If modern product placement isn’t bad enough, for the past few years networks have been getting extra money by digitally inserting new products into old reruns — in many cases, episodes set before the product was even invented! Consumerist spotted an especially egregious one: In this How I Met Your Mother repeat, behind Robin you can see a stack of books and a magazine with an ad for Kevin James‘ new comedy Zookeeper. There aren’t even any books in the original shot!
This kind of retroactive product placement feels creepily invasive, because it’s not as if the creators or stars of the shows ever had any say in what was getting advertised. At least with 30 Rock and the “Sassy Gay Friend” videos, the participants mock the necessary evil of shilling. The Daily What even linked to an article by Michelle M. Brown, a professor at the College of San Mateo: She details similar examples from the last ten years, like a box of Oreos ending up on the kitchen table in Friends and the Pepsi logo superimposed on a soccer field.
It’s not just advertising. I’ve never been comfortable with current network executives tinkering with reruns, like when Friends episodes shot before 2001 show the New York skyline but are suddenly missing the World Trade Center. Even if the producers were striving for sensitivity, it seems wrong to ignore the fact that the buildings stood in an episode dated 1997. They’re a part of history; to erase them is offensive.
Sure, when you step away it’s clear that TV shows are products — but they’re also entertainment, and they create a world. To start inserting anachronisms or changing the reality those stories are based in takes away that fictional world’s purpose.