Odd Placement

In a wasteland of average TV programming, there are a few standouts that I never miss. First is the BBC version of “Top Gear,” the absolute best car/guy show on television. The other must watch is “Walking Dead,” a compelling drama set against the unlikely backdrop of a zombie apocalypse. If you aren’t familiar with either, buy season one of “Walking Dead” and season 17 of “Top Gear” and you will not be disappointed.

The BBC version of “Top Gear” has an exact copy on Spike TV. It’s clearly produced by the same team that has lifted the winning U.K. formula wholesale, and most of the time it works pretty well. How are these very different shows tied together? It’s simple: product placement.

The other day, the U.S. “Top Gear” guys spent a breathless 20 minutes reviewing the new Cadillacs. The U.K. version will find something they don’t like even in a $250,000 super car. The U.S. “Top Gear” team could find nothing, but simply wonderful, marvelous things about the cars. I agree they are good-looking and apparently perform well, but the uncritical worship fest was crow barred into an otherwise very entertaining program. It was frankly embarrassing.

A couple of hours later, I noticed (again) that the “Walking Dead” had acquired another sparkling new Hyundai SUV. In a show that invariably involves one of the protagonists making a high-speed getaway from zombies, those escapes have been made in a Hyundai recently. I have nothing against Hyundai, but if I were choosing a zombie-proof car it probably wouldn’t be a Hyundai – maybe a Hummer or an Escalade or a tank.

The other noticeable thing is that even given the pressure of living inside the zombie apocalypse they still manage to keep the Hyundai shiny and clean. I did some investigation and apparently my instincts were right that the Hyundai’s existence was a result of product placement.

The placement is just a bit odd. In the first season (before the show was cool and successful) the non-zombies used a beat up and stylishly antique collection of trucks and buses. Clearly, it was a design choice. The old cars were cool and appropriately post-apocalyptic. The addition of an eternally clean Hyundai is jarring to the eye and detracts from the show’s authenticity.

At the same time, the inclusion of a flawless Cadillac in a car magazine program that presents itself as cool, edgy and well informed inserts an enormous naked plug into the mix.  Makes you wonder where the line gets drawn…or maybe there isn’t a line after all.

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