the product placement deal with LivePlanet, Toyota and Sprint each bought three 30-second spots in the show from Walt Disney Co.'s ABC. Over the course of the series, this translates into about a $4 million deal for each advertiser above the placement fee.

The series was to run a scheduled 13 episodes. But after its premier, the show moved into the prime Thursday night at 9 p.m. against hits "Will & Grace" on General Electric Co.'s NBC and "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" on Viacom's CBS. Ratings tanked. For its Oct. 3 episode, "Push" posted a weak 1.5 rating among adults 18-49, leading the network to cancel the series after its seventh episode.

That's not soon enough for media buyers. "They should have canceled it now and taken it off [completely]," said Steve Sternberg, senior VP-director of Audience Analysis of Magna Global USA, "rather than announce its cancellation now and show three additional episodes." Typically, networks pull shows with consistent ratings declines after three episodes.

Another veteran media executive said if the show ended sooner, advertisers could have taken back money or received make-goods sooner.

But ABC and LivePlanet have to keep the show going because the plot line, which follows the travails of IRS agent Jim Prufrock, ties in with a sweepstakes that awards $1 million to a viewer who solves the murder mystery in the show. Sweepstakes laws state the money must be given away.

"We want viewers of `Push' to see the outcome of Prufrock's investigation, and airing it through the seventh episode will give closure to the storyline," said Susan Lyne, president of ABC Entertainment, in a statement. Revised contests rules will be revealed soon on abc.com.

"Push" has the distinction of the first cancellation of the fall season, and ABC is still working on its turnaround. One highlight is Tuesday nights, where its three sitcoms, "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter," "Life with Bonnie" and "Less Than Perfect," have scored well among adults 18-49. All have been renewed.

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