Prime time: one long commercial

It seems logical to me that sometime in the not-too-distant future, TV will give up its increasingly feeble efforts at creativity and become a huge electronic shopping mall. We already have the Disney Channel, so don't be surprised if you click on the tube one day soon and see The Procter & Gamble Channel.

As modern broadcasting turns itself into a free-enterprise zone of American culture, more and more companies will realize that tremendous marketing opportunities are waiting to be exploited, and they will move aggressively to take advantage of the situation.

Think I'm exaggerating? The Fox Network recently announced plans for airing several episodes of a new one-hour sports program called "No Boundaries," which was created and produced by the Ford Motor Company. Not surprisingly, Ford has recently been running a "No Boundaries" advertising campaign for a line of trucks. Some critics are worried that the new show is simply Ford's way of tricking viewers into watching a subliminal sales pitch.

If this happened in Casablanca and Captain Renault found out, I'm sure he'd claim to be "shocked, shocked to learn that television is actually mixing entertainment and commercials!"

Also, it doesn't take a financial genius to realize that when you start paying each cast member of "Friends" $750,000 per episode, networks are going to seek out cheaper sources of new programs.

So why not give the sponsors the keys to the candy store and let them make some taffy?

Selling out is what Hollywood does best, but that doesn't mean the result has to be boring. Here are some ideas for company-controlled shows that would surely attract instant audiences.

*"Flood Watch" (drama) - Produced by Roto-Rooter. David Hasselhoff leads a team of streetwise, alluring plumbing experts whose emotional and professional skills are tested each week as they assist families thrown into crisis by really tough clogs that only seem to happen on weekends and holidays.

*"Home Boys" (comedy) - Produced by Century 21. Erik Estrada and Larry Wilcox team up as two dedicated realtors constantly scrambling to satisfy the unpredictable whims of cantankerous clients. The laughs never stop in this madcap mix of lenders, lawn signs, and fluctuating interest rates.

*"Party Line of Five" (family saga) - Produced by Sprint. Sela Ward, currently featured in TV ads for Sprint, expands her role for this series about five adult siblings who live all over the country but are able to remain intensely involved in the trials and tribulations of each other's daily lives with the help of wireless technology and cheap long-distance rates.

*"Thunder Road" (action) - Produced by Jiffy Lube. Mark Harmon and Jane Seymour portray a husband-wife duo specializing in daring outdoor search-and-rescue missions. Success depends on their wits, bravery, and the importance of properly maintaining the vital engine fluids in their fleet of all-terrain vehicles.

*"Them!" (sci-fi) - Produced by Orkin Pest Control. Reprising the classic 1954 thriller about giant ants on the loose, this updated version stars Tom Selleck as a lone scientist battling a colony of enlarged, intelligent cockroaches who plan to conquer America by first claiming protection under the Endangered Species Act and then demanding voting rights in order to seize control of the government. Voice of the Cockroach Leader: Dennis Hopper.

Yes, it's going to be a brave new world on the broadcast spectrum. Minimal standards. Questionable practices. And definitely no boundaries.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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