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'Modern Family' gives some free love for the iPad

April 1, 2010 | 11:44 am

MODFAMILY

You can't buy the kind of love ABC's hit sitcom "Modern Family" showed for Apple's new iPad, the much-anticipated tablet computer that goes on sale this weekend.

At least Apple didn't buy that love, according to a spokesman for the company.

That's too bad for ABC and 20th Century Fox Television, which makes "Modern Family" for the network, because Wednesday night's episode was a big, wet, sloppy kiss for Steve Jobs' newest gadget and was certainly worthy of some compensation.

If you didn't catch the episode, one of the plots involved geeky father Phil Dunphy's insatiable desire to get an iPad for his birthday. "It's like God and Steve Jobs got together to say, 'We love you, Phil,'" he says.

Alas, his wife blows it by oversleeping and getting to the Apple store too late to buy one. He's devastated that he may have to wait a whole week to get one, which is the worst thing you can say to an "early adopter."

With Phil practically near suicide, his kids reach out to everyone they know, and through a miracle of fate he gets his iPad and the episode ends with him on the couch declaring his love for it.

There will no doubt be theories that the episode was an over-the-top example of product placement, and some will wonder whether Jobs, who is on ABC parent Walt Disney Co.'s board of directors was somehow involved. But Apple traditionally eschews product-placement deals -- at least the ones it would have to pay for -- and it's not like tech geeks and the general public aren't aware of the iPad. Heck, the New York Times had a front-page story about the device in Thursday's paper.

Apple spokesman Steve Dowling said the company does not pay for product placement. It did provide an iPad for the show. An ABC spokeswoman declined to comment on the back story behind the episode, as did a 20th Century Fox Television spokesman.

For what it's worth, the plot device worked. Phil is just the kind of tech geek that would have his wife get up at 5 a.m. to go stand in line at the Apple store. His wife and brother-in-law even get in a brawl while waiting to get into the store. Although the plugs may have been a little over the top, it was believable. How it will play in reruns years from now is another story.

Viewers didn't seem to mind. Wednesday's episode drew 9.3 million viewers and a 3.8 rating among adults 18-49, its biggest number in that demographic in almost two months. Each ratings point in that demographic translates to 1.3 million viewers. 

Let's hope that the cast and crew of the show got free iPads. It's the least Apple could do.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: ABC's"Modern Family." Credit: ABC.

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