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What Tina Fey Would Do for a SoyJoy

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When there is quid pro quo, he adds, “in TV the head writers are also producers. If we are having and/or eating any cake, it’s only because we are succeeding in serving both the creative and the financial. And isn’t that what TV is all about?” Fortunately, “some companies are willing to pay to be part of the joke.”

The e-mail ends, “If you mention Papa John’s Pizza in this article, I get $40. I’ll give you 10.”

A few weeks later, Fey gives a quote to Entertainment Weekly clarifying her show’s philosophy. “We called [our deal] out really hard to let people know. If it’s a commercial, you’re going to know it’s a commercial.”

But that’s simply not true. The three integrations I know of on 30 Rock are Snapple, Verizon, and SoyJoy. I didn’t realize SoyJoy was an integration, though—I assumed it was a joke, like “Sabor de Soledad,” Liz Lemon’s favorite snack. Then a few weeks later, I saw a SoyJoy tank top in Us Weekly. I Googled it, and sure enough, “SoyJoy. Fortified with optimism!”

I call Lisa Herdman, the national television buyer at RPA, the advertising agency that handles the SoyJoy account. She’s piqued that I’d mistaken SoyJoy for a fake product. “Do you watch television?” she asks. “We’ve run our spots everywhere that any female 18 to 49 would watch!”

“If these writers think they have some sort of integrity that’s above Snapple, they’re kidding themselves.”

The SoyJoy integration was part of a larger media buy, she explains, linked with NBC’s “Green Week.” SoyJoy produced 40-second “green tips.” It sponsored Bravo’s Top Chef. And on 30 Rock, since the script for the episode in question—which centered on a fictional reality series called MILF Island—was already written, the writers inserted SoyJoy into a B-plot, in which Liz Lemon’s co-writer Pete gets his arm stuck in a vending machine. The brand was also the fictional sponsor of MILF Island. At one point, we hear its slogan in the background, contrasting with Pete’s state of despair. “That was the week ‘fortified with optimism’ was locked and loaded for us,” Herdman tells me. “And we encouraged them to get that on there somehow.”

But Herdman was most enthusiastic about SoyJoy’s next appearance, on The Closer, where the heroine, Brenda, is trying to develop healthier eating habits. “She reaches into her purse, offers it to her friend, and he says, ‘No thank you.’ ”

Does Brenda’s friend make fun of the product? “Oh, no, no, no, no,” Herdman says—on The Closer, SoyJoy hoped for more control. “The people at The Closer saw the 30 Rock episode, and their first attempt at an integration was that Brenda goes to a vending machine. And honestly? You can’t get SoyJoy out of a vending machine. There’s something about the weight of the product. We allowed 30 Rock to do that, but now we don’t want people to think they can go to vending machines to get SoyJoy.” Her voice is serious. “You know, we’re adamant that they don’t use the word ‘bar.’ Because it’s not a bar. When they presented the idea that Brenda was to taste it and offer it, I was like, as long as he doesn’t say, ‘Ew, gross.’ We’re targeting females, so for a male to decline is not a horrible thing, although we’d love for everyone to eat it.”

It occurs to me that the 30 Rock integration was a failed experiment. After all, the product looked to me (a woman 18 to 49!) like a punch line. The Pete B-plot was the weakest element of an otherwise funny episode—and worse, a male character reached for the SoyJoy.

“Yeah, honestly, I had my own idea of exactly how I wanted it,” Herdman tells me. “My initial thought was, Let’s get it to Liz Lemon. There’s a study somewhere that says soy is beneficial to menopausal women. So I had written it up that, who’s the page? Kenneth. That Kenneth was handing it to Liz Lemon, saying, ‘Ooh, someone might need some soy.’ But they’re not going to take what I say. It’s Tina Fey. And she’s brilliant.”

Keith Powell plays a minor character on 30 Rock, Toofer, the black writer from Harvard. He admires Tina Fey for her ability to alchemize her experiences, he tells me. “I think that’s what Tina’s relationship really is, figuring out how to exist as an artist in the corporate world. NBC gives notes. And Tina, instead of fighting it or giving into it, Tina uses it.”

But although he loved the Verizon bit, Powell does mention one experience that troubled him. “American Express paid us a tremendous amount to do spots during the commercial breaks. Little mini-storylines to stop people from DVRing through. And at some point, some of the cast members started saying, ‘Are we doing a commercial or are we filming 30 Rock?’ ”


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