More Kindles on TV

Borders Kobo Reader on the Office

I wrote earlier about how the Kindle had finally appeared on an episode of The Simpsons. I really enjoy collecting examples of the Kindle’s appearances throughout our “popular culture”, and it feels a little bit like magic whenever my favorite gadget starts turning up in imaginary stories on television. In fact, over a year ago, there were actually complaints about just how often the Kindle was appearing on The Big Bang Theory

“I mean, it was only shown on screen about 17,000 times last night,” complained a blogger who’d watched an episode, and spotted a Kindle conspicuously propped in the background throughout an entire scene. (“We get it writers and advertisers, the characters on the show are nerds and probably have gadgets…”) In later episodes it becomes clear that the Kindle belongs to the nerdy character Sheldon – and that he really loves it a lot. “When he was acting like a dictator during the Arctic expedition,” remembers a fan page, ” the other guys toyed with crazy ideas of ways to kill him. One idea was the throw his Kindle out the door of the science station, and when he went out to get it, lock the doors and let him freeze to death!”

Of course, the Kindle has also been used as a give-away by daytime talk show hosts like Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres. (And when Charlie Sheen videotaped himself bragging about his plans after leaving Two and a Half Men, he eventually captured footage of himself telling a friend on the phone, “Yeah, let’s — let’s do the Kindle thing with, uh, Apocalypse Me: the Jaws of Life. Best title ever. Best book ever…!”) And while they didn’t use a Kindle, The Office included an episode where three men from the paper-sales company visited a Border bookstore, with warehouse-worker Daryl confessing to the sweet lady behind the counter that he’s scared to death of digital readers.

“Those things terrify me. They could put us out of business. I heard those things hold like 10 books at once.”

“Actually, it’s 10,000.”

“Holy ####! What? Let me see it…”

Kobo reader with Daryl from The Office

By the end of the episode, he’s secretly purchased a digital reader for himself, and he’s trying to hide it from his co-workers by pretending that he bought something less embarrassing — pornography!

But by now, it’s almost impossible to keep track of every single appearance by the Kindle in a TV show. In Amazon’s Kindle forum, another poster once remembered the Kindle turning up on a fittingly-titled series: Modern Family. (Interestingly, the character who’d owned the Kindle was played by Ed O’Neil — the actor who used to play Al Bundy, the unhappy husband on Married With Children.) In this series his character (Jay) goes on vacation with his “e-reader thing,” and proudly announces that he’s loaded it up with eight different thrillers by Robert Ludlum. “He doesn’t say Kindle, but when he holds it up it looks like a Kindle 2,” the poster remembered — but apparently Jay also left that Kindle on a beach chair. “Later when he is poolside and his stepson sits down, Jay shouts out, ‘My Ludlums!'”

And last year even President Obama — in the annual State of the Union Address — mentioned the future possibility of “a student who can take classes with a digital textbook.” But the Kindle’s strangest appearance of all was probably in a line of dialogue on Joss Whedon’s sci-fi thriller series, Dollhouse. It’s set in the future, and Patton Oswalt warns a character about what are now some very serious legal complications. One fan called it “a line that only Joss Whedon would try or could pull off.”

Instead of saying “They’ll throw the book at you,” he warns that “They’ll throw the Kindle at you!”

Borders, the Kobo and The Office

Borders Kobo Reader on the Office

It’s not just the Kindle. Other TV shows are also featuring digital readers — and sometimes, in a big way. In January, NBC’s The Office built an entire episode around the Kobo ereader, suggesting that there may even have been a product placement deal — that is, that the writers were paid to work it into the plot!

I’m just fascinated by these little moments of pop culture that show how the Kindle and other readers are working their way into the popular imagination. They’re appearing in stories that would never have occurred to anyone in even five years ago. This episode opened with Michael Scott (Steve Carrell), who plays the boss at the Scranton branch of the Dunder-Mifflin paper company. “January 23, 2011,” he says into the camera. “A day which will live in famously.”

He’s not the one using the digital reader. (He’s just worried that his former girlfriend had gotten engaged – although he does add that “If she’s engaged, I’m going to go crazy and I’m going to start attacking people.”) But back among the workers, there’s a lively discussion about New Year’s resolutions, with creepy Dwight Schrute teasing his former girlfriend that his goal for 2011 is “Meet a loose woman”. (And his co-worker Andy agrees.) “You know what you guys should do?” suggests Darryl from the warehouse. “Go to the bookstore at lunch. There’s tons of cuties and it’s easy to talk to them. ‘Hey, what book is that? Cool, let’s hang out tonight. Sex already? Whoa…!'”

Suddenly this strange sitcom is veering towards a visit to the bookstore. And it’s really because digital reading devices are a hot consumer trend in 2011. The writers, based on whatever motivation, now find themselves leading their characters into a Borders bookstore. They cut away to a private interview with Darryl, where he reveals that he isn’t really going there to pick up women. Darryl’s New Year’s resolution was to read more books — and he’d really just wanted a ride to the store!

And that’s when the Kobo appears.

Kobo reader with Daryl from The Office

“Well, if you read a lot, you should check out our ereaders,” a sweet, middle-aged cashier tells Darryl at the register, adding…

“They’re really neat.”

“I work at a paper company. Those things terrify me. They could put us out of business. I heard those things hold like 10 books at once.”

“Actually, it’s 10,000.”

“Holy ####! What? Let me see it…”

Darryl is impressed. (“It’s so light. Like a croissant.”) But his co-workers are having no luck picking up women, and Dwight announces “This place is kind of tapped out, so let’s roll.” But as they’re leaving the store, it turns out that Darryl is carrying a bag that he doesn’t want his co-workers to see. He claims it contains “A book about oceans,” then later tries to claim that it’s pornography. But later in the episode — as the men somehow end up at a roller-skating rink — Darryl is seen slipping away, to read on his brand new Kobo.

Darryl reads his Kobo with Dwight and Andy at the skating rink on the Office

In a way, I feel bad for the Kobo, though. On their Facebook page, they announced a contest to celebrate the episode — asking “What are you reading at the Office.” You didn’t even have to own a Kindle to enter the contest — the prize was 10 free ebooks or a Kobo eReader — but the response was underwhelming. They received just 40 photographs from people entering the contests. You could also enter just by leaving a comment on their web page, but the total number of comments was just 218. (Although to be fair, you could also enter the contest just by clicking the “Like” button the Kobo’s Facebook page, and there’s now 15,712 people who have done so.)

Maybe they would’ve gotten a larger response if they’d given away a Kindle!