October 15, 2004 at 04:00 AM EDT

Was that a ferret popping up during Last Comic Standing, or does NBC just want you to rent sister company Universal’s Along Came Polly? Well, both. In recent years the aptly named ”snipes,” those not-so-subtle promos at the bottom of the screen — blaring sirens to cross-promote FX’s Rescue Me, dice to bill Fox’s The Casino, and yes, Polly’s ferret — are showing up more and more. And inevitably, it’s during those crucial ‘if you miss this scene, you’re screwed’ moments.

Vivi Zigler, senior VP of marketing and advertising at The NBC Agency, sees the irritating development as a service. ”It’s a way for us to market like kinds” (exec-speak for ”If you like what you’re watching now, here’s something else you might like”). Which doesn’t quite explain King of the Hill‘s lawn mower motoring across FX’s plastic-surgery soap Nip/Tuck.

”They are a programmer’s dream and a show runner’s nightmare,” says Nip/Tuck creator Ryan Murphy, who remembers the aforementioned mower slicing into his show. ”They cut against the dramatic integrity of the show, and that is never okay.”

Since then, it seems as if FX has minimized distraction — and producers’ outcries — by muting promos. To which we say: Thanks?

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