Monday night was the third time that I have heard a sneaky plug for In-N-Out Burger in only about six episodes that I have watched of the new L.A. area-based “The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien.” When I heard this burger blurt come up in conversation for the first time a couple of weeks ago, with a guest (Tom Hanks, I think) advising Conan on where to find great burgers in L.A., it sounded genuine. When, a few days later, I heard it for the second time in the exact same context with a different guest, I began to have suspicions. Then, on Monday night, my suspicions seem to have been confirmed.
Conan was talking to Cameron Diaz about the differences between New York City and Los Angeles. Conan said he has not been able to find good pizza or bagels in L.A. But, he said, Los Angeles has great hamburgers. I knew what was coming next. Sure enough, Cameron asked Conan if he had a favorite burger in L.A. Conan said something like, “I might get in trouble for this, but those In-N-Out burgers are insane!” And then Cameron agreed, saying something like “I know!” At this point, the frequency of this hamburger homily, and the identical way in which it keeps being repeated, seems too coincidental to be unplanned.
We live in an age of increasing product placements on television, and we even have entire television programs centered around a product (can you say, The Junior Mint?) It’s also obvious that talk shows are largely scripted, and revolve around overt commercial plugs. But even given all that, repeatedly sneaking a patty placement into conversation between a talk show host and his guest, and not identifying it as such, is, in my view, a new low. I expected more integrity than that from Conan.