After Hours

Geek Trivia: Search party of the second part

What fictional search engine has appeared in multiple, unaffiliated Hollywood television shows, effectively becoming an unofficial, open source stand-in for Google and its competitors?

As Geek Trivia readers well know, trademarks are funny things, giving rise to all manner of odd behavior, and nowhere is this moreso than in the entertainment industry. Via product placement, advertisers pay top dollar for fictional characters to be seen or heard using their real-world products or services — so long as those brands are portrayed in a reasonably favorable manner. If TV or movie producers aren't intent on painting these brands in a shiny, happy light, filmmakers often have to make up their own fictional products and companies — unless they snag one from the unofficial fictional brand vault.

That's right, there is something of an open-source pool of brands and trademarks that have made their way into various productions over the years, filling in for companies that might not care for the treatment they'd receive in certain Hollywood plots. The prime example of this is Oceanic Airlines, which has of late been made famous by the genre-bending TV drama Lost. Oceanic was the operator of the airliner that crashed in the Lost pilot, trapping the show's ensemble cast of castaways on a mysterious, destiny-warping island.

Understandably, no real-world airline would want to become associated with a wildly disastrous crash that either killed its passengers or trapped them in what may be a quasi-time-travel version of purgatory. What most Lost fans don't realize is that Oceanic Airlines has been around Hollywood for far longer than Lost was a glimmer in J.J. Abrams' eye, serving as the go-to fake airline for many a passenger jet reference or — quite often — a crash.

The first documented appearance of Oceanic was in an episode of Flipper in 1965 — though most modern non-Lost appearances come from stock footage licensed from the 1996 film Executive Decision. The latter shots crop up in several low-budget TV movies.

Heisler beer, Morley Cigarettes, and Gannon Car Rentals are other shared, unreal brands that have circulated around Tinseltown in unrelated projects. Of late, however, a new product type has emerged on the plot-device scene — the search engine. Even though Google is now a verb, the "Don't be evil" folks look unkindly on characters using the search engine for nefarious — or at least unlicensed — purposes on-screen. Thankfully, the unofficial fictional brand vault has a budding Google substitute that TV shows can turn to.

WHAT FICTIONAL SEARCH ENGINE HAS BECOME AN UNOFFICIAL HOLLYWOOD SUBSTITUTE FOR GOOGLE ON TELEVISION?

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About Jay Garmon

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

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