"Dolls, product endorsements, clothing lines ... How did we get to this???"
Last week at a red-carpet event in Manhattan, actor Chris Noth (aka "Mr. Big" from the Sex and the City franchise) went on a bit of a rant about the reasons why the SATC 2 movie bombed at the box office last summer. In his words:
"It’s over. The franchise is dead. The press killed it. Your magazine fucking killed it. New York Magazine. It's like all the critics got together and said, 'This franchise must die.' Because they all had the exact same review. It’s like they didn’t see the movie.
Actually, were Chris Noth honest with himself (and with us), he would acknowledge what is painfully obvious to everyone else. What killed the SATC 2 movie and forever sullied the memory of the critically acclaimed HBO television series, was the ridiculous amount of product placement and merchandising surrounding the movie. Perhaps the movie-going public would have minded the never-ending parade of designer bags/clothes/shoes/watches/cars/etc. less had more care been taken to develop the plot lines and dialogue. Sadly, that wasn't the case.
The rampant commercialization began in the first SATC movie. So thin was the plot, so insipid was the dialogue that I recall sitting through that movie and feeling like I was watching one very long luxury brand infomercial masquerading as a movie. This penchant for stuffing every second of the film with every designer brand known to man reportedly continued unabated in SATC 2 only with an even weaker plot and more insipid dialogue. I use the term "reportedly" because I couldn't bring myself to see it. I didn't make that decision based on a critic's review. I made it because I was so thoroughly disappointed with SATC 1 that I wasn't about to pay for the privilege of being disappointed again. Maybe the movie bombed because like me, former fans of the television series simply had had enough of paying for the privilege of being marketed to by the once-beloved characters so they, like me, stayed home.
I wouldn't really care about the demise of the SATC franchise all that much were it not for the fact that something very similar is happening to another critically acclaimed television series: Mad Men. While product placement in this context is a trickier affair because the series is a meticulously-researched period drama, the show's producer Matthew Weiner has displayed a keen interest in cashing in on the series' success. At last count, there was the limited edition Mad Men dolls, a Banana Republic line of office basics for men and women inspired (and modelled) by Mad Men's lead characters and most recently, the series' lead costume designer Janie Bryant launched a capsule collection of vintage-inspired women's apparel and accessories on QVC. So far, none of the products do justice to the overall aesthetic of the period let alone to the series' gravitas. In plain English, these merchandising deals are cheapening the series.
Given his enthusiasm for co-branding, how long before the clever Mr. Weiner finds a way to work product placements directly into his critically-acclaimed television series? Can a limited-edition, vintage-inspired designer handbag line paraded around from scene to scene by the female leads ("The Joan", "The Betty", "The Peggy") or a re-edition of a vintage designer watch prominently dispayed on Don's wrist as he knocks back "Old Fashions" be far behind? Before he goes down that road though, Mr. Weiner might want to have a heart-to-heart with Michael-Patrick King. I understand he's got plenty of time on his hands these days now that his penchant for cashing in has killed his franchise.
The Luxe Chronicles