Beware the Space InvadersWhy lower-third ad bugs must be stopped (even though they won't be) 8/08/2008 08:00:00 PM Eastern
Lower-third promos. Snipes. Animated billboards. Whatever you want to call those annoying bottom-of-the-screen ads that interrupt, invade and deface TV shows in progress, I call them detestable. They must be stopped.
But of course, the TV business being what it is, they won't. Instead, they'll spread, mutate and grow, like an insidious virus. Or like reality shows.
It's ridiculous. Viewers already have to put up with so much just to watch a TV show they like. Credits are scrunched so small you can't read them, just to make room for a promo. Add the ads, and is it any wonder some TV fans wait for the DVD release to watch their favorites?
On broadcast commercial TV or basic cable, the ads between segments of a show run so long, you can almost forget what show you're watching. But you'll never forget which network you're watching, because all of them have branded themselves, like cattle, with unavoidable “bugs” at the bottom of the screen.
I can live with bugs. In such a fractured and competitive TV universe, they make sense and aren't that intrusive. But last year, networks began adding more information to the bottom of the screen, and leaving it superimposed there. Messages such as “AMERICAN GLADIATORS SUNDAY 9” obscured the face of a character on NBC's Friday Night Lights.
I love Friday Night Lights. I hate American Gladiators. Yet for an hour, when watching the former, the promo for the latter was forced down my throat. For me, it became an anti-ad, leaving me more determined than ever to avoid American Gladiators, just on principle.
These, I guess, could be called “Superbugs,” and they're infesting TV like video cockroaches. It's hard to watch a show these days where some part of the screen isn't promoting something else. Many of these bugs have grown to giant size and become animated, literally popping up when you least expect them—and least want them.
When AMC televised Jaws last month, it waited until one of the most quietly dramatic scenes in the movie—the scene in which Robert Shaw, as Quint, was telling his shipmates about the horrible shark attacks that followed the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in 1945—to present a giant animated pop-up ad about the season premiere of Mad Men.
Now, I love Mad Men as much as the next guy (more, if truth be told), but I detested the unwanted, unnecessary appearance of that promo at that time. Did it distract from the intensity of that scene? Of course it did. It's a practice that insults both the viewers and the creators of whatever's being televised.
The more these things are animated and aggressively inserted, the more they compete directly with what's being shown in the first place. Anybody who witnessed all the times last fall that Fox slid metal skulls with glowing red eyes onto the bottom thirds of shows to promote The Sarah Connor Chronicles knows that.
In the lead-up to the Olympics, you couldn't watch an NBC show without seeing divers, gymnasts or volleyball players swimming, spinning or spiking their way across the bottom of the screen. Some networks introduce their TV space invaders like pop-up books, having characters burst up, move around, demand attention and then fold away again.
More than 20 years ago, the futuristic TV series Max Headroom imagined a world in which networks would present “blipverts”—ads that were subliminal, inescapable and potentially harmful. Ladies and gentlemen, if you've been watching television the past year, you have seen the future—and it's blipverts.
While most of the industry seems to have accepted and embraced this brave new world of promotional intrusion, at least one person on TV (fittingly, an animated one) has fought back. Marge Simpson, as host of last November's “Treehouse of Horror XVIII” on The Simpsons, was introducing her trilogy of stories when a giant logo of American Idol appeared on-screen. She reached for her DustBuster and vacuumed it up.
But the lower-third invasion wasn't through yet. Next came an animated squad of football players, streaming out of a “Football on Fox” banner. Marge dealt with them with a can of bug spray. Then all at once came tiny animated representatives of other Fox shows, and Marge dispatched them as quickly as they popped up. Jack Bauer of 24? Pinned like an insect by a refrigerator magnet. Dr. House of House? Exploded in a microwave.
“Can't anyone just watch the show they're watching?” Marge asked in exasperation.
I know just how she feels.