ESPY's LeBron Spoof Has Legs, But Is ESPN Getting A Kick Out Of It?

July 16, 2010: Chili's Bar & Grill, Outback Steakhouse and the upcoming movie, Dinner for Schmuck, got several minutes of prime time product placement during the 2010 ESPY's on July 14 via a humorous clip in which actor Steve Carell does a parody of LeBron's James' prime time "show" on ESPN revealing his plans for the 2010-11 NBA season. Chili's is continuing to milk the moment with a letter from its president denouncing the announcement from Carell that the actor was switching his restaurant alliance from Chili's to Outback.

Outback has not as yet responded.

As part of his introduction monologue at the ESPYs, host Seth Meyers said that, like Lebron James'  "The Decision" on ESPN on July 8, in which James revealed his plan to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and sign as a free agent with the Miami Heat, Carell  also had a major announcement to make. The event, "live from Greenwich, Connecticut"  turned out to be a hunger-driven move from Chili's to rival Outback.

The James time on ESPN has been called out by some critics as being an infomercial. The Carell bit seemed to be both a parody of that presentation and an indictment of ESPN itself, which has seen the ongoing encroachment of product placement cut into the time used present news and information. For example, Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, who co-star in the upcoming movie, The Other Guys, have recently been seen several times across ESPN's network, including an extended promotion for the ESPY's, despite the fact that their buddy movie is not sports related and advances no news story other than the movie itself.

Chili's  jumped on the Carell parody bandwagon on July 16, issuing a statement that defiles what it called the "worst decision ever in the history of restaurant selection." A "letter" from Wyman Roberts, president of Chili's Grill & Bar,  continued to parody the LeBron James event by mimicking a letter from Cleveland Cavaliers' owner Daniel Gilbert berating James for his decision.

"As you know, Steve Carell, our former hero, who grew up enjoying these very meals that he deserted [July 14], will no longer be dining at Chili's,"" wrote Roberts. "This was announced in a self-promotional, national TV three-minute special of his 'decision' on the ESPYs. It was unlike anything ever 'witnessed' in the history of casual dining and probably the history of entertainment.

The Roberts letter continued in ALL CAPS, again a parody of Gilbert's original letter to James, "I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT CHILI'S MENU ITEMS WILL BE BOLDER AND TASTIER THAN THOSE OF THE SELF-TITLED 'STEAKHOUSE KING.'"

(See the full Chili's letter here.)

In the parody itself, Carell and Paul Rudd, who both star in the upcoming Dinner for Schmucks, were seated opposite each other, recalling the setting a week earlier when James sat opposite Jim Gray and disclosed his move from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat.

"How did you make this decision?" asks Rudd. "I used a Magic Eight Ball," responds Carell. "Do you have any doubts?" Rudd asks. "I have five doubts," Carell answers. "Was it a hard decision?" Rudd continues. "In some ways it was incredibly hard and in other ways it was just very hard," Carell offers. Ultimately, it turns out that Carell has already told everybody about his decision except for Rudd. "I'm the only person on earth you haven't told?!" Rudd asks. "Yes," says Carell. (Full clip here).

According to Chili's, "Steve Carell's shameful display of selfishness and betrayal has shifted our "motivation" to previously unknown and previously never experienced levels. His heartless and callous actions will only fuel our constant search for freshness and flavor."

Chili's is owned by Dallas-based Brinker International. Outback is headquartered in Tampa and owned by OSI Restaurant Partners.

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