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August 31, 2015

'Modern Family' Was One Long iPad Commercial Last Night

by Joel Keller, posted Apr 1st 2010 7:08PM
Julie Bowen holds a friggin' iPad on 'Modern Family'We live in a TiVo world, and its impact has been spilling out all over our favorite shows in the form of product placement. The judges on 'American Idol' drink out of huge Coke or Vitamin Water cups. The chefs on 'Top Chef' use Calphalon equipment, as all the logo close-ups tell us. The folks at the Buy More on 'Chuck' really love their Subway sandwiches.

We get it. It's the way of the TV world these days, as someone's got to the pay the freight in a world where you can zap a commercial by pushing a button.

But, when entire stories on shows play out like an ad for a product, then things have gone too far. Unfortunately, my favorite new show, 'Modern Family,' took things that step too far last night with their iPad-themed plot. It felt like one long Apple commercial. Never mind that the episode aired just in time for the device's release on Saturday; the iPad drove the plot rather than the plot necessitating the use of an iPad. And that's where the producers crossed the line.

For those who didn't see it: Manchild Phil Dunphy (the fantastic Ty Burrell) wants to stand on line for the iPad, whose release happens to fall on his birthday. As part of his birthday present, his ever-patient wife Claire (the equally fantastic Julie Bowen) volunteers to stand online with the Apple geeks in order to get it.

But she blows it, and she spends the entire episode trying to make up for it. This includes recruiting her brother Mitchell (the also fantastic Jesse Tyler Ferguson) to stand on line with her, which leads him to get into a fight as he shows off his new self-defense skills.

At first, hearing gadget geek Phil extol the virtues of the iPad -- which to me just seems like an overgrown iPod Touch -- and tell his wife that waiting a week to get the device was death to an early adopter, was annoying but acceptable. Yes, it felt like the producers had gotten together with the folks at Apple when they decided that Phil just needed to have some sort of new gadget as soon as it came out, but at least things were still subtle.

Then I kept hearing the word 'iPad' over and over and over again, and it just got to the point where I felt Apple wrote the script, and not Steven Levitan's writing staff. And then there was this scene, after Claire finds out there are still some iPads available at a nearby mall:

Did we really need to see that wide shot of the front of the Apple store there? Just a scene of people standing in line in front of a store that had iPad displays in the windows would have been enough of a clue. But that scene just sledgehammered the fact home just a little too hard.

But, then it got worse, as Phil's dunderheaded son Luke (the equally fantastic Nolan Gould) aced one from one of Phil's gadget geek buddies by saying his dad was dying:

What, the geek friend didn't keep the box it came in? Oh yeah, a box would obscure the money shot of the product in its full glory. Ugh. Then the final scene, where Claire downloaded a birthday cake app and brought it out instead of the destroyed cake, and Phil "blew out" the candles, made me just slightly ill. Look, folks! The iPad is so cool that you can even use it as a $500 substitute for a yummy $20 cake! Steve Jobs must have written that scene himself.

Look, I'm not an Apple hater; I love my iPod Touch, and one day I may convert from being a PC guy to a Mac guy. But this company has enough buzz from tech media types who get the vapors every time Jobs dons his black mock turtleneck to introduce a new product, and it's not like they don't already have a monstrous advertising budget. Do they really need to infect our favorite shows, too?

(UPDATE: Some of the commenters sent me a link to an LA Times piece that talked about the episode. Apparently there was no product placement deal in place; all Apple did was provide an iPad to the show. So the producers turned the show into one long Apple ad for nothing? Jeez, that makes it even worse.)

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The episode was clever, funny, and timely. It it were produced in the early 80's it might have been about Cabbage Patch dolls, except that Phil likes technology, like his big-screen TV. Being the dolt that he is, is Phil the best spokesperson for an iPad product-placement ad? It seems unlikely. Does anybody really want to be like Phil?
It was just another show, that's all.

