Some of television’s top creative talents urged networks and studios Wednesday to give writers a greater say when products are woven into the story lines.
John Wells of “ER” and Marc Cherry of “Desperate Housewives” joined Writers Guild of America officials at a hotel news conference to criticize the encroachment of products into scripts.
The WGA timed the event to coincide with the networks’ “upfronts,” when thousands of advertisers converge in Manhattan for the unveiling of fall schedules.
“By the time we realize that we’ve gone too far we will have chased away some of the elusive audience that we worked so hard to get,” Wells said.
Wells gave an example of a meeting he attended by the makers of presidential limousines at which it was suggested that an entire episode of his recently ended show “The West Wing” be built around their product.
“It was very, very uncomfortable to say that while I admired the construction of their limousine, the viewers of ‘The West Wing’ would probably not respond well to an entire episode about the car,” Wells said.
At a breakfast with reporters, CBS Corp. Chief Executive Leslie Moonves said he was somewhat sympathetic.
“There’s no question that it’s important that these discussions be appropriately held with our creative people,” Moonves said. “That’s what we are doing, what we are trying to do and will continue that.”
The Writers Guild event drew a muted response from J. Nicholas Counter, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
“There is a mechanism for dealing with this and we would welcome a meeting on the subject,” Counter said.
Patric Verrone, president of the Writers Guild of America, West, said writers were becoming increasingly concerned as the lines between advertising content and story lines blur. At the behest of broadcast and cable networks, product integration has expanded from reality shows to scripted fare.
In addition to Wells and Cherry, Verone was joined by Neal Baer of NBC’s “Law & Order: SVU” and Dave Rupel of Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Orange County.”
The use of paid “product integration” has become prevalent in television as advertisers grapple for ways to ensure that more people see their commercial messages rather than zip through them using digital video recorders such as TiVo.
Cherry said he’s been able to say no to products that don’t feel right for his show, but less successful writers and producers might not have the clout to do so.
“Ultimately, the writer is the gatekeeper of the quality, and Lord knows it’s not the network or the studio or the advertisers,” he said. “We’re the ones who take care of the baby.”
Times staff writers Matea Gold and Richard Verrier contributed to this report.