Do you ever wonder how the "Fab Five" on Bravo's Queer Eye for the Straight Guy pay for all those expensive items of clothing and furniture that they use in their makeovers? Time Magazine reports that they don't. Instead, New York City retailers provide the high-end merchandise for free in return for the TV exposure ... and the exposure is worth it.

According to Time, sales of a $2,600 sofa and a $900 coffee table provided by NYC furniture store Desiron quadrupled in the month after both were used in a Queer Eye episode. Another furniture store, Domain, renamed a $3,100 settee to a "chofa" after furniture guy Thom Filicia used the made-up term (meaning that it was bigger than a chair but smaller than a sofa) -- and sales of the chofa are double sales of the settee. Ralph Lauren sold 12 bubblegum-pink men's cashmere jackets for $795 each in one week after one of the straight guys modeled it -- and he didn't even choose it!

Although Queer Eye has no plans to charge for the product placement at this time, other reality shows have taken a more aggressive approach. For example, as discussed in this prior story, Home Depot has taken over as primary sponsor of TLC's Trading Places, while its rival Lowe's (which used to have that slot) now sponsors TBS's upcoming House Rules. Also, Mark Burnett, who is regarded as an innovator in aggressive product placement from his work on CBS's Survivor, had the entire production costs of NBC's The Restaurant paid by advertisers in return for product placement.

Nevertheless, there is something a little different about the use of free goods in return for product placement on Queer Eye. After all, how many of us wouldn't do a pretty good job of improving the look of our clothes and our homes on our own if we could get whatever we wanted for free?

The product-placement bandwagon has expanded beyond reality TV. According to Television Week, Mark Burnett's move into scripted television, discussed in this article, has been fueled by an attempt to increase the percentage of production costs receovered from product placement. Burnett's planned series Are We There Yet?, which was not picked up for the fall schedule by The WB network, was built around the idea of product "integration." A WB VP said that, in the proposed series, "You're not just going to see blatant product shots. You're going to have story lines that could involve some of the different products, which is a great opportunity for an advertiser." We do not know whether the failure of Are We There Yet? to be added to the WB fall schedule resulted from its creative weaknesses or from the lack of response by potential advertisers (identified in part as credit-card companies, fast-food chains, camera makers, wireless networks and laptop computer makers).

In fact, as discussed in this Television Week interview with CBS head honcho Les Moonves, The WB has been trying a "total-product-placement" program. However, Moonves seems skeptical of the ability of product placement to be expanded outside of the reality genre, noting that "hav[ing] a character in NYPD Blue or CSI using a product effectively [is] stretching the envelope a little too far at the moment." In fact, Moonves compares the experiment unflatteringly to ABC's disastrous attempt to air only shows to which it owned the syndication rights, noting that "a back-end is the icing on the cake. It is not the cake. If it becomes the cake, you've got a big problem. If you are putting a show on purely because you own it, you are an idiot, and you will lose at the game." We couldn't have descibed ABC/Disney's recent scheduling better ourselves.