Tuning In: Miner Story Is Cable Gold, but What About 'Parker/Spitzer'?

Brian Steinberg on Studios' Prime-Time Comic-Book Push, the New Auto Product-Placement and Cable News

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PROGRAM GUIDE

ZAP! BAM! POW!: Thanks to aging readers, the comic-book industry is no longer as powerful as Superman or Spider-Man, but the big media conglomerates that own comic-book publishers -- and hope to spin movies out of their four-color pages -- still have plenty of punch. And if you look carefully at your TV screen, you'll see them pushing those properties to the hilt.

D.C. Comics and the creators of 'Chuck' have even developed the 'Chuck' graphic novel.
D.C. Comics and the creators of 'Chuck' have even developed the 'Chuck' graphic novel.
"Chuck" may run on NBC, but it's produced by Time Warner, owner of DC Comics. Fans may notice from time to time that twenty-something Chuck seems awfully interested in DC superheroes and comics. Meanwhile, over at ABC's "No Ordinary Family," one young character was recently spotted reading a "Wolverine" comic. "Wolverine" is a property of Marvel, which was recently purchased by ABC's parent, Walt Disney. Subtle comic-book promotion has been going on for some time. Last season, Warner was able to insert fictional DC comics that had never been published into its Fox-run drama "Fringe."

With the push on to wring mega-millions from movies based on comic-book characters, pressure is being applied to keep people interested in the comic books that give them life. So you're likely to see more of this comic-book placement in programs that attract those interested in sci-fi and other geeky delights.

Forget showing metal: Car advertising for decades has relied on a single maxim: "Show the metal." In other words, show potential buyers the car; try anything else and local dealers get upset.

Move from TV ads to TV product placements, though, and there may be room for innovation. Recent appearances of cars in TV shows have taken things a step inward by focusing on an automobile's connectivity. This week's episode of "Hawaii Five-0" on CBS tells the tale. During a phone call, Dan-O happens to talk to his colleague about the pursuit of a new "2010 silver Chevy Malibu" with a built-in "vehicle recovery system." A few months back, on CBS's "The Good Wife," one of the characters was spotted using new functionality in the Buick LaCrosse to receive e-mail in the car. With digital technology transforming the capabilities of the venerable car dashboard, expect more such stuff. After all, if we'll sit through a scene on "24" in which people talk to each other using a heavily branded Cisco videoconferencing device (and we did for a while), we can sit through scenes of people fiddling with the button next to the speedometer, too.

CHANNEL SURFING

Credit: CNN
Chilean miner rescue: Ratings are likely to be higher-than-usual for cable-news channels showing live feeds of the Chilean miner rescue that took over the news cycles late last night. As the Baltimore Sun's David Zurawik noted, this is the sort of thing that starts up late in the viewing day and finishes up over the wee hours of the morning.

"Parker/Spitzer" problems: Speaking of cable news, CNN's "Parker/Spitzer" continues to have trouble finding its footing. "The network on Monday dipped to its worst nightly prime-time average in more than 10 years," the Los Angeles Times reports. Cable has a little more insulation from the ups and downs of ratings woes than the broadcast networks' new season does, and "Parker/Spitzer" is just getting out of the gate. But if this program can't build an audience for Larry King -- and, next year, for his successor Piers Morgan -- CNN won't be able to let it noodle around for an audience.

Tuning In is an ongoing series of commentaries by Ad Age TV Editor Brian Steinberg on the TV schedule, the ads it carries and changes within the industry. Follow him on Twitter.

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