Have I gotten so jaded that I can't distinguish parody from product placement? I took Sunday night's programming lineup on Fox (NYSE:FOX) to task yesterday for what seemed like a night of sponsored pitches wedged into the corresponding storylines. It's a real epidemic out in Tinseltown these days.

It turns out that I was wrong on one count. I received a pair of emails from the folks behind Malcolm in the Middle to explain that what I had interpreted as a shameless plug for casual dining giant Applebee's (NASDAQ:APPB) was actually more of a shot at the chain's supposedly wholesome yet creepy marketing message. I guess that's what I get for falling for satire when it kisses me softly on the cheek instead of slapping me down to the ground the way it usually does.

But I know I wasn't the only one. When The Simpsons has Homer breaking into a Disney (NYSE:DIS) theme park and forking over $8 for a churro or finds Bart Simpson walking through a suburban mall where every other store is a Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX), the placement is obvious. You don't need a diagram to know that the show's creative staff is aiming for the jugular of corporate juggernauts. Yet in these more sinister days of product placement, I guess you can never be too subtle.

Earlier this week, the producer of The Apprentice announced that he was suing a product-placement firm for allegedly overcharging clients like Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG) to get their wares on the popular show. The marketing firm was supposedly making off with more than the $2 million to $3.5 million that producer Mark Burnett usually demands for Donald Trump's glowing challenge-related endorsements.

It's the cruel reality of reality television. Hollywood movies have been doing this for ages. But going by some of the placement choices McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) has made, like in the movies Mac and Me and Spy Kids 2, maybe product misplacement is a more appropriate term.

But I guess it's good to know that Applebee's wasn't in on the act with one of my favorite shows. I think I'll go to the pawn shop and see if I can buy back that respect I was once hawking.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz wants to see if he can buy the "H" in the Hollywood sign and replace it with an "F" donning a jester cap. He does own shares in Disney. The Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.