As Seen on TV
Television characters and the food they eat
People on television eat real food. But do they really have to eat Subway sandwiches, Chili’s onion blossoms, and Papa John’s pizzas, or are they (their writers, rather) being paid to do so? Seeing a brand name in media, we usually assume it’s paid placement. But that’s not always true: Sometimes a character on a show eats just like any real walking, talking person. Here are some of the standout moments in television food—some paid placement, some not.
1. Seinfeld. Seinfeld doesn’t appear on this list for all of its conspicuous consumption of breakfast cereal or Junior Mints. Our favorite food cameo on the sitcom is Kenny Rogers Roasters. Both Kramer and Jerry fall under the spell of the humming red neon lights and Kenny’s addictive chicken (and somehow switch personalities, too).
2. American Idol. Anybody who’s ever watched American Idol or has a tween-age child is aware of the prominent placement that Coca-Cola has on the show. The cups are there, but is the drink really there? According to Russell Page’s On PR blog, Paula Abdul hoists an empty Coke cup and pretends to take a sip. When she sets it down you can hear a distinct hollow noise.
3. Laverne & Shirley. Appearances by Coca-Cola’s rival Pepsi on Laverne & Shirley predate all the Idol hoopla by several decades. Laverne’s beverage of choice was, famously, milk and Pepsi. A Milwaukee egg cream, perhaps.
4. The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show. The blatant product placement in TV’s golden age is a reminder that rampant commercialism is not just a product of modern times. Carnation Evaporated Milk sponsored The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show, and it never let the audience forget that. Whenever Gracie told Blanche she’d baked a delicious pie, the two would soon be gleefully eating and chatting about how using the milk from “contented cows” makes everything taste so much better.
5. Will & Grace. Subway had a less than subtle role on NBC’s Will & Grace. In one episode, Rosario, Karen’s maid, whips a Subway chicken parm sandwich out of her pocket and says: “Mmm, Subway chicken parm. Mmm.” Subway has also appeared on episodes of The Simpsons and South Park.
6. The King of Queens. On an episode of CBS’s The King of Queens, the lovable lunk played by Kevin James dives into a Swanson Hungry-Man TV dinner. Talk about a pitch-perfect spokesman. Kevin James: the antidote to Subway’s Jared Fogle.
7. The Office. Nearly an entire episode once took place in the fast-casual eatery Chili’s. Michael says, “May we have an Awesome Blossom, please, extra awesome.” Chili’s even built a restaurant for the show’s use and found actors to play waiters there.
8. The Apprentice. One episode features two opposing teams of would-be flunkies working with Domino’s to concoct a new type of pizza. After hearing the Donald say, “I love meatballs on my pizza,” both teams create meatball pies. Papa John’s got wind of the deal and ran ads featuring founder and chairman John Schnatter in a boardroom, asking consumers to tell the competition “they’re fired” as he introduced Papa John’s new Spicy Meatball pizza.
9. Family Guy. In “Da Boom,” an episode inspired by Y2K hysteria, the Griffins survive a nuclear holocaust and move to a nearby Twinkies factory in Natick, Massachusetts, to found New Quahog. Shortly thereafter Peter flubs his job as mayor and the family heads to a Carvel factory in Framingham.
10. 7th Heaven. The combination of Oreos and milk is ingrained in product marketing (cue the “ice cold milk and an Oreo cookie” jingle). Last year a two-part episode of 7th Heaven depicted lead character Eric Camden serving Oreos to a visitor. When offered milk, the guest responds with a hearty, “Gotta have the milk!” Simon later proposes to Rose with a ring hidden inside an Oreo.
New York City–based food writer Joe DiStefano has been without a television for six months. His latest culinary obsession is chapulines, or salted dry-roasted Oaxacan grasshoppers.