Last week, Universal used NBC's morning talk show, "Today," to promote the new Wizarding World of Harry Potter, coming next month to Universal Studios Florida. The week of the new land's big media event, NBC is sending its "Tonight Show" to Universal Orlando to tape a week's worth of shows, which surely will feature abundant references to the new Harry Potter-themed attractions, as well as other offerings at the resort.
Over on Disney's ABC, the network just sent the family from its sitcom "The Middle" on a Disney World vacation, broadcasting episodes filmed at the parks and promoting many of their features, including even the new MagicBands. That's just the latest in a long tradition of ABC filming prime-time TV shows at Disney theme parks, from sending "Modern Family" to Disneyland a couple seasons ago all the way back to the sending the old "TGIF" Friday-night sitcom lineup to Walt Disney World in the early 1990s.
Using TV shows to promote theme parks is nothing new, of course. While Universal's been using talk shows to promote its parks, the tradition of using television to hype theme parks dates back to Walt Disney himself, and the "Disneyland" TV show he hosted on ABC to drum up interest in the Anaheim park before it opened. While Disney's been using fictional sitcoms to promote its parks in recent years, the company actually didn't start that trend. The first "theme park episode" for a sitcom might be the old "Cincinnati Kids" episode of "The Brady Bunch" from 1973.
Which approach do you prefer? Personally, I find the use of talk shows and other non-fiction programs to promote parks a little more straight-forward. It's a plug, and those are media designed for people to plug things. Working a theme park plug into a sitcom too often feels more unnatural, like one of those scenes in The Truman Show where a character suddenly breaks the fourth wall to pitch some product.
But there's huge appeal in seeing characters you know from a sitcom you follow actually standing in the same place you've visited, doing the same things you've done. These days, living in the Los Angeles area where so many TV shows and movies are filmed, I still get a kick when I see a show that features my kids' school buildings or a street near our home. So of course I love seeing my favorite parks on TV, too.
It's Vote of the Week time.
In the comments, please tell us about some of your favorite (or least favorite) theme park cameo appearance on TV or in movies. And, as always, thank you for reading for being part of the Theme Park Insider community!
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