LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Comedian Jerry Seinfeld will take the concept of product placement to a new level on Thursday when he returns to his old television network, NBC, for a guest spot on the sitcom “30 Rock.”
NBC is hoping Seinfeld’s appearance will bring a much-needed ratings boost to a show that won the Emmy Award last month as best comedy after struggling during its first season to find an audience.
The star of the former NBC mega-hit “Seinfeld” will get something valuable in return — a prime-time plug for his upcoming animated film “Bee Movie” written right into the story line of the “30 Rock” season premiere.
The episode includes a glimpse of Seinfeld’s animated bee character, Barry B. Benson, from the DreamWorks movie, dialogue about the film and even a shot of Seinfeld turning to the camera to mention the film’s November 2 opening date.
NBC said the “Bee Movie” references were intended for comic effect, not as product placement — a growing marketing practice derided by critics as “stealth advertising.”
“There was no product placement involved,” a spokesman for the General Electric Co-controlled network said. “The producers and writers liked the inside joke and the humor that came from talking about Jerry and his latest project.”
In an interview with Seinfeld released by NBC, the comedian said he didn’t ask for the in-show plug, “But everybody thought it was funny, so we are doing it.”
Seinfeld’s appearance on “30 Rock” is his first on a prime-time series since “Seinfeld” ended its NBC run in 1998, and it clearly takes the promotional spin cycle a step further.
“Everybody involved is winking at it and saying it’s almost shameless to be doing this,” TV Guide critic Matt Roush said. “But ... it’s not fooling anybody that he’s there to help ‘30 Rock’ and ‘30 Rock’ is helping promote ‘Bee Movie.’”
In Thursday’s episode, Seinfeld plays himself opposite Alec Baldwin, whose character, network executive Jack Donaghy, comes up with the idea of digitally inserting NBC-owned footage of Seinfeld into every other show on NBC’s schedule.
Seeking to mollify an angry Seinfeld, Donaghy offers him free network advertising for his upcoming film, “Bee Movie.”
Thursdays have long been one of the most lucrative nights on U.S. television because of high viewership and, as a result, advertisers including major movie studios pay top dollar for ads on prime-time shows.
Seinfeld also is appearing in a series of 20 “minisodes,” or short sketches, specially created to run on NBC to promote his film.