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Microsoft and Windows 7: A Family Guy affair

October 13, 2009 |  4:37 pm
Family Guy Seth Macfarlane
Seth MacFarlane and friends. Credit: Fox ONE.

Microsoft is trying a new spin on an old method to promote its new Windows 7 operating system this fall.

Taking its inspiration from the old Texaco Star Theater -- television's first big hit, in the 1950s, with Milton Berle hosting a variety show and becoming a fixture in U.S. living rooms -- the computer giant is teaming with "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane to sponsor a variety show to air on the Fox network on Nov. 8. 

The show will run without commercials, and instead promises to feature "unique Windows 7-branded programming that blends seamlessly with show content." Although Microsoft would not give away any specific songs or gags, look for MacFarlane and his “Family Guy” co-star Alex Borstein to offer up jokes, songs and cartoons that include clever references to Windows, and maybe even Microsoft's PC guy.

Gayle Troberman, Microsoft's general manager of advertising, said MacFarlane offers what is so rare these days: an opportunity for a mass marketer like Microsoft to appeal to a wide mix of demographics.

In addition, Troberman said, the diversity of the variety show -- mixing comedy, music, animation and live entertainment -- represents "a great opportunity for us to integrate the brand in a fresh and interesting way. It brings to life the power of what Windows can do for consumers."

The show, which has a working title of “Family Guy Presents: Seth & Alex’s Almost Live Comedy Show,” is scheduled to air Sunday, Nov. 8, at 8:30 p.m. EDT and PDT. Although producers clearly have to tread carefully in the world of product placement,  viewers may be growing more comfortable with the concept and may even prefer these intrusions to commercial breaks.

Troberman wouldn't say what Microsoft was paying for the privilege, but Fast Company reported last year that "Family Guy" charged $200,000 for a 30-second spot. Since Microsoft is taking the whole 30-minute show, it's probably spending a pretty penny.

Still, Microsoft has to be careful. While about the only thing Troberman could remember about Texaco Star Theater was the sponsor, Microsoft doesn't even get its name in the title of MacFarlane's show. But at least it will probably keep other names out of the show -- like Microsoft rivals Apple and Google, who distributed MacFarlane's "Cavalcade of Comedy" online.

-- Dan Fost