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Television: The Selling of Lipstick:

The good news is Lipstick Jungle is one of the best new shows on TV. The bad news is they use the show to continually push products at us, namely lipstick and clothing. That makes Lipstick Jungle too much like an infomercial. We might still watch, but we won’t respect ourselves in the morning. Lipstick Jungle, in fact, makes it blatant and true: direct product tie-ins like this died in the 1950s. Or did they?

TIVOs and DVRs have cut advertising saturation by roughly 12 percent. That amount of time lost as consumers happily skip the commercials, has to be made up somehow. They have toyed with different options, but integrating the products into the shows, not just with product placement but also with outright selling, seems to be the approach of choice at the moment.

It was a little jarring at first, when Lipstick Jungle debuted. The commercial break immediately introduces the type of lipstick or makeup a character is wearing and how you the viewer can get that look. If you visit the website of the show, nbc.com/lipstickjungle/, you’ll see how products are integrated into the site much the way they are on the show.

What’s interesting about this is that it doesn’t impact the quality of the show at all; it is still a good show, and I’m one viewer who can put up with the annoying product pushing in order to see the funny and complex characters taking it one day at a time.

Lipstick Jungle stars a never-been-better Brooke Shields as Wendy, a movie mogul like, oh, I don’t know, a younger Sherry Lansing maybe, Kim Raver as Nico, the editor of a hot fashion magazine called Bonfire (as in of the Vanities, as in Vanity Fair), and Lindsay Price as Victory, a clothing designer currently dating a billionaire.

The three women are in various stages of life, stripped bare of clichés. Wendy, for instance, has kids and is married to an out-of-work composer. Nico is having an affair with a younger man who has just sued her for sexual harassment but withdrew the case in order to continue his affair with her. The least interesting character, Victory, is probably there to be eye candy as her storyline is tough to buy and is only interesting in so much as her boyfriend is a reluctant partner, very rich and very anti-social.

What makes the show work ultimately is that these women are realistically close. They depend on one another for various things, but mostly they are there for moral support. It is a smarter Sex and the City where the object of the show is balancing the various aspects of being a modern working woman. It isn’t just about finding a hot date or a good pair of shoes; there is much more going on here, like dealing with being too powerful or aging or parenting.

Nonetheless, with so much endorsement by the show towards certain products, it makes the whole thing feel a bit phony. Selling beauty products depends on women seeking continual self-improvement. Taking that concept and applying it to characters we admire is not something I would wish upon my daughter, for instance. When did it become so easy to believe what advertisers wanted us to believe?

In the end, I will probably watch Lipstick Jungle until it jumps the shark. I hope they take a second look at the heavy rotation of beauty products, however. It makes their serious storylines somehow less important. These characters, and women in general, deserve better.

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