Since Survivor first aired on CBS in the summer of 2002, viewers have noted (and sometimes complained about) the continuing number of product placements in the show. Sponsoring products have been incorporated directly into the production, ranging from food rewards to computer "cafes" to SUVs for overnight sleeping. Now, with his new NBC show The Restaurant, Survivor executive producer Mark Burnett has carried that concept one step further.

According to Hollywood Reporter, the entire production cost of The Restaurant was paid by the show's three main sponsors: American Express, Mitsubishi Motors and Coors Brewing. NBC paid not one penny of license fee to have the show made. To justify its investment, each of the sponsors has received a prominent place in the show: American Express provides the financing for the restaurant, "Rocco's" in Manhattan; the founder/chef Rocco DiSpirito drives a Mitsubishi SUV; and Rocco's features brands of beer owned by Coors.

Said Burnett, "It's a great opportunity for sponsors to have more control and networks to have less risk. It's a very good business move for [advertisers] to have integration into the show that can't be TiVo'd out."

Of course, in the early days of television, such integration between advertiser and show was quite common. Such links persisted into the 1970s; the movie Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, for example, was entirely funded by Quaker Oats, which used the movie to promote its new "Wonka" brand of candy and sweets. Once again, Mark Burnett is leading television forward into the past. We hope that The Restaurant is able to follow in the high-quality footsteps of Willie Wonka ... and not end up as an infomercial for its sponsors.

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Interestingly, Hollywood Reporter also points out that the show is NOT owned by Mark Burnett Productions or Survivor Entertainment Group. Instead, it is owned by Magna Global Entertainment, a unit of the advertising powerhouse Interpublic (which lined up the sponsors), and by Reveille, a joint production venture of Ben Silverman and Universal Television Group, which produced the USA Networks' reality series Nashville Star.

So ... the show had a producer and a backer BEFORE it ever hooked up with Mark Burnett. What did Burnett bring to the table that would justify the hefty fees that he would charge to come in as a "hired gun" to oversee the program -- as opposed to, say, a straight documentary producer, who probably would have charged far less and had relevant experience to boot? We don't know, since no article has raised the question directly with Reveille or Magna.

However, in our opinion, Burnett does bring relevant experience of two types. First, although it stages locations and challenges, Survivor is the reality show most like a documentary -- even more so than ostensibly unstaged shows like The Osbournes -- and no one else has ever done it as well as Burnett. Second, he is the only producer who has proven that he can keep both viewers and advertisers happy while doing continual and prominent product placement. If The Restaurant succeeds, look for the birth of a new hybrid -- the "advertainment," which will do more for big-budget advertisers than infomercials have done for small-budget ones.

We'd love to go on about why we don't think Survivor's product placement has any influence on viewer purchasing behavior, but it's time for us to finish off our Doritos and Mountain Dew and drive away in our Pontiac Aztecs....