Nick at Nite, the home-in exile for classic sitcoms, is not the first channel you associate with cutting-edge programming. But tonight at 9:57 p.m. E.T. — yes, I said 9:57 — it’s airing something decidedly different: a 90-second sitcom that aims to prove that dogs can sell odor remover.
The weekly sitcom, At the Poocharellis, is not worth much attention as a TV show; it’s a parody of classic family sitcoms, with the characters played by dogs, a joke that gets old in five seconds (and no, that’s not much longer in dog years). But it’s an interesting sign of a couple of ongoing changes in entertainment. The first is the rise of accelerated mini-entertainments like viral videos. (It actually is amazing how easily you can condense a cliche sitcom plot into 90 seconds–son gets unwillingly sent to a school for geniuses, Mom goes on a housework strike, Dad has to deal with the fussy neighbor, etc.)
The second is the change in the way networks pay for their programming, for At the Poocharellis, you see, is a commercial. Co-created by Procter and Gamble, each episode features Febreze "freshener and odor remover," as well as including a standard commercial break in the middle. Broadcast and cable networks alike have to deal with the fact that some of their most desirable, well-heeled viewers now often skip commercials by using TiVos and other digital video recorders, or by watching shows commercial free on DVD or iPods. And there’s not much room left to cram yet more product placements into, say, Survivor. So one solution is to create commercials that people will actually seek out.
The Poocharellis is probably not that show; for starters, it’s too corny and retro to grab the attention of those young, flush, TiVo-wielding time-shifters. (Its chief benefit will probably be free publicity like this post. I personally have never used Febreze, but makers of fine cleaning sprays and air fresheners are urged to contact me for sponsorship of my reviews, e.g., "This series stinks so bad I needed a full can of Fresh-Aire to clear away the stench!")
To reach the young upscale demo, Procter & Gamble might have considered a show about a doggie mafia that uses its product to clean up blood stains after a job–though they’d probably have had to change the surname to avoid protests from Italian-American defamation groups. Maybe we’ll have to wait for FX to create a doggie series about an effective but corrupt police German Shepherd who works the wrong side of the law. I suggest they call it: The Leash.