Brand-Free Boozing on 'Blue Bloods'

Tuning In: Heavy Drinking in Cop Show Ought to Have a Sponsor

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Drink up: Are brewers and alcohol marketers knocking down CBS's door to get on "Blue Bloods"? They'd probably like to.

Credit: CBS
Most episodes of this family police drama feature Tom Selleck, playing the clan patriarch, pouring himself a beer at a family dinner or indulging in something a little harder at a happy hour or for a nightcap. Many members of his family follow suit. These folks sure like to drink!

At present, the labels on the bottles seem to be obscured, or at least designed to look like a specific beer without looking like a specific beer that you or I might recognize immediately. No doubt, CBS could sell placement in this venue for big dollars -- what marketer of adult beverages wouldn't like to see its product being cradled in a glass by Tom Selleck?

Could it happen? There's precedent for big beer or alcohol "integrations" in TV shows. Brown-Forman's Jack Daniels struck a deal to appear in episodes during the 2007 season of AMC's "Mad Men." In 2004, Miller beer wove its brew into an edgy arrangement with FX's "Rescue Me," whose central character, firefighter Tommy Gavin (Dennis Leary), was at the time a troubled alcoholic. Miller enjoyed an unusual amount of control over which of its drinks were associated with different characters, and got tons of time on-screen with logos and with characters drinking its suds. Anheuser-Busch InBev crafted a clever foray into NBC's "Saturday Night Live" in 2009 that made Bud Light Golden Wheat the sole sponsor of an "SNL" broadcast.

The trick might be slightly harder for prime-time broadcast TV. Sure, you can make the argument that "Blue Bloods" airs Fridays at 10 p.m., when many younger consumers who are also under 21 aren't tuning in: The regular appearance of ads for Ensure during "Blue Bloods" lends ballast to that notion. But most beer advertising on broadcast tends to surface either during sports programming or on the late-night talk shows.

Spirits promotions walk an even thornier route. True, ads for hard liquor run on cable and on local stations, but the broadcast networks have had problems doing the same. Case in point: NBC said in 2002 that it would become the first broadcast network in 50 years to accept liquor advertising, but then backed down three months later after rival networks didn't lend the Peacock support and Congress and advocacy groups weighed in with feelings of displeasure.

Still, if we were Coors, Bud or Miller -- or even a fine brand of scotch -- we'd at least knock on CBS's door with a bottle in hand.

Ten O' clock Follies: TV's grimmest hour is turning lighter. After NBC said a few weeks ago that it would move "30 Rock" to the 10 p.m. slot on Thursdays, ABC now says it will make Wednesdays in late spring into a full night of comedy by putting mid-season replacement "Happy Endings" into the 10 p.m. slot and pairing it with "fan favorites" of "Modern Family." (ABC can call them "fan favorites"; we call them "reruns.")

ABC's nod to the funny is the latest signal that the broadcast networks are rethinking all kinds of habits once considered rules. Traditionally, 10 p.m. has long been the hour for gritty drama, largely because no one wants their kids to witness stabbings, shootings and sexual situations at 8 p.m.

Over the years, however, that has changed as sitcoms got more saucy and dramas ran earlier. NBC's "Friends," often seen in the early part of the evening, was chock a block with ribald references, as was another Thursday-night sitcom, "Coupling." What's more, NBC's frequent use of "Law & Order: SVU" has moved that often-dark program into earlier time slots.

By running comedies at 10, NBC and ABC are gambling that some viewers will still want a laugh as bedtime draws near. When the competition is offering dramas, moreover, sitcoms have an opportunity to benefit by counterprogramming.

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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