My wife and I are followers of the CBS hospital drama 'Chicago Hope.' But something happened this season that changed all that.
The show brought on a new character, a boomerish female brain surgeon who introduced herself as 'Dr. Lisa Catera.' My wife caught the joke right away, and looked over at me with raised eyebrows.
'Let's wait for the commercials,' I cautioned.
Sure enough, first ad out of the gate was a lease-deal spot for the Cadillac Catera. Advertising for other General Motors products came later in the show.
In another episode, when Dr. Catera is caught gnawing some junk food, she deadpans the Catera tag line: 'When you can't zig, you zag.' Again, GM was a heavy advertiser.
Our minds raced into 'X-Files' mode: Is this a subliminal conspiracy, blurring the line between advertising and the TV drama? Perhaps the producers saw a chance for more revenue for their patron network by naming a character after a car.
But when confronted with such accusations, both Cadillac and 'Chicago Hope' executives swear there was no quid pro quo.
Catera brand manager David Nottoli said 'Chicago Hope' executive producer John Tinker named the character after he saw a Catera launch spot and thought it would be a neat name to use.
'We have no say over the story line. We don't have any input,' Nottoli said. But he admitted glee over the show naming a character after someone who, coincidentally, is the exact target demographic for their car.
Said Tinker: 'There was nothing clandestine about it. Had I known it would have garnered this much attention, I would have named her Lisa BMW.'
Perhaps the only disconnect is that Dr. Catera does not drive her namesake, probably because the TV standards and practices board would pitch a fit, Tinker said. However, Cadillac has given real-life actress Stacy Edwards a free Catera for a year, Tinker added.
So, what's next? Will there be a bathtub scene, with a red rubber duckie wearing a blue wizard hat? Is it coincidence that Dr. Catera's love interest is a bit of a cad? Does she get her hair cut by the barber of Seville on Eldorado Street?
Will Oldsmobile get into the act, with Hector Elizondo's character meeting long-lost aunt named Vaya Alero? It does not take a brain surgeon to figure out the possibilities.
Bottom line: Does the subliminal tactic even work? Not at my house. My wife just leased a black Volvo 850 - ironically, the car Dr. Catera drives to work on the show.
Mark Rechtin welcomes comments. Call him at (213) 651-3710, or send e-mail to [email protected]