It’s an Ad, Ad, Ad, Ad World

Fierce food writer and blogger Regina Schrambling kind of scares me (I hope I never get on her bad side, because I can tell she’d write something about me that would make me cry), but I was muttering many a “hell yeah” in response to her Los Angeles Times column Top Chef Boils Over. Among other things, Schrambling objects to the overweening product placement on the cooking competition:

In one recent episode, ‘Snacks on a Plane,’ the aspiring tops raced around making surprise breakfasts to be judged by robotic hostess Padma Lakshmi, followed by a surprise airline meal to be judged by flight attendants and the usual suspects, including Keyser Söze himself, Anthony Bourdain.

The camera dwelt lovingly on the blenders at breakfast, which turned up shortly in a commercial, and then viewers were treated to long shots of Continental planes in flight. Entertainment or infomercial? You decide. Just don’t think about the fact that Continental promoted the episode in advance in newspaper advertisements.

We’ve touched on this issue before here, and the rampant plugging has not gone unnoticed in the blogosphere. But what drives me absolutely crazy is this: Reality shows are dirt-cheap to produce. What are you paying for—room and board for noncelebrities? Use of a few kitchens? Padma’s shorts? Surely, the costs of making the show are paid for by the traditional ads that run during each episode. Do you have to shove even more advertising in our faces, as the contestants go into the Kenmore kitchen to pick up their Calphalon cookware to make a dish for T.G.I. Friday’s using Kraft mayonnaise? Do you have to jam the plugs down my throat like so much sriracha-laced ice cream?

And hey, if you’re going to do it, and you’re making all this money, why don’t you fatten up the prize money offered? A hundred grand is barely enough to buy pots, pans, and dishes for a restaurant, and certainly not enough to “kick-start” a culinary career.

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