Product placement? Fine, but then can you get rid of commercial breaks?

Product placement is as old as TV itself, and if anything it’s less insidious now than it was in the early days of television. But it seems to be coming back in a big way, and while I’m over my initial offense at seeing my favorite shows turn into “advertainment,” I still find it incredibly distracting, even when it’s funny.

Case in point, in last night’s episode of The Office, Kevin got some rare screen time and proceeded to giddily demonstrate the awesome power of the company’s shredder. Note I called it a “shredder,” not a “paper shredder,” because as Kevin demonstrated, it can shred not only a fistful of paper at once, but also such surprising objects as CDs and (OK, this joke was a little too broad) credit cards.

The thing that distracted me was that there was a prominently placed “Staples” logo on the front of the shredder. In fact, it looked like a sticker slapped on for advertising purposes in the show, and not something that’s actually a part of the unit’s design.

What really got me was that at the next commercial break, there was a Staples ad for this exact shredder!

I’ve gotten used to the product placement in The Office, what with the frequent after-work visits to Chili’s (always prominently showing the neon sign outside), and the entire Christmas episode written around the iPod. But it’s getting to the point where in some ways the show feels like a lead-in to the commercial break.

Earlier, a network promo pumped up interest in upcoming NBC shows next week, and concluded with “…And stay tuned for Ellen’s new commercial!” which at first suggested to me that Ellen DeGeneres was starting a new primetime NBC show. But no. It was an American Express commercial. And NBC promoted it as if it were one of their programs. (They even had her name on screen with the bouncing letters and pointing peacock feather that they’re using this year.)

Then, of course, we have the premiere episode of 30 Rock, in which Alec Baldwin’s character bragged about having invented the GE Trivection Oven (and how he had been promoted to Director of Television and Microwave Programming). The way the oven was described in the show made it seem like an over-the-top joke (the way SNL, I believe it was, had joked about four-blade razors a few years ago… certainly before Gillette introduced a five-blade razor last year — although I suppose technically that’s actually a “5.1-blade” razor, in true Surround Sound style). But then, you guessed it, the first commercial break featured an ad for none other than the GE Trivection Oven… a real product! (And one manufactured by NBC’s parent company, no less.)

I’d be outraged, if I weren’t such a tool.

Oh, by the way… if anyone wants to get me that shredder or a Trivection for Christmas, I’d love to receive either.