‘The Crazy Ones’ Uses Real Companies for Realism, Not Product Placement

Sarah Michelle Gellar and Robin Williams of "The Crazy Ones" (Photo: Monty Brinton/CBS)

The new CBS sitcom “The Crazy Ones” from David E. Kelley (“Boston Legal,” “The Practice” and “Ally McBeal”) stars several A-Listers: Robin Williams, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Kelly Clarkson in a memorable guest appearance, and, perhaps the best known of all, McDonald’s.

The fast-food restaurant is featured so prominently in the pilot for the series, which is about a father-daughter team (Williams and Gellar) running an ad agency, that it almost seems as if it should have its own title card in the opening credits. In an era where characters use Bing to locate supernatural creatures on “The Vampire Diaries” and everyone on “The Voice” always has a cup of Starbucks coffee in their hands, it’s natural to assume that McDonald’s paid for product placement in the episode. Actually, the restaurant chain had nothing to do with it.

Executive producer Jason Winer explained that the use of real companies on the show was a deliberate choice that added realism to its advertising-themed premise. “To the extent that David [Kelley] based the show on [advertising executive] John [Montgomery] and his numerous conversations with him about his life, McDonald’s came up repeatedly because that’s his biggest client over the years and David is nothing if not true to real life … so I think that’s how McDonald’s organically made it into the story in the first place.”

Winer admits he worries people will think the references to major brands are product placement but thinks they are an essential part of the show. “As far as going forward in series, using a real brand is exciting for a show about advertising because you get to make it feel more authentic. If you’re making up names for products, suddenly the world doesn’t feel real, so we’re only using the names of products because they give the story authenticity.”

He emphasized that the companies that are referenced in the show have no say in how they are portrayed. “So far no money has exchanged hands. McDonald’s did not pay for their placement at all and they did not have final approval over anything that happened in the pilot. In fact, I’m really determined that, given the fact that there were references to them, we be allowed to be irreverent with the brand, thus the Drive-Thru Lovin’ song [a very sexual jingle], which isn’t necessarily on brand for them.”

Another cast member, James Wolk, also plays scheming account executive Bob Benson on the other show set in the advertising industry that references real products, “Mad Men.” He joked, “I only do ad agencies now. Strictly marketing and advertising.”

Williams had his own take on the show’s use of real products. “For me, I want to see if we can make up a new product for a real company like Apple, the Apple i i that goes beyond Google Glass, behind your frontal lobe. The idea of way beyond Attention Deficit Disorder, Digital Attention Disorder, DAD.” Williams was seemingly unaware that he had just pitched the premise of another new CBS show, “Intelligence.”

“The Crazy Ones” premieres Thursday, Sept. 26 at 9/8c on CBS.

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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