Fox, ABC series ramp up product integration

Networks risk fan ire with abundance of in-show promos

Three instances of product promotion had fans buzzing this week as shows on ABC and Fox took integration to new levels.

ABC on Wednesday night plastered one of the final episodes of "Lost" with a near ever-present countdown clock for the return of alien-invasion drama "V," Fox's "American Idol" on Thursday opened with stunt promoting "Clash of the Titans," and ABC's "Modern Family" devoted most of it's Wednesday episode to the glories of Apple's new iPad.

Each instance was the result of a unique motivation from the network or creators, but all three resulted in the same effect: fans talking about a show ... yet not talking about the show.

"Idol" is no stranger to product placement, and its viewers have come to expect a certain level of product huckstering. But Thursday's effort arguably was the most jarring placement on the show since Mike Myers' "Love Guru" character graced the "Idol" stage.

Actors from Warner Bros.' "Clash" appeared from the London premiere via satellite on the singing competition, with clips from the movie being spliced together with scenes from "Idol."

The same night, ABC's "Family" turned heads with a story line that heavily incorporated Apple's latest device on the eve of its release. In the episode, gadget-loving Phil craves an iPad for his birthday, and his family struggles to get him one.

The extensive use of the product, which was used in cooperation with Apple, caused many viewers to assume the network had sold a story line to the company.

The facts that Apple CEO Steve Jobs sits on Disney's board of directors and ABC announced Thursday that its top shows would be available on iPad did little to stem the impression that ABC was using its freshly honored Peabody Award winner to push iPads.

But an Apple spokesperson and "Family" co-creator Christopher Lloyd said there was no payment for the placement.

"We wanted to do a show about Phil getting very excited about a new product, and it seemed the perfect one to use, since it was debuting," Lloyd said. "We approached Apple about getting their cooperation, and they agreed and gave us a few other small concessions. But there were no stipulations as with normal product placement; it was all story-driven."

ABC was on board with the plan. The network doesn't allow products on its shows without prior consent.

The headlines came one day after fans gave ABC a headache for its "V" countdown clock on "Lost," which even drew a disappointed Tweet from showrunner Damon Lindelof.

Late-night hosts Stephen Colbert and David Letterman both jumped on the dust-up, mocking ABC for the self-promoting stunt.

Sources said the network got the message from "Lost" fans "loud and clear" and do not plan to use such a device again.