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NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) - Figuring out where "30 Rock" ends and commercials begin requires a sharp eye thanks to American Express.
Recent episodes of the NBC series have been interspersed with the credit card company's so-called "podbusters": content segments featuring "Rock" cast members that appear right before the commercial break.
For instance, a viewer with an itchy trigger finger on TiVo's fast-forward button might have held off when "Rock" stars Jack McBrayer, Jane Krakowski and Scott Adsit appeared in a holiday-themed segment that had nothing to do with the episode's story line.
Ten such segments have been produced, with each running 35 or 65 seconds. They carry a "Holiday Fun Times From American Express" tag that drives viewers to NBC.com/americanexpress for additional exclusive content. (NBC declined comment on whether it compensated "Rock" talent or the show's producers for the segments.)
Also running during "Rock" is Amex's ubiquitous spot starring "Rock" creator-star Tina Fey as a harried series producer juggling a multitude of tasks, which also blends with the show.
"For years the networks wouldn't let a commercial featuring a TV star run in the body of their show because they felt it was too much of an endorsement," said one media agency executive who declined to be identified. "It was confusing for the consumer. I guess now that they're letting brands integrate into the shows, they've changed the rules. It's very clever within the body of the show."
Podbusters emanate from an overall multimillion-dollar ad buy that Amex negotiated with NBC to provide more creative advertising solutions beyond just 30-second spots. These in turn allow NBC to defray the costs of fledgling series like "Rock."
Sources indicate that the cost to Amex to air the content is comparable to that of traditional commercial time. Amex declined comment and NBC cited its policy not to comment on the financing of its client deals.
Mike Malone, vp at entertainment marketing firm Alliance, said running podbusters adjacent to the show's content is a "clever and unique way" for Amex to wage the "continuing battle with DVR technology."
But Amex said it did not strategically place the Fey ad so that the "Rock" audience would think it was still watching the show.
"We're not trying to blur lines or confuse people," said Amex's Nancy Smith, vp global media and sponsorships. "We're actually coming at this from finding a way to engage and entertain people."
Running the Fey ad during "Rock" also is not a new move for the advertiser. It aired spots featuring Ellen DeGeneres, also depicting the comedian on the set of her show, during her daytime talker.