Q: At what point does an incidental prop become "product placement" for which permission is necessary? For example, seeing a person drinking a Coke is the most normal, natural, common thing you'll see on earth -- and Coke is directly responsible for that fact -- so, at what point are filmmakers required to ask Coke permission to show a character drinking their beverage?
A: It's interesting that you chose Coca-Cola. In 2007, the company took issue with an Italian film in which Jesus drank a Coke. According to a report in Variety at the time, Coca-Cola wrote to the producers "demanding that the scene be cut because it is likely to give Coca Cola a negative image and complaining that use of their brand was unauthorized." The company successfully kept the movie from being distributed.
In general, if you are showing a clearly identifiable logo for a product in a movie or TV show, then you had better either have permission from the company, be sure you are not portraying the product in a negative light -- or prepare for the possibility of litigation. As companies become ever more protective of their brands, seemingly incidental use of products becomes less and less likely.
In reality shows, for example, you often see commercial logos blurred out on clothing and background objects. A little over 10 years ago, when I was a background extra on "The Drew Carey Show," extras brought their own clothes and the wardrobe instructions warned against "big logos." They would not even let me wear a Beacon Journal shirt.
After all, product placement is a money issue. Shows can get money from companies for showcasing their products, and the makers of the products get a promotional boost from being onscreen.
Q: I read some months ago that there was going to be a reunion of the "Dallas" series. I have not heard anything more and was wondering if you know anything about it.
A: TNT has announced a new "Dallas" series to premiere in summer 2012. Cast members from the original series will include Patrick Duffy, Linda Gray and Larry Hagman, but will feature stories about younger characters, among them J.R.'s grown-up son John Ross (Josh Henderson) and Bobby's adult son Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe). The network has ordered 10 episodes so far.