April 29 2010 at 8:07 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dan H

Loved the IPad stuff...really made me laugh, and while I figured it was product placement, it did make me laugh, and felt believable and necassary to the story.

The part where Manny won in chess in 5 moves was the only part that bugged me. Noone who has played chess for more than a month would ever fall for that. It was funny, but didn't ring true, while the IPad stuff did.

April 05 2010 at 8:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I didn't read all the comments so I don't know if this has already been covered. But, one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to TV shows it fake products and blacked-out logos. To me, one of the most distracting things about a TV show is logos removed from cars (see "The Middle" or "Human Target"). I *know* it's a Chevy (or a Ford or a BMW), so why remove the logo and leave a black bowtie or oval or circle? It really annoys the crap out of me. Or why, when a TV character is searching online, can't they just use Google? Why is it always a fake search engine? Let's face it: just about everyone uses Google. Making up something fake for a TV show takes me *out* of the narrative.

So, when it comes to Modern Family, I think the same reasoning holds true. I can easily believe that Phil is a gadget junkie - it completely fits in with his personality. Yet if the producers had made up an obviously fake gadget, I would have absolutely hated it. That it was an iPad - and that the iPad's release date was so near - made it *believeable*. If you're concerned about product placement, get over yourself. It's called real life. And I like my TV better when it reflects that.

April 04 2010 at 10:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Guess Who

It was a little over the top...but just a little.

That said, remember that "My Name is Earl " episode that was a 22 minute long Kay Jewelers commercial? It was poorly done and (in my opinion) the worst episode of a great series.

When Modern Family hits syndication in a few years, whatever new "it" tech will make the "IPad" look like something cavemen used.

April 02 2010 at 3:09 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Wait until you find out that entire character was made up for marketing purposes. Tech companies pay big for product placement and he is talking about one or the other every week.... I'm just kidding of course, but it could be.

I find the updated part extra sad too. The writers are so gadget obsessed that getting a new toy influenced their work this much? I'd hate to think they didn't care about the show enough to make it about advancing the plot.

April 02 2010 at 1:31 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Tony DIMeo

bug killer is right you are reading too much into this joel

April 02 2010 at 12:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I definitely thought this was true to Phil's character. I knew people would get pissed, but he really is that goofy.
The Steve Jobs and God line was hilarious.

Great show.

April 01 2010 at 11:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Alex's comment

I completely agree with this.

Phil is like an older me, and this is EXACTLY how i would be in that position. They freakin' nailed it, and with the use of a real life product, it just made it even more funny.

April 02 2010 at 10:02 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It was way over the top. It worked too. I think I am gonna get one. I am posting from my iPhone now but might be funner on an ipad.

April 01 2010 at 11:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

If it's a choice between product placement in a series or commercials between a series, I'd choose product placement in the series every time. I skip all commercials in between. Sorry, they're pointless. And with a DVR, easily avoidable.

Does that mean I'm going to buy Coke if I watch American Idol. Sorry, no. I'm not a coke drinker, and never will be. Does it mean I'm going to buy an iPad because of Modern Family. No. But I had pre-orded an iPad long before it was on Modern Family. That it featured an iPad was simply a bonus and rather amusing and totally in character for Phil.

The one type of advertising I've NEVER understood is the pop over ads if you're watching video online. What's that about? I mean there's TONS of real estate available BELOW the video, why overlap on top of what you're watching so that you HAVE to close it? Stupid in my opinion.

But anyway, advertising is probably evolving so that one day there probably won't be commercial breaks as we know them today. And I would be totally fine with it.

April 01 2010 at 10:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I really feel, like with the comment over me, that the opinions on Apple, or the iPad itself, are the ones talking.

I think that by this point, we have Phil pegged as a technophile. He never adviced anyone to buy an iPad. His wife was pretty clear that for her was a "toy".

Phil acted in character, and that's the most important thing for me.

April 01 2010 at 9:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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