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NBC sitcom 'Outsourced' inspires real-life fart machines and doody games

February 11, 2011 | 11:47 am

Outsourced A merchandising deal for the NBC sitcom "Outsourced" has spawned a six-pack beer belt, a butt-shaped piggy bank, giant granny panties and a remote-controlled fart machine.

You know, in case you were stumped for Valentine's Day gift ideas.

The licensing arrangement between NBC Universal's TV consumer products group and the Johnson Smith catalog sprang from the central conceit of the comedy itself, with workers at a call center in India hawking silly novelties.

In the February issue of Johnson Smith's real "Things You Never Knew Existed" catalog, there's a two-page spread of "Outsourced"-themed items, including the Gigglator voice-changing toy, phony parking tickets and an "I'm so old, I fart dust" T-shirt. And sure to be a bestseller: the "Doody Head Game," described as "poo-flinging fun!" (If this strikes you as gross, you may not be the demo).

Mid-America Novelties, the company in "Outsourced," specializes in a range of scatological gifts, along with whoopee cushions, over-sized foam fingers and beer-dispensing headgear. Some of the show's gags revolve around its displaced American boss, played by Ben Rappaport, explaining pop culture, and thus the appeal of such geegaws, to his dumbstruck Indian employees.

"This show lends itself so easily to product because it's all about product," said Kim Niemi, senior vice president of the network's licensing arm. "I may not sell a zillion novelties, but it's great marketing for the series."

The deal stands out for a few reasons, not the least of which is that the Thursday night comedy has been criticized for its own taste level. (Reviewers have said it plays on ethnic stereotypes).

Plus, in the competitive world of entertainment-related swag, it's usually only the most successful TV shows that can launch licensed products. Think: Fox's "American Idol" and "Glee" and Disney Channel's "High School Musical." "Outsourced" doesn't exactly fall into that camp, though it's been drawing about 4 million viewers a week and scoring well with advertiser-coveted 18-to-49-year-olds.

"Normally, I couldn't get arrested for a first-season show in the licensing world," Niemi said, "because we'd have to convince retailers and licensees to get on board when we don't even know if there's a second-season pickup."

With "Outsourced," NBC execs could put together the program quickly and cheaply because they didn't have to start from scratch to create their own product. The novelty items already existed and linking to the 100-year-old Johnson Smith company meant access to a limitless supply of fake poop and over-sized bras. And they went strictly for online, direct-to-consumer sales, cutting out the retail middleman.

Scripted shows aren't as primed for merchandise deals as animation and family-friendly fare. There are niche shows that earn a little cash from superfans, such as HBO's "True Blood," which sells Fangtasia T-shirts and silver necklaces to the faithful. But networks and production companies are trying to wring more money out of their properties, going beyond typical key chains and calendars to create products that will appeal to series' loyalists. The CW teen drama "90210" just launched a line of show-inspired outfits with mall retailer Bebe, and CBS' popular "CSI" gave rise to the "CSI Experience" in Las Vegas for amateur forensic sleuths.

Because it's such a tough climate for TV-related swag, Niemi said she and her crew always look for something "unique and ownable" about their shows. 

The "Outsourced" items will be available until May but, unlike on the show, you'll be talking to a U.S.-based call center when you order the farting pen set.

-- T.L. Stanley

Photo: Sacha Dhawan as Manmeet on "Outsourced." Credit: Chris Haston / NBC